The grey area of natural gas

Monday, February 5, 2018
Chris Woodward (

oil pipeline constructionNuns in Pennsylvania are waiting to hear back on their latest challenge involving a natural gas pipeline.

Members of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ own land in Lancaster County, where a company known as Williams wants to use a portion of the nuns' land for its Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline.

"When the pipeline company wanted to use their land for a fossil fuel pipeline, they indicated that they were not going to allow that to happen; it was against what they believed, and it was kind of inconsistent with deeply held religious beliefs that they have," says Dwight Yoder, the nuns' attorney. "The owner of the pipeline went through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and essentially ended up condemning their land in order to run the pipeline across the Adorers' property against their will, and we believe that violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

Attorneys representing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) declined comment to OneNewsNow, but Chris Stockton, a spokesman for Williams, the company building the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline project, says his organization respects the nuns' rights to express their beliefs.

"But we disagree with the position that they've taken with regard to this particular infrastructure project," he says, adding that access to inexpensive, natural gas benefits all people, especially the poor.

With respect to the Adorers' federal court appeal, Stockton expects the same judicial outcome as last year, when a lower court ruled in favor of the pipeline.

"The lower court considered the same arguments and ruled that our possession of the right of way on the Adorers' land would not in any way affect their ability to practice their faith," says Stockton.

He also points out that a U.S. District Court issued a decision last September that found the pipeline was not violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, Dwight Yoder points out that is not what the lower court ruled.

"The lower court ruled it didn't have subject matter jurisdiction," he explains. "There's never been a trial or a hearing on whether this impacts a religious belief, and I can say with emphatic certainty that it's my position that it in fact does impact their religious beliefs. You don't have to take my word for it. Look at what Pope Francis has said in his encyclical letter about the development of fossil fuels and how it impacts the earth and how particularly Catholics are called to protect the earth and the sacredness of it."

Still, not every Catholic in Pennsylvania agrees with the nuns.

"I'm a Catholic – a very loyal Catholic – and this order is very much like a lot of Catholic orders, unfortunately, that, among the nuns, have kind of gone to the Leftist side of things," natural gas supporter Tom Shepstone told OneNewsNow in July 2017. "The sisters are not only ideologues, they're also hypocrites, because they are running a Life Care community served with natural gas, but they don't want anybody else to have it, apparently."

It could be two to six months before a decision is made about the nuns' latest case.

"We've had oral argument," says Dwight Yoder. "It's an appellate court, so they don't hold a hearing. They will render a written decision at some point."

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