Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 22, 2019

Earth Concerns News

Hydrofracking: the People and the Problems by Dorothy Hathway, CSJ Associate

"One of the first things you learn when you move to the country is that you don't count."
        While industrial interests, scientists, investors, environmental activists and legislators discuss the safety concerns of hydrofracking, a voiceless group of landowners is still quietly hopeful that their properties will be chosen for gas drilling. 
        I wish that you could meet these families and the rural poor who live in my corner of Broome County. Year after year, it's a struggle for them to pay their property taxes, find coats and winter boots for their children and keep the car in good enough repair to get to work. Borrowing money from family and friends is a way of life. When they need extra help, they come to our food pantries and clothing “give-aways.”
        These families know that the royalties they could receive from the gas companies are their only way out of poverty. Those who are managing to pay their bills want the additional income that leasing options provide, if only to reduce the stress they experience each day. Some speak quietly of people they know who have signed leases, saying that “it pays their taxes.” Others speak of not wanting to do anything that would harm the young farmers. One person asked, “Would we even get the money?” Many deeply distrust the gas companies, saying, “All the money will go to their top people.”  
        These people know that the proposed method of extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale would be damaging to the countryside; they know how important clean water and a safe environment are. That's one reason that they live in the country. However, they and those of us who minister to them must personally manage the tension between current scientific understandings and the very real human needs and longings that are part of their lives. Family divisions about leasing are common, and legal issues are confusing. As some say, "For us, it's up front and personal.”
        Our neighbors cannot avoid watching television newscasts that insist the Marcellus Shale Initiative will damage our environment for future generations. These pieces are usually written by well-informed and economically privileged individuals who have neither asked for our neighbors' opinions nor talked with them about their needs. Their words are hard to bear for people who hear few other options.
        Regional hearings offer a venue for opinions to be heard. However, our neighbors are unlikely to attend unless the hearings are held nearby. The overall cost of travel can be prohibitive, and they have a natural reluctance to voice their opinions or expose their personal situation to outsiders who are unlikely to understand. This is part of their dilemma. As landowners, they must be heard if the information our legislators receive is to be accurate, and they must listen to others. 
        As Catholics and as human beings, will we take the time to listen to their stories and help them where we can? It's likely to be uncomfortable. Can we provide understanding and support and nurture their dignity and integrity as thinking, feeling individuals? When the conversation turns to the Marcellus Shale, a gentle response such as “I hope, as you do, that they can find a safe way to get to the gas” is far better than the “not-in-my-neighborhood” fear or the outrage that we often see. Surely, during these difficult times, we cannot afford to be simply a “Church for the comfortable.”
        Many of our rural poor have the courage to place the long-term needs of the environment and the well-being of their neighbors ahead of their own needs. In their hearts, they know that the Earth is not forgiving. Actions have consequences, and we must be responsible. As Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons stated in an interview on November 4, 2011 on Democracy Now:
"For us, it’s the long-term vision on water and the fact that the Northeast of America has over a quarter of the world’s potable water, and the responsibility that goes with that kind of a resource, a life-giving resource, is, I think, fundamental to life in the future. We take a long-term view. You know, we hear again and again the responsibility of seven generations we have. We literally think in that direction. In order to safeguard those generations coming, you’re going to have to defend it right now. So, it’s not a very complicated decision on our part. We see it as common sense to protect what we have and not take chances."