Two Kentucky Catholic religious orders that collectively own more than 3,000 acres of historic farmland are refusing to give up portions of their lands for a proposed natural-gas pipeline that would channel millions of gallons of pressurized, highly flammable natural-gas liquids through the area. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the nuns of the Sisters of Loretto and the monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani have denied surveyors permission to survey the land ahead of the pipeline project and say that they have no interest in helping it along.

“We’ve been on this property since 1824,” said Sister Maria Visse, service coordinator for the Sisters of Loretto. “We feel entrusted with this (land). It’s a gift. It’s not a commodity.”

The energy company that hopes to build the pipeline -- Williams Co. of Tulsa, Oklahoma -- has repeatedly sent representatives and made requests for permission to survey the land, all of which have been summarily denied. The proposed pipeline would run from gas-drilling facilities in Pennsylvania to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, impacting 18 counties in Kentucky.

Visse told the Courier that she turned down the Williams Co.'s proposal to use the sisters' and the monks' land on the spot and without a second thought.

“This is just short-term money that has very dangerous potential long-term consequences,” Visse said. She worries about the impact of water pollution on the porous limestone bedrock upon which the community resides.

Brother Aaron Schulte of the Abbey of Gethsemani confirmed to the Courier that the abbey had been approached by the pipeline company, but declined to give an interview to the paper. The Trappist monks own about 2,500 acres of property, including the grounds of the monastery, a guest house and hundreds of acres of pristine woods.

Sister Claire McGowan, a Dominican nun and director of the New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future in Springfield, KY, said the project “would risk much of what makes Central Kentucky dear to us: the beauty of our landscape, the abundance of good water, the health of our air, the peaceful quietness of our rural areas, and the general sense of security from unexpected disasters.”

Williams Co. spokesperson Tom Droege told the Courier that he couldn't talk about his dealings with specific landowners along the pipeline's proposed route. He said the company plans to hold a series of open houses in communities that would be affected by the pipeline.

"With each landowner we approach," he said, "we pledge to be a respectful guest on their land and ensure they are well informed about what activities are taking place.”

Williams Co. is currently struggling to bring one of its Gulf coast ethylene plants back online after a deadly explosion on June 13. The Geismar Olefins plant in Louisiana had been plagued with safety violations prior to the propylene explosion that killed two workers and injured 77 others.

Six months before the incident, inspectors had noted the propylene leak that caused the explosion at Geismar Olefins, but plant managers failed to take any action. The company said that it hopes to have the damage repaired and the plant back online by April of 2014.

[image of a nun holding a candle at a worship service via Ryan Rodrick Beiler /]