Arkansas Catholic delves into fracking debate and activism by priest, nuns | Arkansas Blog

Arkansas Catholic delves into fracking debate and activism by priest, nuns


FIGHTING FRACKING: Father Neil Pezzulo
  • FIGHTING FRACKING: Father Neil Pezzulo
More public policy information in Arkansas Catholic. a five-article package of coverage of fracking — the exploration for oil and gas through hydraulic fracturing.

The package includes explanatory articles as well as some exploring religious dimensions of the issue. For example:

* Lawsuits, payouts fuel Arkansas fracking debate: This reports on a Cincinnati priest, Father Neil Pezzulo, a critic of fracking who once worked in Arkansas. He talks about the link suspected between fracking in the Fayetteville shale and seismic activity. The article notes settlement of lawsuits brought over property owners affected by earthquakes they believed caused by injection wells.

That the five plaintiffs ultimately settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in August — thereby avoiding a negative judgment that would have opened the litigious floodgates nationwide — doesn’t surprise Father Pezzulo, who formerly served in Crossett and Waldron until his transfer to Ohio in 2011. He said the industry has continued to thrive because of its deep-pocketed ability to lure in vulnerable people.

“When I first heard about fracking I was at home watching the local news,” he said. “The way they talked about it, you would have thought Jesus Christ himself had come up with it. It was going to solve our energy dependence, and it was going to pay people all of this money to drill on their land.”\

At the time, Father Pezzulo was serving small mission parishes in Arkansas, some of which were in or very near to the areas where energy companies wanted to drill. Some of his very parishioners in Scott County and Logan County would describe the treasure right under their feet and the checks they were receiving from the energy companies. Many others lined up around the block to get in on the new gold rush. Still, he was unmoved.

“It sounded too good to be true and being a native New Yorker and therefore with a cynical streak, I figured it was,” he said. “Something was wrong, something didn’t make sense.”

Criticism of industry isn't easy, Father Pezzulo said.

“I’ve been called a communist, a socialist, anti-job; I’ve been told to basically sit down and shut my mouth,” Father Pezzulo said. “I’ve been called everything but a child of God.”

But he hasn't been deterred, nor have doughty Arkansas nuns.

Sister Rosalie Ruesewald, OSB, chairman of the social concerns committee at St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, said the issue has headlined the committee’s agenda in recent years. The order has hosted speakers and showings of an anti-fracking documentary “Gasland” in several communities and the order is looking to fire another salvo in the future with showings of “Gasland II.”

“People are horrified, they wonder why more people don’t know about this,” she said. “Well, there are probably a lot of people who don’t want to know about it. They already have so many things, they don’t want something else to worry about.”

Asked why she or any other Catholic should care as a matter of social justice, her quiet tone turns resolute.

“Creation is a gift and we are here to take care of it,” she said. “There is an interconnectedness of all things on this earth, not just of human beings, but all living things. What hurts one hurts us all.”

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