Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Creation Corner Column, Nov. 2011: The Marcellus Shale: Where Would Jesus Drill? What Would Jesus Frack?

"The earth is the Lord's" (Psalm 24:1) we are told. "The whole earth is filled with God's glory" (Isaiah 6:3). Our responsibility, as tenants on his property, is to "tend and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). What is expected of us is to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8). Inasmuch as Christ came to serve all creation, how are we to follow in His direction? As one hymnal offertory prayer puts it:"...we dedicate our lives to the care and redemption of all that you have made...".

So how do we redeem that which has been drilled and fracked? How do we make whole that which has been broken? But wait: perhaps these are the wrong questions to ask, for as one secular quotation reminds us: "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers" (attributed to Thomas Pynchon).

Maybe the more basic question is: Should we drill and frack the Marcellus Shale geologic deposits to exploit the natural gas that it holds? Do we need to?

A concept from the social sciences, that of "cultural lag" might explain why, in nearby states and watersheds, there is a temporary ban, a moratorium, on drilling. While the advertisements appearing in nationally-circulated periodicals and locally in our newspapers, from privately-held to transnational corporations with publicly-traded stock tout the supposed benefits from their efforts, less well-known perhaps are the efforts of underfunded environmental groups that alert us to the alleged dysfunctional consequences of the industrialization of our landscape.

Cultural lag proposes that there is a lag, a gap, between the introduction of new material culture (such as the unconventional drilling technology of hydraulic fracturing) and the surrounding non-material culture (the regulations for it, the infrastructure needed and affected by it, the social customs etc.). In our present case, we have seen debate occur after the natural gas industry has been in our midst for years as to if and how any severance tax and/or impact fee should be levied on the industry, to be returned to the affected communities. Also there are subsequent questions about the applicability of regulations against polluting emissions to the air and water. There are outcomes on the host communities as a result of the influx of employees from afar that need to be responded to. This is a mere sample of the examples of culture lag from the extractive industry coming into rural/forested northern Appalachia.

Such considerations have given rise to the aforesaid moratoriums (temporary bans) so that research and study and better preparations might be made in those places. A more basic question is: What is the county/state/national energy policy, and how does the extraction of a fossil fuel fit into that? For example, does it increase or decrease our "carbon footprint"?---a most pressing global concern.

One senses there is no policy, and in our state the latter-day "gold rush" supersedes all else, and "all else" needs to play "catch up" with the industrial technology that lures profit-seeking corporations here and lures the regional propertied class to lease their land for the royalties they can derive.

Lost in all this are more basic questions. Are we not to emphasize a more benign technology to secure and provide energy? Shouldn't we be developing renewable sources of wind, sun (solar) and water (hydro) to create less-polluting energy? What is the rush to promote gas?---it isn't going anywhere. If we are the conservationists we claim to be, (and don't we agree that we've all been environmentalists since the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, during the Republican administration of Richard Nixon?), shouldn't there be a plan, akin to the Marshall Plan or Apollo Project, to weatherize all buildings with Pennsylvania-sourced insulation materials, installed by PA workers, so as to prevent the loss of energy in buildings that leak as sieves? Do we not want to equip our built environment with energy-efficient appliances, so that whatever our energy source is, it is used efficiently. Are we pushing a natural gas source of energy to a peak of such abundance that we will waste it, and sell it abroad, thus depriving future American generations of its availability to them?

We as humans are given a creative nature, cognitive brains, rational minds. We could employ our air, water and sun, conservation and efficiency toward a brighter non-polluting energy source future, one that does not jeopardize a sustainable future for generations to come. Dependence on a non-renewable fossil fuel with all its attendant negative consequences (see notes below), seems to be the wrong policy direction to take. Is it greed (the rush to profit) and hubris (our "we've got it right" attitude) that prevents our state from placing at least a temporary ban, a moratorium, on this industry, so we might consider the issues raised above? To learn from Paul in his letter to the Romans 8:19-23, the whole creation has been groaning in travail, waiting to be set free from its bondage.

Notes: From the Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light group comes principles for considering an ethical analysis of Marcellus Shale drilling, September, 2011. See

From the (Pennsylvania) Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission (not the Governor's commission) comes "Marcellus Shale: A Citizens View" of October 2011. See
Testimony from over 100 persons in five statewide hearings attended by over 400 people explored the following issues, and the commission made findings and recommendations in the following areas:
Frackwater Disposal
Air Pollution
Marcellus Shale and our Public Lands
Regulations Governing Natural Gas Drilling in Pennsylvania
Property Rights, Pooling, & Eminent Domain
Aquifer Contamination
Water Withdrawal
Create Revenue Sources from Gas Extraction
Health Issues
Job Creation & Employment
Pipeline & Compressor Stations
Quality of Life

Mr. Ochs first wrote about Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and horizontal hydraulic fracking in the "Creation Corner" column for the 11/2009, 12/2009 and 1/2010 issues of the monthly newsletter published by the 65-year old ecumenical United Churches of Lycoming County, Williamsport, PA . A condensed version of the above will be found on the UCLC web site( , and/or .