ELCA Advocacy

Advocacy ministries of the ELCA want to share stories and your voices about public policies and relevant advocacy issues that are of interest to you.

God of Creation…

Posted on July 4, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We close the Colorado leg of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series with this prayer by two local ELCA pastors, the Rev. Susan Candea and the Rev. Matt Converse

God of creation,
the mountains declare your majesty,
the trees reach up to give you praise,
the rivers and lakes proclaim your glory as they flow through the land,
the incredible diversity of creation sings your sovereignty and splendor,
And over all this beloved creation, you have called us to be faithful  stewards. Yet we have not been faithful to you, to your creation, to our own identities  and roles in creation. And so we pray:

Give us the gift of discontentment; discontentment with the way things are.
Open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the injustice and brokenness in our world.
Make us discontent with the disproportionate harm environmental racism does to    countless communities;
Make us discontent with the unsustainable way we continue to use the world’s     resources,
Make us discontent with the inequitable way those resources are distributed,
Make us discontent with all the ways we fall short in stewarding your precious creation.
Let our discontentment turn to longing; longing for a better world.
Longing for a world where diversity is celebrated and burdens are shared equally,
Longing for a world that wisely uses renewable resources like solar and wind,
Longing for a world where none shall have need in the midst of abundance,
Longing for a sustainable world.
Turn our longing into hope; a hope of transformation for us and the world.
A hope we find in the story of liberation from slavery in Egypt;
A hope found in the imagination of the prophets;
A hope found in the new community created in the life, death and resurrection of    Jesus;
A hope found in the re-imaging of the world and community of Paul’s letters;
A hope found everywhere the church accompanies the oppressed and marginalized.
May this hope bring real and sustainable change so creation may once again sing out with your glory. Amen


Policy needed for renewable energy expansion

Posted on July 2, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

By Mary Minette, director for environmental education and advocacy, ELCA Washington Office

In Genesis 2:15, God calls us to be good stewards of the earth’s gifts. That means protecting our air and water quality for its own sake, for our fellow creatures, and for our own benefit. Our energy choices impact air and water quality in profound ways: we burn coal to generate electricity and release mercury into our air, which eventually finds its way into water, fish and the food chain. We burn fossil fuels in our power plants and in our cars and pollute the air in our cities, leading to increases in childhood asthma and in premature deaths due to lung and heart ailments. 

In this month’s “Advocating on the Road” series, we’ve heard from ELCA members and congregations in Colorado who take their stewardship of God’s earth, and our collective air and water, very seriously. They have made a morally based decision to pursue cleaner ways to power their congregations, and to advocate that their state adopt a renewable energy standard (RES). A state RES requires that state-licensed utilities obtain a percentage of their power from renewable sources like wind or solar.

Colorado is fortunate to have a state RES; in other states with RES provisions, residential and commercial adoption of renewable energy systems is growing, generating both benefits for the earth and jobs for the companies and people that build and install solar panels, geothermal systems and wind turbines. It seems like I hear a new story of an ELCA congregation doing its part to steward God’s creation in these ways every week. Other ELCA institutions are also doing their part — Luther College recently received an award for its efforts to cut energy use and expand its use of renewable energy by, among other things, building its own wind turbine and installing solar panels.

But not all states have an RES, and efforts to pass a national RES are stalled in Congress. A national RES, together with existing supports and policies (including federal tax credits), would help to encourage even greater expansion of renewable energy technologies and reduce our country’s dependence on fossil fuels. This would not only reduce smog in our cities and mercury in our lakes and rivers, but also would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and help us begin to address the issue of climate change. In the U.S., the largest single source of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists tell us are a primary cause of climate change is the electric power industry, accounting for about 40 percent of all U.S. emissions. More than 80 percent of these emissions come from older, dirtier coal-fired facilities, which are also a major source of smog-causing nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury.

Another way that federal and state governments support renewable energy is through the use of tax policies that support investment in these technologies. The federal government also funds research into new energy technologies as a way to spur innovation and investment in the private sector. However, federal support for renewable energy pales in comparison to the decades of support given to fossil fuel-based energy, which still receives the lion’s share of federal tax breaks and research dollars even though the industry is mature and established as compared to the far younger and less developed renewable energy industry.

Our governments need to prioritize the research, implementation and expansion of renewable energy sources. ELCA members in Colorado and around the country are realizing that energy choices have consequences for God’s earth, and are choosing to invest in renewable energy as a way to live out their faith. These people, and many other Americans, are doing their part to work toward a cleaner, healthier earth. Our leaders now must make policy choices that protect God’s creation, by encouraging investment in renewable energy sources.


