W. Pa. Church Group Ends Gas Drilling Moratorium

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A Pittsburgh religious group has voted to end a yearlong moratorium on shale gas development on church property, which could clear the way for construction of a gas pipeline.

The decision was made earlier this month by approximately 230 voting members of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday. Approximately one-third of the Presbytery voted to renew the moratorium.

Sheldon Sorge, general minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, acknowledged the division within the Presbytery on the moratorium and the pipeline, but he said the churches maintain a strong environmental commitment. The Presbytery represents the region’s 150 Presbyterian churches.

“There is significant controversy in our communities about shale gas development, and because it is in our communities, it is in our churches where we see deeply divided concerns,” Sorge told the Post-Gazette. “But we remain united in responsible stewardship of the environment, even those open to churches talking to gas companies.”

The Presbytery also voted to allow negotiations with Shell Oil and Gas Co. for a gas pipeline across an undeveloped corner of the 226-acre Crestfield camp near Slippery Rock. That’s about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. The camp depends on funding from member churches, but its operating budget for this summer was all but eliminated due to budgetary constraints. Most of the revenue from a pipeline lease would go to the camp.

Sorge said Shell Oil Co. approached the Presbytery about constructing a half-mile of a new natural gas pipeline through the Crestfield property, which borders Slippery Rock Creek. The Post-Gazette reported that several Presbytery leaders confirmed that negotiations are underway on a contract, but emphasized it would be located on a corner of the property away from the creek, camp buildings and activity areas.

Although allowing drilling leases could help church budgets, Sorge said those are secondary considerations when reviewing the pipeline project and other proposals made to lease gas rights under church property.

“The issue is not how many dollars this will bring in but that we will continue to be good stewards of the land,” Sorge said. “I have absolutely no doubt we will monitor this project closely and err on the side of caution in protection of the environment.

“Whether that allows for some drilling or shale gas development is the question we have some disagreement on.”

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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