Kentucky nuns say they have no faith in fracking...anywhere

Though pipeline was rerouted off the Convent's land, sisters say they don't believe it should be built on anyone's land

Environmentalists warn fracking could lead to lasting damage
Katie Orlinsky/Getty Images

A group of anti-fracking nuns have said assurances that a proposed pipeline carrying flammable liquids through Kentucky won’t cross on to their convent’s land is not enough –- they don’t want it built on anyone's land.

The sisters, who have been outspoken critics of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, say they are aware of dozens of infractions and accidents along pipelines in other parts of the country and believe fracking to be harmful to the environment.

“What we’ve always talked about doesn’t just have to do with our land,”  Sister Maria Visse, one of the movement’s organizers told Al Jazeera.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tom Droege, a spokesman for Williams Co. of Tulsa, Okla. told The Associated Press in an email that the Bluegrass Pipeline would stay north of Marion County, where the Sisters of Loretto's 780-acre property has sat since 1824.

"Now that the route is becoming more defined, we are confident we will stay well to the north of Marion County," Droege said.

It follows a confrontation with the sisters, who earlier this year refused to let surveyors onto their property, saying the land was sacred and that they would oppose the pipeline's construction.

“A gentleman came and asked if they could run the pipeline through our land, I said no,” said Sister Maria Visse. “That really opened up a door to a whole different reality of what this pipeline would mean to landowners.”

The new 500-mile pipeline, being built by Williams Co. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners of Houston, would join an existing line in Breckinridge County that runs to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process in which fractures in underground rocks are opened and widened by injecting chemicals and liquids at high pressure to extract oil or gas.

As currently proposed, the Bluegrass Pipeline would pass near land owned by the Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County, which is next to Marion County.

Droege said the company is looking for a route around the monks' land as well, since they also have not granted permission to do a survey. No one answered a telephone call to the abbey Wednesday.

The company is "looking at other options, including alternative routes," Droege said.

Visse, who has helped organize anti-fracking protests in Kentucky with fellow nuns, neighboring monks and other community members, said she has spoken with people from all over the country who have been faced with similar visits from fracking agents attempting to lease their land.

“I was talking to a man in Pittsburg, and agents had talked to him saying ‘Sorry, if you don’t take advantage of what we’re offering there’s eminent domain, we’ll come through anyway,” Visse said.

“There’s a sense that the corporate personality is sort of omnipotent.”

Visse said she has heard stories of eminent domain applied all over the country for fracking activities: “The corporations are very powerful and they have money you can’t even imagine. They have the political advantage as well.”

Eminent domain is the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation. The Obama administration has pushed for expanding U.S. fracking in the name of becoming energy-self-sufficient.

In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama said he would “take every possible action to safely develop” natural gas. He also touted the economic benefits of fracking, “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years …. Experts believe this will support more than 60,000 jobs by the end of the decade.”

'It's not over'

Sister Mary Boesen, of the El Paso, Texas branch of the Sisters of Loretto, told Al Jazeera that she was pleased to hear the pipeline would not be running through their Mother Convent’s land, but added: “It’s not over.”

“It’s not just about us, it’s about our neighbors and the thousands of other people who would be affected,” Boesen said. “It’s part of our values – justice and peace – because that’s what the Gospel calls us to. This is a justice issue.”

There has not been a definitive study to prove whether or not fracking is harmful to the environment, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently conducting an in-depth study.

However, the EPA has already identified some concerns related to the extraction, including stress on water supplies because of the large volumes of water used in the process, contamination of drinking water, and air pollution.

The nuns have said that no matter the economic benefit, they believe fossil fuels should be replaced with green alternative energy sources.

“Many people are beginning to take a deeper look at fossil fuels,” Visse said. “And are seeing how many things have been influenced and damaged by this need to control resources.”

Some of the sisters are planning to attend a House and Senate committee meeting Thursday in Frankfort, where legislators will hear from pipeline developers about the project.

The 50-foot-wide easements would be acquired with one-time payments to the landowners, based on a property appraisal.

The companies have said underground transmission is safer than transporting the chemicals by rail or road. The material carried by the pipeline is a liquid byproduct of the natural gas refining process that is used to make plastics, medical supplies and carpet, among other products. The liquids contain flammable substances including propane, butane and ethane.

Al Jazeera and wire services. With additional reporting by Renee Lewis

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