If the management team at Williams Partners was having flashbacks on Sunday, it was by design. The Oklahoma-based pipeline company has met stiff resistance to its proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline since it was first announced in 2014. On Sunday, hundreds of opponents of the project congregated in an outdoor chapel in Columbia, Pennsylvania on property owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an order of Catholic nuns. Among those in attendance were representatives from another order, the Sisters of Loretto, from Kentucky who helped defeat Williams’ Bluegrass pipeline in 2014.
The Sisters of Loretto led the congregants in the singing of “Amazing Grace.” A video of the nuns singing the hymn at a Bluegrass pipeline open house in 2013 became an internet sensation after it was spotted by Mother Jones.
Lancaster Against Pipelines, a grassroots group dedicated to stopping the nearly 200-mile natural gas transmission pipeline, constructed the chapel on a grove just feet from where the pipeline would cut through a corn field. The field and nearly cloudless blue sky above provided the backdrop for the simple wooden altar facing a few rows of wooden benches.
Williams Partners tried to stop the dedication. Last Thursday, the company submitted a 45-page emergency motion to a federal district judge in an attempt to take immediate possession of the property and get permission to deploy U.S. Marshals on the nuns and “any third parties authorized by the sisters to be on the property.”
It was a particularly brazen attempt on Williams’ part to get ahead of the legal process. The company was already scheduled to take the nuns to court later this month when it filed its emergency motion. The regulatory process is not complete yet either. The project has not yet received the permits from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection necessary to proceed with the pipeline.
Mark Clatterbuck, one of the group’s board members who helped construct the chapel, told the crowd that he thinks the company is getting nervous. He believes it understands that the chapel “is not sort of symbolic resistance, that it’s real and we’re not going away.”