Sr. Barbara O'Donnell

Sr. Barbara O'Donnell

December 23, 2013

With 761 acres of mostly wooded property nestled along the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary feel they have been entrusted with a special oasis.

The land encompasses a 250-acre organic farm, grazing land for cattle and sheep, wetlands and shaded open space where members of the community, employees and visitors can relax, walk and pray, all to gain a deeper appreciation of creation.

So when the landmen representing energy companies approached in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with offers of thousands of dollars per acre for the natural gas rights in the shale formations deep below the surface, the sisters stepped back and asked themselves what the land they have nurtured for nearly 150 years really meant to the community.

What they decided was to firmly tell the landmen, "No."

Never mind that some of the sisters' 80 neighbours had readily signed on, likely bringing industrial-scale natural gas mining that uses the controversial slick water hydraulic fracturing process to the congregation's doorsteps.

For now, explained Sister Barbara O'Donnell, the 2012 decision to forgo signing any lease was the best way to protect the piece of creation the sisters call home.

"We could have made lots of money, and we have things that we could have invested that into," O'Donnell said. "But at this time we just could not say yes to that because the land has sustained us from the time we came here in 1864."