This past Monday I attended the City of Aurora’s Public Hearing regarding the previous administrative approval to drill up to 16 horizontally mined oil and gas wells on a 15-acre property just one mile north of The Land. Since the inception of The Land, the oil and gas industry has been an ongoing source of stress for our development. The pressure to utilize the property for Conoco Phillips drilling sites was the impetus for a property swap in 2012 relocating us to our current location. Calls from oil and gas companies regarding utilization of our property have been a steady source of added workload as we try to balance “being a good neighbor” and protecting the integrity of our mission. The Conoco Phillips fracking site has resulted in heavy traffic, visible pollution and distracting noise during our Saturday morning gatherings. While these realities had arrived with a surrender to the “way things are” the proposal of a completely new, mega-fracking site on top of the drilling that already suffocated us seemed to a demand a public declaration that enough was enough.
Monday evenings Public Hearing lasted three hours and featured the articulate, compassionate, pleading opposition to this new site from 38 courageous citizens. Located just 1,000 feet from a mobile home park that already has the lowest air quality score in the City, this mega-fracking site would only increase the risk of birth defects, asthma, and cancers for the 481 families residing there. Even the weakest moral compass clearly pointed toward an easy no. The testimony was so powerfully presented and the facts so blatantly clear that I felt surprisingly hopeful that the City Council’s vote would reflect the will and wisdom of its people. With the oil and gas company given unlimited time to respond to the testimony, the hearing concluded in a 7 to 3 vote with the City Council affirming the administrative approval of the Jamasco oil and gas site in northeast Aurora.
Beyond my experience at the public hearing on Monday night, there have been tears, prayers, and swallowed pride in all of this for me. Tears when the original property became some version of a fracking site, prayers as I watched an enormous noise barrier go up across the street in the time it took us to hold a gathering, swallowed pride each time I turn the key in the ignition of my car only to be reminded of my complicity in the current environmental crisis. Still, even in the residue of this City Council hearing, my focus is on remaining ever open and tender in a world drowning out the reality of our planet’s plight with every political decision and consumeristic choice.
The possibility of The Land will not be drowned out by the oil and gas sites but highlighted as their presence makes our purpose increasingly prominent. Their ongoing arrival announcing the desperate need to cultivate manifestations of hope and possibility that defy the obstacles of politics and bureaucracy. Communities that transform dismissed stories and derailed dreams into sacred spaces of belonging; an edible labyrinth, an outdoor amphitheater, a cathedral greenhouse. The Land, it seems, will not be a community that stands against but a community that sits with those who are being left behind in the frantic stampede of economic progress. It will be our love for one another and our belief in an alternative path forward that reminds the world that there will always remain untouchable plots of hope to guide us back to the beauty from which we came.