It’s tempting to think of the Amish as low-carbon innocents, the last people on earth who would knowingly invite oil and gas companies to intrude upon the land that sustains them. And the sight of wooden buggies parked near chemical tankers does spark some cognitive dissonance (as does learning that some Amish feel animosity toward energy companies only because they settled for $3 an acre, instead of $3,000).
But “the Amish are capitalists,” says Erik Wesner, a former scholar of Anabaptism who founded the website Amish America, which examines Amish culture and communities across North America. They’re astute businesspeople, Wesner continues, and “they make individual decisions, so long as they don’t go against their Ordnung,” or rules and standards.
Besides, the Amish have to pay taxes like anyone else, and farming has never been lucrative. They say the wells, as presented by the gas companies, seemed innocuous. According to Hahn, the technological isolation of the Amish can make them easy marks: “They don’t have televisions or the Internet, so they can’t learn about fracking or even see if the landmen are lying when they say their neighbors have leased and that they could make a lot of money.”
Landmen even brandish maps, Hahn adds, with plots falsely marked as leased. Dubransky says that landmen tried fooling him, as well. “I had a kid tell me I’d have more protection [against other drillers] if I signed a lease than if I didn’t,” he says, incredulous. (Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow energy companies to drill under non-leased property, so by not signing a lease, Dubransky kept his land protected.)
With other concerned community members, including Matteo, Hahn last year formed the Fracking Truth Alliance of Lawrence and Mercer Counties, which hosts forums to raise awareness about oil and gas development. Amish men have come to several of these, Hahn says. The group fought, unsuccessfully, to prevent the Wilmington Area School Board from leasing district-owned land to an energy company. And it’s currently trying to raise money to help Amish families test their water before deeper drilling and fracking begin. Without such baseline data on pre-drilling conditions, it’s impossible to win a lawsuit should water later become polluted.
“It costs $1,200 for a Tier 3 test, which is the broadest spectrum,” Hahn says. “But many of these families live below the poverty level.” (The Penn State Cooperative Extension Service recommends twice-a-year testing for the next 30 years if there is drilling and fracking activity near your house to monitor any potential pollution. Pricing may vary.)
The Amish worry about water quality for themselves, for their livestock and their gardens; they also worry about heavy traffic, which could shatter the carefully cultivated tranquility of their daily rhythms. There are reports, in other fracked counties, of well-servicing trucks running horses and buggies off the road. In Wisconsin, an Amish family is fighting a rail yard that will wash and load fracking sand, on the grounds that the noise and traffic may prevent them from practicing their religion. Constitutional issues aside, their legal action is noteworthy because the Amish way is to resist quietly, if at all.
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