Local Lutherans call for repeal of fracking loopholes

SELINSGROVE – On the recommendation of a bipartisan task group, the Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted on June 20 to call for all environmental and public health exemptions on shale gas and oil drilling and its related processes, known as the “Halliburton loopholes,” to be repealed and all processes related to shale gas and oil extraction and processing to be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), the Clean Air Act (1990) and Clean Water Act (1972).

The task force was created as a result of action taken at the Synod’s 2012 assembly directing the group to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the justice issues surrounding the natural gas industry. The resolution came as a result of two years’ worth of research, field work and discussion by a diverse group of individuals, appointed by the Rev. Bishop Robert L. Driesen, representing opposing viewpoints on the issue of hydrofracturing.

“Our task force was made up of scientists, professors, pastors, teachers and lay leaders in the church, as well as individuals who actually work in the shale gas industry or are supportive of it. Some of us would like to see a total ban on fracking. Others think it can be done safely with proper regulation. The fact that we were able to come to the table and engage in civil, bipartisan moral deliberation about this issue and offer a recommendation for the larger church is very important,” said the Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, member of the task force. “At the very least we could agree that the loopholes created for the industry exempting it from the established laws protecting our water, air and public health are unjust and need to be repealed,” Schade said.

Schade noted the task force provides a model to other religious bodies as well as civil society for bringing people together across ideological lines to engage in robust ethical debate about controversial issues and arrive at some consensus for the common good.

The task force also provided a report that offered guidelines for approaching shale gas and oil drilling based on biblical and Lutheran theological values, as well as materials and resources to help people understand and interpret the abundance of information about the shale gas and oil industry, pro and con, that continues to grow and change almost daily. Those resources can be found at www.uss-elca.org/for-congregations/fracking-resources.

A copy of the task force’s final report and resolutions will be sent to the Secretary of the US Department of Energy and the Director of the US Environmental Protection Agency, the PA Department of Environmental Protection, local elected officials, Governor Corbett, and other ELCA Synods within the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions.

The Upper Susquehanna Synod, headquartered in Lewisburg, is one of 65 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The synod is made up of 130 congregations in Clinton, Columbia, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Tioga and Union counties. For more information on the synod and its congregations, visit www.uss-elca.org.