to Google Earth, it’s easy to see Eastern North Carolina’s rural versus
urban dichotomy in the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Loosely following the path of the Interstate 95 corridor, the pipe
would cross 178 miles of mostly small farming communities that suffer
struggling economies and limited opportunity. Wealth here is in land,
history and culture.
For the most part, the pipeline cutting through Northhampton, Halifax,
Nash, Wilson, Johnston, Sampson, Cumberland and Robeson counties
bypasses cities, saving urban dwellers from loss of their homes and the
hazards of an underground duct carrying volatile gas being installed in
As political headwinds are shifting back in favor of fossil fuels,
opponents of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline are challenging
claims about the safety and economic benefits of natural gas to Eastern
North Carolina, pointing to methane leakage and decreased value of
property subdivided by pipeline easements.
There could be environmental impact for the coastal region too,” said
Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, a nonprofit clean energy
“Just the very nature of the state hydrology – it’s not just the large rivers. It’s streams, wetlands.”
Residents throughout the state would stand to be affected by increases
of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, he added, as well as potential
harm to watersheds, private wells and protected natural resources.
But pipeline proponents say natural gas could bring another kind of
riches: jobs, industry and economic growth – all long stagnant or out
of reach in the region. Transported 600 miles from West Virginia gas
shale through Virginia into North Carolina, the prospect of a
plentiful, reliable supply of the fuel has been welcomed by most of the
elected officials and business advocates in the eight counties.
A collaboration of Duke Energy, Dominion Resources, Piedmont Natural
Gas and Virginia Natural Gas, With the proposed $5 billion project,
with a 1.5 billion cubic yard per day capacity, if approved, is planned
to be in service by late 2019. The Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, better known as FERC, issued a Draft Environmental Impact
Statement in December 2016. Comments on the proposal will be accepted
through April 6.
The pipeline would cross into North Carolina at Northampton County near
Pleasant Hill and end in Lumberton. Construction could start as soon as
John Chaffee, president and CEO of NC East Alliance, a nonprofit
economic development advocate serving 28 counties in eastern North
Carolina, said that the availability of pressurized natural gas would
attract more industry and manufacturing to a region that has long
needed an economic shot in the arm. Although there is natural gas
available, piped in from the Gulf of Mexico, it has inadequate pressure.
“We’re at the end of the distribution line,” he said, adding that it is not enough to sustain large industry.
Chaffee, a 40-year veteran of economic development in the region,
acknowledged that some property owners will be unhappy with the pipe’s
location through or near their land, their home or their community. But
unfortunately, he said, highways, power plants and other public
infrastructure come with tradeoffs.
“The downside is that some people will have their lives disrupted,” he
said of the pipeline. “In eastern North Carolina, as a whole, I think
the benefits outweigh that.”
According to Dominion, the 2-year construction project would bring
nearly $700 million in economic activity to the region and create more
than 4,000 good-paying jobs. In addition, the pipeline would bring work
for local construction supply and service industries.
In the first 20 years of operation, Dominion projects that the pipeline
would generate $1.2 billion in capital investment in the state, save
$130 million in annual costs for electric and gas customers and pay a
total $28 million annually in property tax revenue to communities.
Another benefit, he said, is that natural gas is cleaner than coal and
does not require the massive start-up costs of nuclear. It also does
not leave behind toxic coal ash or radioactive waste, respectively.
Chaffee agrees with numerous policy makers who promote natural gas as
a “bridge” between dirtier fossil fuels oil such as coal and
clean renewable energy such as wind and solar.
“It’s a better complement to renewable energy,” he said. As a backup,
it can be turned on quicker than coal-fired or nuclear power plants.
“We support its development,” Chaffee said about renewables. “We think
when done properly, in an organized fashion, it’s a very good rural
economic development strategy. Wind energy and solar energy provide a
boost to those counties’ tax base.”
Still, a growing number of residents and property owners are skeptical
about the pipeline. They worry about losing property value from having
it divided by easements that restrict building. They worry about
compromising sacred ancestral land. They worry about explosions,
methane pollution and harm to waterways and animals.
Critics also warn that the amount of natural gas is overestimated, and
the pipeline could run dry in the near future. Most of the pipe
would be 36-inch diameter, buried under 3 to 5 feet of ground. It
would run deeper under streams and railroads.
attempting to use my property as economic sacrifice for their corporate
profits,” said Marvin Winstead, a small farmer and former educator in
Nash County. “It would ruin my farm.”
Winstead said he has declined to accept the right of way offer from the
utilities, because it would undermine the his future ability to
subdivide his land, making it lose considerable value.
“If that pipeline goes across,” he said, “it’s forever locked into farmland.”