A Leap of Faith

Posted on June 27, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

By Jack C. Major
Holy Cross Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

Holy Cross Lutheran Church of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, was faced with a building infrastructure problem: over 75 percent of the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems in the church experienced a complete delivery system failure. The property committee noticed that we were starting to use an excessive amount of fresh water every billing cycle. It was leaking out of the radiant floor system and under the foundation, which was washing sand out from under the foundation and causing leaks in the foundation walls.

By the time the property committee realized the extent of the leak in the radiant floor system, we were using an estimated extra 15,000 gallons every three months and the leak had caused damage to the church’s steel tube boiler. In January of 2008, we learned we would need to shut off the entire heating system, except for a single 10-ton rooftop HVAC unit over the large meeting hall and office. The congregation council investigated alternative HVAC systems for the entire church and voted to pursue an option that would help to protect God’s creation — installing a new renewable geothermal HVAC system.

In basic terms, a geothermal HVAC system takes heat from underground wells in the winter and pipes it into our building, and takes the heat from the building in the summer and pipes it back underground. All we are doing is transferring heat from one place to another. By removing and storing solar-generated heat in the earth to heat and cool our church, our geothermal system reduces our use of fossil fuels and at the same time helps to preserve God’s creation for future generations.

My company, Major Geothermal, designed and installed the new system so I know it quite well. It has 14 water-source heat pumps located throughout the building to handle the heating, cooling and ventilation loads. In addition to this, five energy recover units were installed to handle the ventilation loads of the building. For the first time, the new geothermal system brings total comfort to the entire building, including air conditioning and fresh air ventilation to the sanctuary. 

This project was made possible through funding from the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. The faith of the Fund’s staff in this project was instrumental to its success, and we were blessed to have their help. Ideally in the future there will be federal and state tax credits or other incentives to encourage these types of investments.

The members of Holy Cross took a huge leap of faith by installing the geothermal system, and by doing this, we have made a profound statement to our community. We are known as a “Green Church” in the Denver metro area; we have many programs and special events to offer ideas to other congregations on how they can also preserve God’s creation.

We continue to look to the future and are currently working on a plan to add solar panels to the church’s roof to further reduce our use of fossil fuels.

May God bless you and yours, as well as the efforts of Christians everywhere to preserve Creation.

A Win for the Environment, Congregation, and Workforce

Posted on June 24, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

In 2009-10 Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Denver, Colorado, took innovative steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs for a disadvantaged sector of the local workforce. The church became the first in the city to run on solar electric power, harnessed through solar panels installed by local residents in need of work. To supply labor for the project, the congregation partnered with a local nonprofit organization helping former offenders reintegrate into society by providing jobs, training, placement and support.

“We see this as part of our calling to be stewards of the resources we have been given”, says the Rev. Paul Carlson. “Caring for creation is central to who we are and who we are called to be. It’s the faithful response out of gratitude for the goodness and beauty of creation. At the same time, the congregation is helping people who need work but have a difficult time getting it.”

Made possible in December 2009 through a unique financing arrangement developed by one of the largest solar energy companies in Colorado, the solar installation provides an estimated 60 percent of the congregation’s electricity. The system is owned and operated by a third party, an LLC that receives Xcel Rebates, renewable Energy Credits and all of the available tax benefits. Our Savior’s Lutheran congregation purchases the electricity generated from the LLC at a guaranteed locked-in rate until the congregation exercises their option to purchase the system. At that time they will own the system outright, receiving free energy for the life of the system.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” remarks the Rev. Tina Yankee, member of Our Savior’s Lutheran and 14-year director of a nonprofit assisting those with criminal histories find employment. “The church not only gets its solar electricity, it gets to fulfill its mission to help those who have been in prison and other disadvantaged populations; our energy company gets the revenue from the sale and installation of the solar panels; and the investors get a decent return on their investment while helping to protect the planet.”

According to Pastor Carlson, the congregation hopes that this arrangement can become a model for other congregations interested in greening their operations. In addition to the environmental benefits, with over 2500 religious buildings in Colorado, the value of such investments providing economic stimulation and creating much needed jobs for the unemployed is huge, Pastor Yankee notes.

The Rev. Nelson Bock, a member of the congregation, is also a board member for Colorado Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that works with faith communities to help them be better stewards of creation and that helped facilitate the congregation’s connection with the energy retailer. “Communities of faith can and should be playing a lead role in modeling better energy stewardship and fighting climate change,” says Bock. “It’s part of their spiritual foundation, and they are already organized to do it. It’s just a matter of providing them with the tools they need; that’s what this partnership is all about.”





Advocating for Creation in Colorado

Posted on June 18, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
The dome of the Colorado State Capitol Building

The dome of the Colorado State Capitol Building

We open the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” series with this piece.

