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Standing in the Way of a Gas Pipeline Project: Nuns and a Makeshift Chapel

Auditi Guha

"Oil and gas pipelines are extremely short-sighted and will continue to benefit only wealthy corporations."

A small, wooden-slatted structure and an order of nuns drew more than 300 people on Sunday to the middle of a cornfield near Philadelphia.

The “Stand with the Sisters” protest opposes a natural gas pipeline project proposed through 37 miles of Lancaster County farms, waterways, and rural communities—including land owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an international order of Catholic nuns.

The Oklahoma-based Williams Partners is seeking a right of way there for the 183-mile, $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise Project (ASP). Protesters opposing the easement access came from across the nation and included area farmers, Mennonites from Lancaster, and the Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky who have fought similar battles in their communities, said Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck of Lancaster Against Pipelines, a grassroots organization that built the makeshift chapel.

“I feel like we have really strong community support. There are a lot of people who feel like this pipeline is an injustice,” Clatterbuck, associate pastor of the Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster and a board member of the Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness, told Rewire.

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The hope is to bring more attention to projects that put corporate profit over local lives and environmental rights, and eventually, to encourage legislators to change laws that “violate or exploit their constituents in order to give way for large corporations to make more money,” she said.

The hour-long ceremony included an interfaith dedication, a chorus of Amazing Grace, and people tying more than 250 ribbons on the 50-by-50 foot structure as symbols of intentional prayers or statements for the protection of the land.

“The proposed pipeline is not just,” said nearby resident Jamie Beth Schindler, who shared her Jewish perspective.

A member of Lancaster Against Pipelines and a co-founder of Lancaster Action Now Coalition, an organization supporting and protecting marginalized communities, Schindler said she was proud to be a part of a dedicated group taking the road less traveled.

I’m here to lend my voice and my support to the consecration of this land and to the people, the women, the men and the families, who have made it their mission to protect the earth and the water from those who value profit over our health, well-being and safety,” she said in her speech.

The nuns have refused to sign a lease. They believe the pipeline violates their commitment to environmental justice as reflected in their land ethicwhich calls on them to “respect our interconnectedness and oneness with creation,” to “revere Earth as a sanctuary where all life is protected,” and “treasures land as a gift of beauty and sustenance and legacy for future generations.”

The project has been resisted for months, much in the vein of the #NoDAPL protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Fully operational on June 1, the 1,168-mile long, $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline has already leaked three times, threatening Native land and lives, according to a release from the Indigenous Environmental Network.

“This is foreboding as the company does not yet have a plan in place to address how they would contain and clean a serious spill,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said in an email statement. “We will continue to battle the operation of this pipeline in court and remind everyone that just because the oil is flowing now doesn’t mean that it can’t be stopped. The courts can stop it by demanding that the administration be held accountable for the full Environmental Impact Statement it initiated and then abandoned.”

In a victory for the tribes, a federal judge last month ruled that the permits authorizing the pipeline took shortcuts and requested additional briefings on whether to shut down the pipeline.

In Pennsylvania, hopes ran high last week when a U.S. district judge refused to grant Williams immediate possession of the land. The Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. (Transco), a subsidiary of Williams, is taking the nuns to court July 17 in a quest to seize the property by eminent domain. Two state environmental permits are still pending, according to Lancaster Online.

Despite the Adorers’ refusal to cooperate, Transco has approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to construct the pipeline. Until a federal court order of eminent domain allows the company to remove the chapel from the easement, the structure remains and all are welcome to visit or worship there, Clatterbuck said.

Andrea Ferich, a Penn State graduate student and watershed specialist from Centre County, Pennsylvania who attended the action, told Rewire she is “deeply concerned” about the proposed 388 water body crossings of the pipeline and water security across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“Oil and gas pipelines are extremely short-sighted and will continue to benefit only wealthy corporations. The economic costs of the ASP are far more than the benefits. I am concerned for the thousands of residents within the incineration hazard zone of this pipeline, and the continued impacts of the nearly 3,000 miles of new and proposed pipelines in Pennsylvania alone,” she said.

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