But some scientists NC Warn has worked with say there are considerable risks to a natural gas pipeline beyond land use.
“There’s a real uncertainty about the supply of gas over time,” Warren
said. “This assumption that this going to be automatically good for
North Carolina’s economy needs to be scrutinized.”
David Hughes, a shale gas expert from Canada, said that the amount of
underground natural gas that can produced by fracking is exaggerated by
50 percent or more.
Hughes, currently a scientist with the Post Carbon Institute, said that most shale wells dry up quickly.
“If natural gas production declines, as is currently the case,” he
said, “and drilling rates cannot be maintained due to poor economics,
fuel prices could skyrocket, putting (electricity customers) at risk of
shortages and price spikes.”
A Cornell University scientist, Robert Howarth, also disputed the value of natural gas as a “bridge” fuel.
“The problem is that natural gas is composed mostly of methane,”
Howarth said in a 2016 video, “and methane is just an incredibly potent
greenhouse gas, more than 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
“So if we leak a little bit of that methane into the atmosphere when we develop gas, it’s simply disastrous.”
Warren said it would be a different story if more gas power was the
only option available. North Carolina has one of the largest commercial
solar industries in the nation, and interest is high in land-based
commercial wind power.
But the state’s utilities are one of the few in the country that
maintain near monopoly-control, he added, and the Republican-controlled
legislature has introduced numerous bills attempting to hobble the
Members of the North Carolina Alliance to Protect Our People and The
Places We Live, or APPPL, had organized a walk from the Virginia-North
Carolina border along the 200 or so miles of the proposed pipeline
route to raise awareness about the project. It began March 4 and ended
Sunday in Hamlet in Robeson County. The statewide coalition was formed
in late 2016 to protest the pipeline.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is also a social justice issue, said Ericka
Faircloth, Clean Water for North Carolina organizer for water and
energy issues. Much of the gas line, she said, runs through
historically African-American and indigenous communities.
For instance, the population in Northhampton County, where the pipe
enters North Carolina, is 59 percent black, she said, compared with
about 22 percent statewide. (The county will also be the site of a gas
compressor, which opponents say is vulnerable to methane leaks and
explosions.) Halifax County is 50 percent black, and Robeson
County is 38 percent Native American – the statewide average is 1.2
percent – and 25 percent black.
“It’s very disruptive and it’s very dangerous,” said Faircloth, a
member of an indigenous community in Scotland and Robeson
counties. The Chmura economic report showed that only 18
permanent jobs would be created in North Carolina, she added.
In some places, she said, the proposed pipeline would pass just several
hundred feet from houses and trailers, raising concerns about safety if
there was a fire or an explosion.
Few residents she has encountered outright favor the pipeline.
of them are neutral and they’ll say things on the line of, ‘I don’t
really want it, but what choice do I have?’,” Faircloth said.
Pipeline crews require a 110-foot-wide strip of land to work during
construction, according to Dominion. The permanent right of way would
be reduced to 50 feet. Landowners retain ownership, but are barred from
planting trees or building on top of the right of way.
Of the 1,000 or so properties the pipeline would cross in North
Carolina, about half have already signed agreements with the utility
company, said Dominion NC spokesperson Aaron Ruby.
But Ruby said “it’s way too premature” for eminent domain – a law that
allows property to be taken, with compensation, for public projects –
to be an issue. The authority does not even exist, he said, until a
project has received full federal approval.
The pipeline will allow large quantities of natural gas to be
transported long distances to be distributed by local gas utilities to
customers, Ruby said. It is not intended, he added, to be
available for local communities or individual homeowners to tap
Ruby said that buried pipelines are “by far” the safest way to transport natural gas, compared with rail and truck.
Many steps are taken to ensure the safety of the pipeline, during and
after construction, he said. The pipeline itself is built with ½-inch
to ¾-inch thick steel pipe, and the pipe is coated with epoxy to
protect against corrosion. Before the pipeline is put into service,
welds are X-rayed, and the lines are pressure-tested. Afterward, it is
continuously monitored in real-time with sensors located inside the
pipe. Any problems can be isolated to the individual pipe section and
remote-controlled shut-off valves allow immediate response – an ability
lacking in older systems.
There is also a robotic device called a “smart pig” that uses
ultrasound technology to inspect the entire length of the pipeline
every seven years.
More than 6,000 miles of potential routes were evaluated, with at least
300 adjustments made, before the proposed route was selected, he said.
Demographics and socioeconomics of a community had nothing to do with
the route selection, he said.
Ruby said that the lack of natural gas infrastructure is a prime reason that the region has struggled economically.
“That’s why this project,” he said, “is so critically important to Eastern North Carolina.”