Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Religious community chooses nature over riches of a natural gas lease

http://www.hmhousing.org/images/hmsisterslogo.jpgWith 761 acres of mostly wooded property nestled along the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary feel they have been entrusted with a special oasis. 

The land encompasses a 250-acre organic farm, grazing land for cattle and sheep, wetlands and shaded open space where members of the community, employees and visitors can relax, walk and pray, all to gain a deeper appreciation of creation. 

So when the landmen representing the energy companies approached in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with offers of thousands of dollars per acre for the natural gas rights in the shale formations deep below the surface, the sisters stepped back and asked themselves what the land they have nurtured for nearly 150 years really meant to the community. 

What they decided was to firmly tell the landmen, "No." 

Never mind that some of the sisters' 80 neighbors had readily signed on, likely bringing industrial-scale natural gas mining that uses the controversial slick water hydraulic fracturing process to the congregation's doorsteps. 

For now, explained Sister Barbara O'Donnell and Sister Mary Cunningham, who have been intimately involved in land and environmental concerns for their order, the 2012 decision to forgo signing any lease was the best way to protect the piece of creation the sisters call home. 

"We actually spent whole meetings going through the lease piece by piece," Sister Barbara recalled. 

"We had those lawyers work with us at those meetings, going through it piece by piece, enlightening us to what we were saying yes to. And point by point we had to say no because of our belief. And because we're a religious congregation, we're not in it for the money. We could have made lots of money and we have things that we could have invested that into. But at this time we just could not say yes to that because the land has sustained us from the time we came here in 1864," Sister Barbara said.

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