Economic justice and extractive industries have long been priority issues for the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach affecting those whom we serve and live with around the world. The CCAO advocates for economic practices that provide for the common good through sustainable development and fair distribution that respects creation. Extractive industries represent an irresponsible form of resource management that exploits God’s Earth and local populations. Economic injustice and extractive industries challenge communities around the world where Columbans serve, and are even right in our own backyard. A salient example of this plays out in the negotiations of a new trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a free trade agreement proposal negotiated between the US and 12 countries including Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Mexico that will represent 40% of world trade. The TPP aims to liberalize trade between the economies of the Asia-Pacific region in a variety of sectors. Due to a recent change in U.S. law, this particular agreement will for the first time, allow the U.S. to export freely natural gas.
A growing percentage of our natural gas comes from hydraulic fracturing (often referred as fracking). Fracking is a process by which liquified natural gas is extracted from the earth. Here is how fracking works: companies drill and inject shale rocks with fluids at high pressure to release the natural gas inside. The fluids are mainly water and untested chemicals whose names are not disclosed to the public or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Recently, the industry of fracking has taken hold in the parts of the United States such as Pennsylvania and New York, and becoming more common in other states.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would increase the number of markets for liquefied natural gas exports, expanding incentives for fracking, especially due to Japan’s participation since they depend heavily on LNG for energy. Other stipulations of TPP called Investor- State Provisions would allow foreign corporations to come into the US and set up hydraulic fracturing industries of their own. Communities, state and tribal governments, and the federal government would then have little ability to refuse the development of domestic fracking. If they reject a bid from a foreign company, they will likely be sued in special tribunal set up in the World Bank to handle Investor-State Disputes- not in our own local, state or federal courts.
At first glance both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fracking may seem like viable economic opportunities that could potentially pull the United States out of its economic slump. However, both propose policies and practices that undermine Creation and the common good. Together they make way for communities to be disrupted by the influx of corporations not from the area. This violates the Catholic Social Teaching principle of subsidiarity within local economies. Rent prices increase, property rights are forcefully bought out from local landowners, racial tensions and communal conflict occur, there is greater risk for the violation of women’s rights; all exacerbating social insecurity.
There are also environmental impacts to consider. Fracking contaminates ground water, decreases air quality with a variety of chemicals and gases, and the mishandling of waste can cause further pollution.
How then, I ask, does advancement of the fracking industry by the Trans-Pacific Partnership promote the common good? Nowhere do I see a sense of stewardship of God’s creation and God’s people. Conditions wrought by economic inequality only stand to be exaggerated. Christ lived as a great healer when he walked the Earth and continues to do so through the Gospel. As people of faith, we too are called to be healers in our world. We are to bind up the wounds of injustice and nurse creation back to health(Romans 8:21). The Trans-Pacific Partnership or any future free trade agreement operating within the same rules, and fracking are potential viruses that stand to threaten existence and the dignity of life. Do we step back and watch the carnage or do we become healers in our right through refusal of policies that bruise God’s creation?