Don’t underestimate those nuns

-A A +A
By David Whitlock

A very telling scene occurs in the movie, Promised Land---the film about two corporate salespeople, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDermond) who visit a rural town in an attempt to buy drilling rights from the local residents. They represent an energy company specializing in obtaining natural gas through a process known as fracking, which critics claim involves a variety of environmental hazards.

Butler and Thomason’s efficient record of quickly sealing the deal for their company is jeopardized by an environmental activist, Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), who has started a grassroots movement to derail the corporation’s efforts.

The energy company tries to intimidate the activists, and Thomason patronizes Noble: “Listen, you’re just a kid who doesn’t understand he’s in way over his head on this one. We’ve already signed more than enough leases to start development in this town. You’re too late.”

But Noble calmly responds: “I really wouldn’t underestimate these people.”

It’s a revealing comment because ultimately the future of the small town lies in the citizen’s hands and not the energy corporation.

Hopefully, like the people in the movie, the citizens of Kentucky whose land is in the crosshairs of a proposed pipeline carrying natural gas liquid will have the opportunity to choose their own destiny rather than having the government and/or pipeline companies determine it for them.

And perhaps Bluegrass Pipeline, which would build approximately 500 miles of pipeline to transport natural gas liquids from sites in Pennsylvania and Ohio to the Gulf Coast, should heed Noble’s words, especially now that a group of nuns, The Sisters of Loretto, are among “these people.” The controversial pipeline would slice through Kentucky, including part of the land where the nuns’ Motherhouse is located.

At a meeting hosted by Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners on August 8 in Elizabethtown, Ky., the Sisters drowned out the companies’ representative by singing “Amazing Grace.” Finally, the representative, accompanied by the police, asked the Sisters to stop. Note to company: Never ask the Sisters to stop singing. You might just find yourself in the middle of a “Sister Act,” you didn’t bargain for.

People who oppose the pipeline proposal are doing so for several reasons. Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Natural Resources Council, points out that the very fact that three companies are competing to be the first to transport the natural gas underscores “why we need a certificate of need processing, to assure that we don’t have more pipeline construction than is needed, and more damage to land and water resources.”

Another objection has to do with private property and eminent domain. Even though the pipeline companies claim that their projects would create jobs, confiscating citizens’ private property to do so doesn’t sit well with independent minded Kentuckians.

James Bruggers, of Louisville’s The Courier Journal, voices another concern. He wonders if the conversion of natural gas lines to natural gas liquids would leave Kentucky and Indiana without enough natural gas. Bruggers notes that at least one utility company, American Electric Power, shares his worry.

Then there is the matter of safety. The proposed pipeline would carry toxic byproducts of fracking, and if one of the pipelines ruptured or leaked, water in the area could be polluted. Bluegrass Pipeline contends that pipelines are “37 percent safer” than transporting natural gas liquids via truck and rail. FitzGerald disagrees, maintaining that although the frequency of pipeline accidents may be less, the damage is far worse. “Between 2002 and 2012… total gallons spilled from rail cars were 95,256 compared with 19,926,540 spilled by pipelines.”

It other words, Bluegrass Pipeline’s claim of safety would be like saying automobile accidents occur less frequently than bumper-car mishaps, making automobile travel safer---all the while ignoring the fact that automobile wrecks result in a much higher loss of life.

The online source, LEO Weekly, raises another question about the possibility of such an accident in Kentucky: “Hypothetically, a large pipeline accident that cuts through the heart of the bourbon trail could be devastating for the industry.”

It may seem far-fetched, but it does point to another potential problem: A rupture in the pipeline could damage Kentucky’s bourbon industry. I doubt that the nuns are too concerned about the possibility of danger to bourbon, unless of course the whiskey could be converted to holy water---for holiness seems to be the motive for the nuns’ objection to the pipeline.

The pipeline would impact three counties in Kentucky known as the “Holy Lands of Kentucky.” They are referred by that name because the first Catholics who came into Kentucky were among the first settlers from the coastal colonies in 1775, and the three counties, Marion, Nelson, and Washington, not only have significant Catholic populations, but the Catholic communities of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, the Cistercian monks of Gethsemani Abby, and the Sisters of Loretto, are all located there.

Although Loretto member Susan Classen has indicated the pipeline would desecrate “Loretto’s sacred land,” the Sisters also believe all land is holy. “This isn’t me standing with someone else who is the victim of corporate greed.  This is us and the land entrusted to us that the corporation thinks can be gobbled up at will,” said Classen.

The Sisters would agree, I’m sure, that this world of ours is still, as another Christian hymn says, “my Father’s world.” We have sullied it; we have abused it; we have raped it. But it is still God’s creation, and the Christian community, being the salt of the earth, should stand as a restraining force against the further degradation of our environment.  And so the nuns sang of amazing grace.

Amazing grace will be necessary if the proposed pipeline for natural gas liquids is halted.

The nuns may be too few in number and too short on financial resources to successfully oppose Bluegrass Pipeline.  But they have another line to another source.

A truly amazing one.

No, I really wouldn’t underestimate these people.