By Brad Wood
Director, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry- CO

For Lutherans in Colorado, the opportunities to commune with God extend beyond our houses of worship into the great beauty of the Colorado landscape. Many times I am reminded of the greatness of God while hiking in the mountains, spending time in one of many parks, or driving past the grasslands and fields.

Energy is a major driver of the economy in Colorado, with much oil, coal and natural gas production for the entire United States happening within the Rocky Mountain Region. Amid  the great beauty of God’s creation in Colorado are expanses of prairie lands and over 300 days of sunshine a year, making Colorado an ideal place for new energy technologies like wind and solar to grow and prosper. 

Congregations in Colorado are committed to recycling, completing energy audits and using renewable resources. And ELCA members also know that we need to work hard to protect the beauty of God’s creation. I know many people who feel that God has called them to stand up to help protect God’s beauty and resources in different ways, from advocacy to trail rebuilding. 

Back in 2004, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – CO worked to pass a ballot measure requiring that 10 percent of Colorado’s power come from renewable resources by 2015 (a goal that has been met already!).  New legislation passed in 2009 has set the bar even higher, at 30 percent renewable resource generation by 2020. People of faith have recognized that using wind and solar technologies is good for the planet and good for the people of Colorado as new jobs are created and the economy grows. 

In 2012 our network of Colorado Lutherans turned its attention to the issue of electronic waste (commonly called e-waste) recycling.  Currently, Colorado homes and businesses are generating between 40,000 to 160,000 tons of e-waste a year. Only 8,000 tons of this is actually being recycled.  Electronic waste has many toxic materials that if left in landfills can pollute our air, land and water. 

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – CO worked to pass a measure this session that will ban e-waste from landfills and increase the amount of electronic waste recycled in the state. Banning electronic waste, such as televisions, laptops, copiers and fax machines, from Colorado’s landfills will decrease the amount of toxic metals entering our land, air and water. This was also an economic issue:  This ban will return valuable metals found in electronics, such as copper and aluminum, to manufacturing, strengthening our local economy and stimulating the development of green technologies and products that are easier to reuse. Recycling businesses will need to expand, hire more employees, and provide greater service and access to recycling to Colorado residents. Recycling  the materials used in electronics also saves energy: Recycling 1 million laptops each year would save the equivalent of the electricity used by 3,657 average U.S. homes in a year by avoiding the energy used in mining and refining metal and other materials.  Finally, more e-waste recycling will create jobs here in Colorado—for every 10,000 tons of electronic waste recycled, at least 130 jobs are created with the possibility of twice that many.

The passage of the bill was due in part to many ELCA members who chose to take action using Lutheran Advocacy Ministry- Colorado’s e-advocacy network, contacting lawmakers and asking them to support the bill. This piece of bi-partisan legislation was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, giving everyone in Colorado a chance to help support new jobs and protect the environment and make the beauty of Colorado sustainable for generations to come. 

ELCA members and congregations in Colorado will continue to take steps to care for God’s creation.  Our churches recycle, cut back on waste and explore new and innovative sources of energy.  In turn, we will continue to urge our lawmakers to adopt policies that encourage renewable energy production and growth that protect God’s creation and ensure a more stable economy in our state. 

Keep an eye on the ‘Advocating on the Road’ series on the Voices for Change blog for contributions from Lutherans in Colorado in the coming days.

A Prayer for Pennsylvania

Posted on April 30, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We close the Pennsylvania installment of the “Advocating on the Road” series with this reflection.

A reflection by The Rev. Paul L. Lubold,

Western PA Advocacy Developer, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania (LAMPa)


We hope you enjoyed your “visit” to Pennsylvania, and the discussion offracking.  Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania (LAMPa) thanks you for visiting us in the “Keystone State,” although Pennsylvania is technically not a “state,” but a “commonwealth.” We are, as William Penn described us, a “grand experiment.”  While the Rev. Amy Reumann was the ‘tour guide’ that got us going, this leg of the ELCA “Advocating on the Road” blog series  was greatly enriched by the interaction of grassroots leaders along the way and we’re grateful for their voices.

I invite you to share in this closing prayer as we leave Pennsylvania, and move on to our next destination.

Creator God, we are among your creatures, recognizing the responsibility you have entrusted to us – as ‘stewards’ and ‘caretakers’ of this planet we call home.  Our current conversation about frackingis both complex and divisive.  It is also of great importance. 

Bless us as we continue to discuss and learn.  Grant us courage to listen to opinions that are different from ours, and openness to see things from another’s point of view.

Allow your faithful people to remember our central identity– our salvation through Jesus Christ – and to gather around his cross, recognizing that our different convictions ought not divide us.

May we more closely resemble the biblical image of “lions and lambs resting together,” rather than opposing forces waging battle.

