Letter to the Editor: Catholic institutions shy from condemnation of natural gas drilling

A recent environmental study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University concluded that in Bradford and Susquehanna counties hydraulic mining (fracking) for natural gas has resulted in increased hospitalizations.

Brown University and the Colorado School of Public Health’s study of fracking found that many of the chemicals used in underground natural gas drilling are toxic. The environmental organization Food and Water Watch recently discovered there are “thousands of cases of contamination near natural gas fracking sites.” Food and Water Watch found that methane leaks at fracking sites related to deep-earth drilling have caused water wells and even homes to explode, causing death, injuries and loss of property. Residents of Dish, Texas, have complained about “unexplained sicknesses” in humans and animals since natural gas companies “came to town.”

Huge natural gas business conglomerates seek exploration of beautiful, pristine locations that lack laws and legal constraints to protect rural communities and precious clean water resources.

Residents in Susquehanna County report that their roadways are marked by loud truck traffic day and night. Rural roads have become worn and dangerous. Many residents – just to survive – are rendered powerless and are compelled to accept what amounts to a gradual, inevitable “takeover” of their lives and communities.

At the same time, a growing number of property owners are approached by huge, multimillion-dollar drilling corporations in an effort to contract with vulnerable landowners in order to allow natural gas drilling on their property. Natural gas drilling exploiters in Northeastern Pennsylvania are able to pay $10,000 per month or more for the use and exploitation of their land. Once beautiful rolling terrain and farmlands are now left to bare the scars of natural gas companies’ greed for deep-earth drilling. A simple well site uses 1 million gallons of irreplaceable water.

Natural gas well drills can reach more than 8,000 feet beneath the surface of the earth. Deep-earth drilling has been linked to a wave of earthquake activity never before experienced in regions victimized by natural gas companies’ drilling.

There are affordable and readily available safe, natural alternatives to deep-earth drilling. Bill McKibben, a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College, Vermont, recently reported on the advantages of safe, solar power. McKibben notes that “smart nations” have invested in safe and effective renewable solar and wind energy. Affordable innovative financing has helped install 80,000 new connections per month in Bangladesh. Last summer, Germany generated three-quarters of its energy from safe and natural solar power.

Pope Francis speaks of a “crime of unlimited proportions” affecting humanity, air, water and earth. He continues: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we have to say “thou shall not kill” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. … The worship of the golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise of the idolatry of money.”

Where is the outrage? The sense of community, solidarity and human compassion? Dioceses, pastors, Catholic universities fear the loss of political power and community standing. Their silence turns the world “into an object simply to be used and controlled,” in the words of Pope Francis.

We become like Cain, who when asked by God “Where is your brother Abel?” answered “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Rev. Bill Pickard

Vice president

Pax Christi

of Northeastern