Fracking in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania

A friend recently sent me a link to an article in On Earth Magazine called “Fracking the Amish” that reports the conflict in the Amish settlement in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border.

I have been to this community on two occasions. My maternal grandmother grew up there. I wrote a story called “Sarah’s Courtship” that is based on experiences in her young adult life.

When I was In New Wilmington in the 1990s, it seemed that this community needed a new source of revenue because many were having a hard time making ends meet. But because of the rules of the church, they would not permit any of their people to own or work in an Amish-style restaurant because they didn’t want to promote tourism. It is considered one of the older Amish communities (founded in 1949), and it is fairly conservative.

Now this Amish community is divided on the issue of whether to sell mineral rights to the oil/gas companies. Some have already done so, and it sounds as though the first to do so some years ago didn’t ask their elders if they may. This is often how something new will creep into an Amish community… by default. While the elders focus on keeping the community from changing in one area, they miss the bigger changes that actually have more of a negative effect on their community. By the time it’s crept in, they cannot reverse it. In this case, mineral contracts with the oil companies are going to trump the Amish church Ordnung… It’s now too late to stop it — some contracts are already signed.

This is another example of how inconsistent some of the rules of the Amish Ordnung are, at least as seen from the outside. During one of my visits to my parents some years ago, I saw something that I’d never seen before… my niece was out mowing the lawn with a hand push mower, while her brother was using a weed whacker over by the fence line.

How does such a thing happen, you might ask. It’s because each time a new technology comes into being, the bishops in each church district have to decide whether or not to embrace this technology. Once that has been decided, they rarely reverse their decisions. So, back when the power lawn mowers came into being, the bishops in my home community decided against adopting them. Apparently when the weed whackers came into being, the bishops decided to allow them. It all depends who is bishop at the time, and who wants something new to be allowed. I know my maternal grandfather was instrumental in convincing the bishops to allow chain saws, back when they came into being. However, in Anna Miller’s community in upstate, New York, they are still not allowed to use chain saws.

Another example of something new creeping in, while adhering to an old rule is the telephone. Most Amish communities have traditionally eschewed telephones in their homes. Than along came the cell phone, which was a lot easier to hide and many Amish do. I wonder if cell phones would be more or less seductive to the Amish if home phones had been allowed? To me, the cell phone is much more individualistic and isolates people from one another more than a regular old home phone. Whether or not a technology is apt to bring people together or isolate them from one another is often a consideration for elders in Amish church districts.

So, in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, it seems the elders lost control of whether or not their members sign on with the big oil companies. I wonder if they wish they’d been more lenient about working in restaurants or allowing more modern equipment for farming, or any number of other things. Or perhaps they don’t see the connection.

What do you think? Was signing on with the oil companies a mistake for the Amish in this community? Or a blessing? 

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6 thoughts on “Fracking in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania”

  1. Blessing or mistake? I suppose it all depends on how you look at it. Big companies nearly always get their way because money & power are extremely difficult for the “little guys” to deal with. They are also corrupting, so I think the Amish (most of them, anyway) will rue the day they signed on. I can’t think of ANYTHING about the fracking process that will sit well with the Amish, except the money – and it, too, they may well decide is not worth it. They are quite simply being tempted, as we all are, by the lure of what they can do with “easy” money. I have to wonder, also, if their level of education doesn’t go against them in terms of dealing with the vast amount of new technologies today and the speed with which they develop and change. Time will tell, but I wish them well and have my doubts…

  2. Fracking is a mistake! The amount of water necessary to frack and the lack of a plan on the disposal of the water makes fracking a short term economic gain with long term negative consequences. Natural gas prices are at all time lows. The gas and oil should stay in the ground until we can figure out how to drill for it properly. Saturday I was in Angelica NY which is in the Marcellus Shale region and Amish friends I visited said that they would like to see the area left alone. Many are afraid that land prices will become too high that their children will not to able to afford a farm. Please go to

  3. I remember when that first round of oil rights came around a number of Amish signed up in Holmes County. I am not aware any of them got rich in a proud way. It helped them pay off their debt and get them on their feet…

  4. Mistake … wonder why the families made this decision on their own? Quite unusual! Any deals made with companies should be undertaken with care and advisement from someone who has no stake in the outcome. I’m afraid it made sense to these Amish families years ago, since “drilling” at that time did not involve what “fracking” does, now. Back in the day, you could still farm your land with an oil well/rig in place. Fracking will not allow that.

  5. Whenever I hear about companies digging up the land to make profits for themselves the hair stands up on the back of my neck. From what I know about fracking it doesn’t seem to be a good thing. A few weeks back I saw on the internet, I believe, a community whos water was “polluted” as a result of fracking. It would blaze whenever a match was lit by it. I couldn’t believe it. How is it that over a period of 200 odd years, or much less, the people living on this earth have managed to destroy so much of it?
    In my opinion it was a bad idea to mingle with the large company, but I’m not in the shoes of the Amish folks either. If I had to hear the cries of my children because they were hungry I would do what instinct dictates and that is to feed them in any way I needed to. If the Amish family knew they were doing wrong by not telling the bishop, who would not allow the land transaction, just who is causing who to sin?
    The troubles in the Amish faith grieve me to no end. Not only has my illusional bubble been popped regarding their way of life, but it is far worse than what I would have imagined. All of the interfering media hype has shed a new light on the Amish peoples’ ways. For the most part, the truth is coming forth. This can only be a good thing. “The truth will set you free.”

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