Hear our prayers.– .for those trying to earn a “sustainable wage” in the petroleum industry, 

for those who live in close proximity, or ‘downstream’ from drilling, 

and for our elected officials as they seek the good of the “Commonwealth” of Pennsylvania and our larger nation.

And for leaders of the faith communities, as the ELCA joins with other church bodies, seeking to discern your holy will. 


Fracking: Beyond Pennsylvania

Posted on April 27, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Pennsylvania installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.


This month, we learned how hydraulic fracturing is impacting communities across the state of Pennsylvania.  Fracking is happening in many places, and is being proposed in many others, and the issues raised in those states and communities are often quite different than what we’ve seen this month in Pennsylvania.  Because of this diversity, there is probably no “one size fits all” approach that will satisfy all of the concerns of every community, but there are a few issues in common that may merit a common approach. 

We’ve seen through the eyes of Pennsylvanians that drilling for natural gas has the potential to create jobs and generate income in communities where both are limited.  But we’ve also heard that it has made affordable housing scarce, impacted roads with heavy truck traffic, and created conflicts between neighbors over when and where drilling is appropriate.  Fracking raises concerns about water—both underground and in the state’s rivers and streams—and about public health, as people worry about possible exposure to toxic chemicals in fracking fluid and poor air quality around drilling sites. 

Water is a recurring concern in many of the areas where fracking is occurring, with reports of contaminated drinking water wells in nearby communities, and concerns about accidental spills of chemical-laced water and about the amount of water used to frack a single well.  Industry asserts that fracking is not the root cause of contaminated ground water and notes that it is taking steps to cut its use of water through recycling and to cut down on accidental spills.  Community activists believe that fracking is contaminating both underground and surface water and urge that steps be taken to slow the growth of fracking until more is known about its impacts.  They are concerned about the chemicals used in fracking fluid, which are often not disclosed, and about how those chemicals may affect their health.  While some drilling companies voluntarily disclose the chemicals they use,  others press for privacy on this matter,  claiming that the chemical make-up of fracking fluids are trade secrets and that public disclosure would hurt their competitive advantage.

State environmental agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are taking steps to regulate the disposal of used fracking water, to keep chemicals out of rivers and streams.  Currently fracking is exempt from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, so there isn’t a way to deal with potential impacts on groundwater resources.  The EPA is in the midst of a multi-year, multi-state study of the impacts of fracking on water that may help to resolve some of the uncertainty about the causes of water contamination and could lead to better controls on fracking and on wastewater disposal.  Many of the states where fracking is occurring now require disclosure of the chemicals used in the practice, but the laws vary from state to state. A federal approach to disclosure would provide citizens with more consistent information about chemical exposures and give  a level of certainty to drilling companies, who now have to deal with different regulations in different parts of the country.

There is also a growing concern about how fracking is impacting air quality.  Emissions from wells are contributing to air pollution in rural communities, and the EPA is studying whether current practices, which fail to capture all of the gas flowing out of wells, are in violation of the Clean Air Act.  If well operators are required to capture more of these emissions it would actually increase domestic energy supplies and could prove to be a win for both the environment and for gas companies.

As Rev. Amy Reumann noted in the piece that opened this month of focus on fracking, a lens that we have as  ELCA Lutherans in viewing complex issues such as hydraulic fracturing is the social statements that our church has developed. The “Caring for Creation” (1993) and “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood” (1999) social statements call us to seek environmental justice, to protect the health and integrity of creation both for its own sake and for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations, as well as economic justice, to consider how our actions affect the ability of all people to provide for their material needs and the needs of their families and communities.  Looking through this lens allows us to have an honest discussion about the good and bad impacts of fracking on our communities and on creation, and it calls us to a deeper discussion about how and where we get our energy.

As our country struggles to find new sources of energy to fuel our businesses, home and cars, domestic energy sources like natural gas will continue to play an important role.  Each of us consumes our share of our country’s energy resources, and we also share in a responsibility to urge our elected officials to adopt policies that allow our communities to prosper while still protecting our health and the integrity of God’s creation for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations. 


Pennsylvania Lutherans Talk About Fracking

Posted on April 23, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We continue the Pennsylvania installment of the "Advocating on the Road" blog series with these pieces.

Our exploration of fracking in Pennsylvania continues. The next four pieces reflect the experiences of ELCA Lutherans in Pennsylvania as they have felt fracking’s effects in their communities. The complex issues surrounding fracking in Pennsylvania call Lutherans to carefully listen and engage in civil dialogue. The opportunity to learn another’s view on an issue is a gift—understanding various positions helps create a more informed perception and helps create balanced and effective policy. The ELCA Washington Office thanks those who have shared their voice with this national audience.

