Pipeline, Meet the Nuns

By Janelle Tupper 08-29-2013
Praying hands support a tree. Illustration via america365/shutterstock.com

Praying hands support a tree. Illustration via america365/shutterstock.com

Pipeline projects are moving forward across the country, but a group of tuneful nuns is working to make sure they don’t succeed.  

The Sisters of Loretto in Marion County, Kentucky have lived on their rural acreage since the 1800s, serving the poor and enjoying the wide open spaces and forest trails of their home.

With a fracking company proposing a pipeline for pressurized natural gas chemicals through their land, the sisters have sprung into action to protect what they see as their “holy land.” They have refused to allow the fracking company to survey their land for pipeline construction, citing past pipeline explosions and the risk of contamination.   

The sisters appeared at a public hearing over the proposed pipelines, singing “Amazing Grace” until they were asked to be quiet.  Their unexpected activism has gained them attention locally and across the internet (you can meet the sisters by watching this video.)   

The companies behind the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline — Williams and Boardwalk — have indicated that they are prepared to use eminent domain to survey the land and build the pipeline on the sisters’ land.  The 780-acre property includes the sisters’ lodging, a retreat house, and a farm.

Fracking — a process for extracting natural gas from lime beds by blasting it with an undisclosed mixture of water and chemicals — is controversial as a source for cheap, energy that nevertheless has reportedly contaminated groundwater and caused other problems (such as pipeline explosions.)   

The natural gas industry is expanding rapidly as coal plants continue to become outdated and shut down. While natural gas emits fewer carbon emissions than coal, many have stood against the practice by pointing to cleaner, safer forms of energy such as wind or solar.  

This isn’t the first time fracking companies have been in the news this year for trying to take over religious communities. In June, the New Republic released a story of how Amish communities in Ohio were being defrauded by energy companies.  

Knowing that Amish communities turn to Jesus’ commandments to turn the other cheek rather than seek legal retribution for wrongs, energy companies offer farmers dramatically lower rates to lease their land than they deserve. Once the farmers discovered they had been cheated, it was too late. One young father received roughly $1,500 for land that was worth $79,000 at minimum.

Whether singing at a public hearing or chaining themselves to bulldozers to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, people of faith are at the intersection of energy choices and climate action. As pipelines continue to run in to faith communities, we expect there will be more stories of solidarity, subversion, and, maybe, songs.  

Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Associate for Sojourners.

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