Acton Institute Powerblog

Feisty Nuns’ Pipeline Battle Cute but Wrong-Headed

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There are days when policy conflicts appear to be clear cut. Such is the case with the nuns and monks protesting a proposed pipeline across their Kentucky land. As a property rights advocate, I agree wholeheartedly that the Sisters of Loretto and monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani are well within their rights to protest running a pipeline across their property. I disagree vehemently, however, with the rationales behind the protest – namely the religious’ ill-advised environmental opposition to fossil fuels and pipelines in general.

After winning their battle to prevent surveyors on their Marion County property and a subsequent agreement to reroute the Bluegrass natural gas pipeline, the Kentucky nuns and monks expanded their battle to shut down the pipeline altogether:

Earlier this year, the nuns of Sisters of Loretto and the monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani refused to allow Bluegrass pipeline workers to survey their property — which, between the two religious communities, amounts to more than 3,000 acres that they’ve owned since the 1800s. In September, a representative of Williams Co., the company which, along with Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, is building the Bluegrass pipeline, confirmed that the pipeline would not go through the religious communities’ property. The nuns, however, promised to continue to fight the pipeline, saying the fight wasn’t about them, but about ensuring the environment isn’t abused for the sake of profit.

Last time I checked, religious were supposed to care more about the plight of the poor and being good environmental stewards more than serving as advocates for unproven theories concerning catastrophic climate change and trumped-up safety issues. Inexpensive fuel shipped inexpensively benefits everyone.

And “profits”? Heaven forfend a company make profits bringing a much-needed product to market, benefiting not only the financially disadvantaged, but as well the wealthy and middle class, company employees, communities, state and federal tax rolls and shareholders. Need I mention many of these religious – as in clergy, nuns and other people of faith affiliated with the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility and As You Sow – are among the latter category? It would seem these religious shareholders are working at cross purposes to their own financial best interests.

If the Sisters of Loretto and monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani succeed in implementing a pipeline moratorium, it’ll require alternative transportation in the form of far-less safe trains and trucks, which is certainly a detriment for workers:

US data on incident, injury, and fatality rates for pipelines, road, and rail for the 2005 to 2009 period (the latest data available) show that road and rail have higher rates of serious incidents, injuries, and fatalities than pipelines, even though more road and rail incidents go unreported. Americans are 75 percent more likely to get killed by lightning than to be killed in a pipeline accident (Furchtgott-Roth, 2013).

And this:

Pipelines are extremely safe. From 2006-2008, there were only 0.7 incidents per thousand miles, a decrease of 63% from 1999-2001.Pipelines also generally have a better safety record (deaths, injuries, fires/explosions) than other modes of oil transportation. For example, compared to the pipeline record, there are 87 times more oil transport truck-related deaths, 35 times more oil transport truck related fires/explosions and twice as many oil transport truck-related injuries.

Environmental issues are addressed by the same source as above: “Pipelines are also environmentally friendly. For example, to replace a medium-sized pipeline that transports 150,000 barrels a day would require operating more than 750 trucks or a 75-car train every day.” According to the Association of Oil Pipe Lines:

Oil pipelines are a vital part of our country’s infrastructure and have been quietly serving the nation for decades. Our transportation system—cars, delivery trucks, airplanes, trains, and water carriers—could not operate without significant support from pipelines transporting oil to refineries, and refined products from refineries to distribution points. Almost all gasoline is transported by pipeline. Tanker trucks delivering to the local gas station usually carry gasoline only the last few miles, after picking it up from a pipeline at a distribution terminal. The driving public reaps the benefits of pipeline transportation at a cost of about only 2.5 cents per gallon of gasoline.

Finally, although the media may think it endearing to report on feisty nuns and monks rebelling against “Big Oil,” they might want to scratch beneath the superficially cute appearance to reveal the disturbing unintended consequences of their efforts. These include raising energy costs for those least able to afford it; forcing less-safe train and truck carriage of natural gas; either increasing safety risks for employees or threatening employment altogether; and reducing company and shareholder profits.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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