The views expressed on this blog post reflect the positions of individuals.  No one particular piece presented here represents a formal position of the ELCA advocacy offices and ministries.

Want to share your story with us? Email it to washingtonoffice@elca.org!

When The Neighbors Drill
The Cost of Fracking
Frustration from the Frontlines of Fracking
Fracking at Camp

When The Neighbors Drill

By Todd Garcia-Bish, director of the environmental education program, Camp Lutherlyn, Prospect, Pa. and Shayne Garcia-Bish, teacher of hands-on science, St. Luke Lutheran School, Hannahstown, Pa.

After our daughter was born, we decided that we wanted her (and her brother to come) to grow up in the woods, as opposed to the busy road where our former house was located. Our new neighbors are dairy farmers. Over the last four years, we have learned a lot about the life of a farmer as we drive by our neighbors’ farm each day and talk with them fairly often. From what we can tell, farming is a life of just getting by — if you are lucky. For many farm families, the money to be gained from leasing land to drilling companies is a great relief to the financial burdens they bear.

The bulldozers showed up in January 2010. Within a few days, a short road was cleared into a corn field and a level pad was created. A huge drilling rig showed up next and the drilling went on for days. Then the well was hydrofractured (or fracked). During the drilling stage, we were surprised to find that our house actually vibrated, that the noise from the drill half a mile away penetrated our 18”-thick straw-insulated walls.

We didn’t feel as vulnerable as many of our other neighbors may have. The rest of the neighborhood relies on private wells for their water. When we built our home, we decided to build as sustainably as we could, so we installed cistern tanks and  all of our water comes off of our metal roof. Our original reason for cisterns was concern about the pesticides sprayed on neighboring fields that might turn up in our groundwater. Now we feel affirmed in our decision because of the possibility of water pollution from fracking.

Many of the water problems associated with fracking seem to come from two avenues. Sometimes the drilling process enables shallow pockets of natural gas to migrate into aquifers, causing odors, foul taste, cloudiness, and, occasionally, the ability to light your water on fire. The other problem comes from poor containment of the millions of gallons of chemical-laced water used to frack gas wells. Some of this water stays in the ground, and many different contaminants could reach drinking water supplies. The water that comes out of the well, containing toxic substances ranging from aromatic hydrocarbons to radon, can seep into the ground or contaminate surface water supplies if not contained properly.

Our neighborhood has had neither of these problems, as far as we can tell. In fact, within a few weeks all that was left on site were three tanks that receive the gas and water that comes out of the ground. During the summer, it’s even hard to see them over the corn stalks.

However, local water issues are not the only environmental consequences of fracking. Air pollution from gas released at well sites and gases released at compressor stations can significantly affect local air quality. Is the air pollution from our neighbor’s well worse than the air pollution from another neighbor that burns his garbage twice a week? We don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know that western Pennsylvania has a significant air pollution problem and any additional air pollution will only make asthma rates increase.

But the air pollution problem isn’t that clear cut, because in the long run Marcellus gas development may actually improve our air quality. Burning natural gas creates less pollution than burning coal. The burning of coal is the main reason for the poor air quality in the western part of Pennsylvania and if power plants could be switched from coal to natural gas our air quality should improve. Of course, it would improve a lot more if the gas industry would take steps to capture the methane and other air pollutants released by gas wells and compressor stations.

Another consequence of shale gas drilling is fragmentation as wells are drilled in Pennsylvania’s forests. In our opinion, an open field is a much better place for a drilling pad than the middle of a forest The roads and pads provide a conduit for invasive species and break up deep forest tracts that are breeding areas for birds like the scarlet tanager and wood thrush.

As we consider the impact of Marcellus gas drilling on Pennsylvania, it is also important to realize that what we are seeing is only the first stage. In some parts of Butler County, where we live, companies are currently drilling gas wells into the Utica Shale, which is about twice as deep as the Marcellus and may have even more gas reserves. The Utica Shale underlies most of Pennsylvania, so gas wells may be coming to a neighborhood near you.

We also need to consider what we are leaving behind for future generations. Only about 30 percent of the fracking fluids that enter a well actually return to the surface and many of the fluids that are “disposed of” are being trucked to Ohio where they are injected deep<into the ground. What will happen to this polluted water in the future? Pollution from long-abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania makes us wonder what pollution problem will result down the road from the gas drilling of today. When the gas companies are gone, who will cap the wells and clean up the pollution that no one expected? In the current political and economic environment in Pennsylvania, gas drilling will be a part of our future. There are some benefits to using natural gas, especially to replace coal for power production and to help family farms survive. We as citizens need to make sure that these benefits do not come at too high a cost to our air, water and forests.


The Cost of Fracking

The Rev. Leah Schade
Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, West Milton, Pa.
PhD Candidate, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, researching homiletics and ecotheology
Co-founder, Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition

Today I work on the issue of the slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing industry (fracking) in Pennsylvania through the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition.  The group was born in December 2011 in opposition to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission considering approval of 26 fracking projects that would withdraw over 25 million gallons of water per day from the river and connecting waterways.   The Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition is a loosely-affiliated network of 70 individuals representing eight different faith groups who believe that care of God’s creation is central to their calling as people of faith and non-religiously affiliated individuals who see a common purpose of protecting the earth and humanity.  We make an effort to hold government, corporate and private citizens accountable whenever suffering and harm to the common good results from our individual, collective, business and industrial actions.

We encourage our fellow clergy and houses of worship to have the courage to address eco-justice issues, listen to the stories of those who suffer and have little or no voice in the public arena, and host public discernment discussions on ecological issues that affect their communities. Our hope is to raise consciousness and offer education about fracking and other eco-justice issues so that citizens may be better informed, advocate for eco-justice issues in the public arena, and offer a positive, creative vision for our planet based on our collective interfaith dialogue. Sacred scriptures and all of our religious traditions give us certain guiding principles — such as respecting and caring for God’s creation, advocating for those who have no voice and no power, and the sharing of wealth and resources. 

Some have questioned our motives in this work, saying that we are against jobs, energy independence and improving the economy. We want to be very clear that ours is not an anti-jobs position. Jobs are a good thing — work is a blessing from God. Rather, we are raising questions about the moral and ethical principles that are guiding the gas drilling industry. We need to have a very serious discussion about how industry claims about job creation, economic growth, and energy independence are blinding us to the reality of suffering and the undue burdens being placed upon individuals, families, communities and generations to come as fracking expands in our state. 

Although fracking has economic benefits, the truth is that it will COST our state and our country in other important ways in the long run.  There is a growing body of scientific evidence that this practice is not safe and will incur more expenses for our country, particularly in regards to water and air pollution.  We seriously question the notion that we need energy from fracked gas to survive, because here is the truth — we cannot survive without clean air and clean water. Water in particular is the foundation for life and is sacred to nearly every faith tradition. Whether you are in favor of fracking or against, we can certainly all agree that there are values we all hold in common that warrant the strictest protection for our country and our citizens. We believe in a God of justice and truth, we call our leaders to accountability, and seeing a vision of a clean-energy future where all God’s children and all God’s creation may thrive.


Frustration From the Frontlines of Fracking

Lisa Beard, Trinity Lutheran Church, New Holland, Pa.
(also Community Action Forum on Marcellus Shale Gas)

My introduction to all things fracking began the summer of 2010 when the Environmental Health committee that I chair in my Lancaster County congregation, decided to host a Marcellus Shale seminar for our community the following year. We knew next to nothing about fracking at that point — just that it was a hot environmental topic — and I eagerly took advantage of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania workshop on the topic that November to learn more. Our event, “Marcellus Shale: A Faith-based Perspective,” was held in February 2011, with over 100 people in attendance, about half of whom were Lutheran. We were surprised to see such a level of interest in a community “downstream” from fracking activity. A significant number of Lancaster countians own property in counties where drilling occurs, so although they may not have felt any reason for concern here at home, fracking was on their radar. 

As a result of organizing this event, I was invited to join a coalition of faith-based, environmental, health/wellness interest groups that formed to help our community learn about the comprehensive impacts of natural gas extraction from Marcellus Shale. We have held several community forums: the first was a general informational forum. Despite a rainy evening, approximately 300 people attended and another 100 had to be turned away. The place was packed — and charged! At that point, people were hungry for information. 

After this first event, we began tailoring our events to specific audiences — church groups and farmers. I originally thought that, here in Lancaster County where farming is such a prominent way of life, the farmers would really want to learn how they could be impacted or stand in support of their fellow farmers throughout the state. But we have not found this to be the case, despite the fact that we brought in speakers who are farmers who have been dramatically affected. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with farmers from both southwest and northeast Pa. and hear their heartbreaking stories of illness in their families and their neighbors’ families, dead and sick cattle, economic loss, plummeting property values, and threats on their lives for speaking publicly about it all. 

We’ve gone from filled-to-capacity forums initially to a seeming disinterest in staying informed of ongoing developments. Living here, without the massive traffic increases or drilling rigs in plain sight, fracking is not commanding the attention it needs. With several pipelines running through Lancaster County, as well as a compressor station, I do worry about the effects we’ll see here.

My focus is now mostly on the health impacts of fracking. As someone who has multiple chemical sensitivities, I learned the hard way about the health impacts of cumulative lose-dose exposures to seemingly harmless chemicals in our environment. After regaining my health, I felt an intense calling to help others avoid the same fate. This is how the Environmental Health Committee of my congregation came to be. It’s been a tough sell — I’ve found that, for the most part, people don’t see a reason to change their perspective until they themselves become directly affected, and so it seems to be with fracking. This is human nature, I suppose, but it can’t be left at that. As St. Paul teaches, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). We have a Christian responsibility to care for our hurting brothers and sisters and to do that, our eyes need to be open to see their needs.  

Fracking is a far-reaching public health concern in the making and for some, it already is one. I feel that it is crucial for all Pennsylvanians to become educated about fracking because of its impacts on the health of humans, animals and God’s creation. It’s also necessary that we voice our concerns because this is something that will affect many people. I continue to stay involved in raising awareness of this issue. I share the stories of those who have already been affected, hoping that it will be embraced as a faith issue and that loving our neighbors as ourselves will prevail.


Fracking at Camp

Camp Agapé is an outdoor ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), providing summer camping programs and retreat facilities to all people since 1961.  The camp is located in southwestern Pennsylvania approximately 35 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, and is owned and operated by the Ohio Valley Lutheran Bible Camp Association.  This rustic site provides a unique opportunity for Christian, and even academic, growth.

Like many organizations in the 2000s and today, Camp Agapé faced financial difficulty in maintaining both their property and the level of programming for campers.   To maintain the ministry, the camp was forced to look to alternate income sources, including the natural gas industry. 
Range Resources, an independent oil and gas exploration and production company, began to drill the first of three vertical natural gas wells at various locations on the property of Camp Agapé in 2007.  These wells extended approximately one mile from the surface and were used to extract natural gas from the underground shale rock formations.  Technological industry advances led to the closing of the three vertical wells and drilling of six horizontal wells on Camp Agapé land. 

The wells are confined to one site of the camp, and Range Resources has been amenable on choosing the location of the wells.  “The trucks used by Range Resources use a separate drive-way and generally do not interfere with programming activity at the camp.  When we expressed concern over an originally proposed drilling location—near the camp chapel—“Range Resources amenably changed the site,” Board President Charlie Wingert describes.   The royalties from the wells are  enabling Camp Agapé to repair an old dam on the grounds, and also helped secure a loan which financed the building of a new Retreat & Learning Center in 2008—something the camp had dreamed of creating for decades. 

This new Center has allowed Camp Agapé to expand its reading and math programs by providing comfortable teaching and learning space for campers and volunteers.  Along with strong faith-based programming (like “Dedicate the Day”—a morning event of sharing scripture, prayer, and praise songs), Camp Agapé offers scholastic opportunities.  The Camp focuses on Math & Reading Camps for five weeks, which attract students who require additional summer support in these subject areas.  Students work with volunteers (at the ratio of one adult volunteer per two students) intensively for four hours each day.  The textbooks used at Camp Agapé include both secular lessons found in public school texts and stories that include Biblical teachings and parables.   “On the reading side, we have seen an average test-measured growth rate of one year in one week for our campers,” says Lavinia Wingert, Camp Director.  Camp Agapé also offers an Art & Science Camp, along with traditional bible camp.  All the camp options—including the scholastic based weeks—include Christian components, like devotions and prayer.

In addition to the Retreat & Learning Center and the programming its presence supports, natural gas royalties have led to the construction of two new large cabins and improved infrastructure on the campgrounds.   The income from the wells continues to supply a significant portion of the Camp’s budget and helps supplement revenue from other sources, including camper fees, gifts from individuals, congregational gifts, and the SWPA Synod of the ELCA.  This economic security allows Camp Agapé to provide extremely reasonable rates to campers’ families and serve more children.  As Camp Agapé looks to the future, they hope to build a playing field on one of the former sites of the vertical wells, and a road extending to their pond on another site.   Most importantly, the gas revenues will enable Agapé to build a strong endowment to provide financial security for the future. 

“We could not do what we’re doing now without the additional income from the royalties,” says Charlie.  “Everything we’ve described would go away without the wells.  We are extremely grateful for the blessing of this natural resource on the Agapé property that enables children to improve their lives while experiencing the fun and fellowship of summer camp.”


Resources on Fracking

Posted on April 16, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Want to learn more about fracking in Pennsylvania and other areas of the United States?  Check out these resources, and keep an eye on the “Advocating on the Road” series on the Voices For Change blog.

Government resources:
Energy Information Administration
Environmental Protection Agency

Industry resources:
America’s Natural Gas Alliance
Fracfocus (a registry of fracking sites and chemical disclosures from industry)

NYT series: “Drilling Down”

Environmental and Citizens Groups:

Fracking in the Keystone State

Posted on April 12, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We open the Pennsylvania installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series with this piece.

