Ah, Amish country. Land of fresh air, horse-drawn buggies, artisans, traditional crafts, and…fracking? Oil and gas companies are flooding Amish country in an attempt to find more petroleum sources, and they’re exploiting the Amish community in the process with abusive business practices. Now, the sight of oil and gas extraction is becoming familiar across regions traditionally settled by the Amish, and the families that accept oil and gas leases are relocating.
Are the Amish just opportunists taking advantage of great deals for their land? Or is the situation more complicated than that? As is so often the case, the situation in Amish communities appears to be layered with complexity, because fracking introduces a number of elements into communities that some Amish are finding undesirable. As their friends and neighbors sell up, they’re forced to make difficult choices about their land, and some are choosing to join the exodus.
Fracking leases allow oil and gas firms to access the petroleum rights on a property, for varying amounts depending on the deal negotiated. In a clear legal violation, some firms are securing leases for extremely low prices despite prevailing market values, and when victimized families discover they’ve been duped, they can’t even sue — because this would violate their religious values. As the Amish wise up, however, more and more land is being leased at lucrative prices and because relocation is part of the terms, they’re hitching up for other parts.
As fracking encroaches on the land of remaining families, they’re experiencing issues like polluted water, noise and other problems associated with fracking. Meanwhile, they’re losing their community, a critical part of Amish life, as Amish families work, worship, mourn and celebrate together. As people leave and families face a dwindling number of neighbors combined with the disruptions to their traditional way of life caused by fracking, some are up against the wall, and they make the only logical choice: selling their oil and gas rights and joining those who have already left.
Fracking tends to come hand in hand with development, including heavy equipment, construction and the creation of sudden popup communities filled with oil and gas workers. For people used to a slower, quieter way of life, this can be unsettling, and in some cases dangerous: people relying on horses and buggies, for example, don’t stand much of a chance in accidents with heavy equipment and big trucks. Meanwhile, new residents of Amish country may not respect Amish tradition and can cause problems for Amish communities.
This puts the Amish between a rock and a hard place. Even for families that might prefer to stay on land they’ve farmed for generations and have an emotional connection to, staying could come at too high a price, forcing them to sell out. While the Amish may have respect and concerns for the environment, and thus an interest in not contributing to fracking, it can be difficult to escape a suddenly disrupted community without the financial backing of oil and gas leases. Amish communities are also not necessarily invested in modern environmental concerns and approaches. While their low-impact lifestyle offers environmental benefits, they’ve also clashed with regulators and communities over environmental concerns in the past, in part because of their insular traditions, which do not necessarily easily allow for a changing understanding of environmental needs.
The massive cashout and exodus happening in some Amish communities highlights a tension between past and present, but it also demonstrates the need to protect vulnerable communities from exploitation by oil and gas companies. The fracking situation in Amish country might not have grown so extreme if it hadn’t been allowed to run unchecked.
Photo credit: Peter Dutton.