Thursday, September 29, 2016


The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

Today I heard the news that parts of Pennsylvania’s Act 13 which gave unprecedented power to the oil and gas industry for fracking have been ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL! I wrote about our interfaith protests against Act 13 in my book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).  Here’s an excerpt:

Just below Shikellamy Point, at the site of Shikellamy Marina on the southern tip of Packer Island, on February 17, 2012, a group of members from the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition (a group that I helped to found in January of 2012) held a press conference to protest the passage of Act 13 in the Pennsylvania legislature, the so-called “fracking bill,” which critics decried for its numerous inequities and failures to protect environmental and public health while ensuring the profitability of the oil and gas industry. According to Jan Jarrett of PennFuture, there are “seven deadly sins” in the legislation: the removal of the rights of municipalities to use their zoning powers to dictate if and where drilling may occur; failure to adequately protect groundwater; limitation of the power of the Department of Environmental Protection from adequately regulating the drilling industry; failure to provide for adequate set-backs of wells from residential areas, schools, or hospitals; failure to protect small, ecologically sensitive intermittent streams or small wetlands; limitation of DEP’s ability to put conditions on gas drilling operations that may harm a public resource such as a park or state forestland; and failure to establish a public record for tracking where gas drillers are disposing of the waste flowback water from the wells. There is also controversy surrounding the law’s provision that health care providers treating people exposed to drilling-related chemicals must sign confidentiality waivers to protect companies’ “proprietary rights.”[1]

Interfaith protest of PA’s Act 13 (the “fracking bill”) followed by water blessing at Shikellamy State Park Marina, convergence of the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna, 2012
According to StateImpact reporter Scott Detrow, “[T]he legislation requires drillers to provide the state with a list of chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing, with the exception of chemicals the energy companies deem ‘trade secrets.’”[2] The concern is that this puts a “gag order” on doctors that will negatively affect public health and leave doctors unprotected should they choose to reveal the chemicals to their patients or in research publications. With all this in mind, members of the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition gave several speeches by the riverside (including one given by me, which can be read in the free Appendix download available at calling for the bill’s repeal on religious and ethical grounds. The group then held an interfaith water blessing ritual to recognize the sanctity of the river’s water. After pouring water from the river into a large bowl and saying a blessing over it, the water was ceremoniously returned to the river. The event was featured on the front page of two local newspapers in what may be seen as an example of public theology, wherein faith, religion, and the social movement of environmentalism converged. This is just one example of the ways in which religion and the environmental movement inform, shape, and influence each other, like different tributaries converging into one larger confluence.

Now we have learned that provisions in the natural gas and oil drilling law known as Act 13 were ruled unconstitutional Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2016 by Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This verifies what I and other fractivists have been arguing for years!  According to The Washington County News Observer-Reporter:  “The case, Robinson Township et al v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was challenged primarily in four areas – a medical gag against physicians; a provision that only public water customers would be notified of spills or leaks at gas drilling sites, not those who use private water sources; Public Utility Commission’s ability to withhold impact fee money if local ordinances didn’t comply with state law; and eminent domain privileges for natural gas companies using private land for storage of natural gas. All were struck down as violating either state or U.S. constitutions."  Read the rest of the article here.

Four years is far too long for this ruling to have come about.  And the oil and gas industry will certainly fight back with appeals.  But the lines of justice have been firmly drawn

ISEC Members 2012

[1] Jan Jarrett, “Seven Deadly Sins of Hb 1950, Http://,” in A Bear in the Woods: Environmental Law Blog (Pennfuture, 2012). The state Commonwealth Court struck down the zoning regulation portion of Act 13 as unconstitutional on July 26, 2012.
[2] Scott Detrow, “What You Need to Know About Act 13’s Confidentiality Requirements, Http://Stateimpact.Npr.Org/Pennsylvania/2012/04/19/What-You-Need-to-Know-About-Act-13s-Confidentiality-Requirements/,” StateImpact: A reporting project of local public media and NPR (April 19, 2012).&quot; <style face=”italic”>StateImpact: A reporting project of local public media and NPR</style> (April 19, 2012)

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