Pennsylvania is the second stop on the Advocacy Road Trip, where congregations and ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are in the midst of a new American energy boom. The Keystone State has long been home to energy production, including the first commercially drilled oil well and a long tradition of coal mining. Yet the advent of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (fracking for short), has caught many unaware as the Commonwealth grapples with the promise, and the perils, of this new industry.

Fracking is a technique used to extract natural gas trapped deep underground in  shale rock formations. A gas well is “fracked” by sinking pipeline into the shale formation, then injecting it with huge amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals. This action breaks up the rock and releases the gas, which is then brought to the surface. Fracking is currently being conducted in the Marcellus Shale, which covers 70 percent of the state, although accessing deeper shale layers is beginning to be explored.

The drilling debate is deeply polarized in our state, and among Lutherans. Some hail this new, domestic source of energy as a cleaner burning fuel and a bridge from dirtier fossil fuels to cleaner, more renewable sources. Gas drilling activities provide a boost to job creation and a boon for local economies and some landowners during a time of recession and budget cuts. Pennsylvania’s government has welcomed drilling and its benefits, with over 3,300 drilling permits issued in 2010 alone. Several ELCA congregations, camps and social ministry organizations have leased land to gas companies, providing needed income to support vital ministries. Members of our congregations have found employment and economic opportunity through drilling and its supporting industries, particularly in depressed, rural parts of the state, and support its continued development.

At the same time, some Lutherans in drilling areas, and others “downstream” who are concerned with environmental and health issues, are actively calling for a moratorium until drilling’s impacts are better known, or even an outright ban. Many raise grave concerns about the environmental impacts of fracking, particularly its impact on water resources.  Fracking a single well requires between one and four million gallons of water, either drawn from local waterways or trucked into the site. In addition to water, the fracking fluid also contains chemicals designed to help the gas flow from the well, which can include substances known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, including carcinogens such as benzene.  A newly passed Pennsylvania law requires drillers to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process to the state, but not the public — they may assert that their fracking formula is a “trade secret” and prevent its disclosure to the public.

After the well is fracked, over a million gallons of fracking fluid returns to the surface, and may also be laced with corrosive salts and radioactive elements like radium found underground. Progress is being made in recycling fracking fluid to use in other wells, but there continue to be accidental spills in transport and overflows from holding ponds. And much of the fracking water remains underground, with ongoing debate as to its long-term implications for the safety of groundwater supplies.

Until recently, drillers were hauling  much of their fracking waste water to local sewage treatment plants, which are not equipped to remove drilling contaminants. In addition, there are numerous reports of the contamination of water wells in proximity to fracking sites, most famously in Dimock, Pa. Accidental spills and overflows of fracking waste water from holding ponds and during transport have all raised alarms. Chemicals believed to be related to fracking have been detected in rivers that provide drinking water to downstream communities in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and beyond.

Fracking affects more than water. Clearing of land for roads and pads and laying pipeline impacts wildlife and human habitation.  Currently a third of state forest lands are leased for fracking. Testing is being done to determine air quality impact from drilling sites, especially when wells are “flared” to burn off gas. Increased heavy truck traffic impacts local roads and air quality.

The human community has also suffered from the rapid spread of fracking in Pennsylvania. Disparities and tensions exist between landowners who signed leases early for several hundred dollars per acre and those who signed more recently for many times more. A practice known as “forced pooling” and prevalence of land titles that exclude mineral rights means that those who choose not to lease may still have fracking underneath their feet. The volume of workers brought from outside the state has escalated rents in drilling areas, making affordable housing hard to come by, and has brought tensions between locals and newcomers.

Pennsylvania is the only state among the top 15 gas-producing states without an extraction tax on natural gas. After years of wrangling over this issue, in February 2012 Governor Corbett signed into law a compromise in the form of a low “impact fee” that counties may decide to collect and use at the local level for drilling-related impacts (such as emergency preparedness, spills, roads, housing and environment). The law is currently being challenged due to its preemption of local drilling ordinances. Townships and municipalities are required to allow drill rigs in all types of zones, except for densely-populated areas. It sets state standards for the minimum distance between wells and schools, buildings and water sources. If a local government passes ordinances and regulations that go beyond the new standards, the municipality may be barred from receiving any impact fee money.                                   
Any conversation about fracking needs to include not only the costs and benefits of the process itself but the larger context of our use of and reliance on fossil fuels and the potential of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to the development of alternative energy sources.

The complex issues surrounding natural gas drilling call Lutherans to moral deliberation about this practice and its impacts. This deliberation might include the ELCA social statements on caring for creation and economic life. More important, the issue of fracking is an opportunity to listen closely to what Lutherans are experiencing in communities across Pennsylvania and to decide upon collective responses.

– Rev. Amy E. Reumann, Director – Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania