Lutheran Church Calls for Fracking Moratorium

Assembly cites human health concerns, advocacy for most vulnerable

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Less than a week after Pennsylvania farmers called for a moratorium on unconventional gas extraction, a large gathering of Pennsylvania Lutherans has also formally passed a resolution calling for a statewide halt on shale gas drilling.

While the tri-state Susquehanna River Basin Commission has taken no action to slow, stop, or even significantly regulate high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, this Lutheran Synod, based entirely in the heavily fracked Susquehanna River Basin, now stands for a moratorium.

The Upper Susquehanna Synod passed three resolutions regarding horizontal slickwater hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” this past weekend, on June 14th and 15th. The synod’s annual meeting brings together clergy and lay delegates from 131 Evangelical Lutheran Church congregations throughout a 10-county region of central and northern Pennsylvania,

One resolution called for the synod to establish a task force to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the justice issues surrounding the natural gas industry. These justice issues include ecological protection; public health endangerment; and impacts on local communities such as housing, school districts, forced pooling, crime, violence against women, and exploitation of rural and impoverished families.

The second resolution takes a public stance on the issue, calling for a statewide moratorium on the issuing of future permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing until long-range, comprehensive studies have been completed regarding the cumulative air and water pollution, water resource depletion, public health endangerment, and other possible impacts from the drilling and fracturing processes.

The Upper Susquehanna Synod also passed a third resolution asking the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of which the synod is a part, to establish its own task force to study the issues surrounding high-volume hydraulic fracturing in order to guide the national church body’s public stance on the issue.

The Rev. Leah Schade, pastor of United in Christ Lutheran Church in West Milton (Union County, PA), one of the primary authors of the documents, stated that she was both surprised and encouraged by the assembly’s votes:

“There is a wide range of stances on this issue within the Lutheran church.  Some are benefitting financially from the industry, but many are concerned about the safety of human health and God’s creation.  I am very proud to be a member of a church body that has so courageously exercised its role in public theology, making sure that Lutherans claim a voice on this highly controversial issue.”

The Rev. Ted Cockley, chaplain at Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village and another author of the document, spoke about the need for people of faith to speak up about the moral and ethical questions surrounding the natural gas industry: “Just as Jesus has commanded us to care for ‘the least of these,’ we have a responsibility to advocate for those most vulnerable who are suffering because of this industry.”

The votes came after considerable debate in the assembly’s Friday meeting. Participants listened to a lively panel discussion before the documents came before the assembly. The panel’s widely divergent views included an industry representative, Pete Stover, from the Marcellus Shale Coalition; Dr. Carl Kirby, Bucknell University professor of geology; Dr. Wendy Lee, Bloomsburg University professor of philosophy and women’s studies; Rev. Schade, a PhD candidate studying preaching and ecological theology; and moderated by WKOK 1070 AM’s Mark Lawrence.

The Upper Susquehanna Synod is one of sixty-five synods of the of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, located throughout the United States and the Caribbean. The Rev. Bishop Robert Driesen serves as bishop of the synod.

Thanks and appreciation for this item go to:

The Rev. Leah D. Schade
Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, West Milton, PA
PhD Candidate, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
Founder, Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition