Opponents of a natural gas pipeline planned for eastern North Carolina are crying out for help in fighting the project.
Dominion Power and Duke Energy in 2014 announced plans to build a $5 billion, 600-mile pipeline to carry natural gas to North Carolina from fracking operations in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The project, known as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, would be only the second major interstate gas line into the state.
On Saturday, a newly formed group of residents and environmentalists known as the Alliance to Stop the Pipeline held marches in Cumberland, Nash and Robeson counties to protest the project and raise awareness about it across the state. Members are asking residents to oppose the project by signing an online petition and contacting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is reviewing the pipeline plans.
Dominion expects to receive the necessary construction approvals by next fall and begin construction shortly thereafter, said Aaron Ruby, the company’s manager of media relations for the project.
Supporters of the project say it will boost local economies as well as help energy companies transition away from their use of coal, which emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural gas. The project would generate a combined $7.7 million in property tax revenue for eight counties – Northampton, Johnston, Cumberland, Nash, Robeson, Halifax, Wilson and Sampson – each year, Ruby said.
But some residents fear having a pipeline nearby will endanger their health and property values, while environmentalists say that methane released into the air by such natural gas pipelines potentially accelerates global warming more than carbon dioxide released by coal.
Joe Poland, a retired farmer, was one of about 50 people who congregated at Ennis Park in Red Oak on Saturday morning to march nine miles to the Nash County Courthouse in Nashville. The group included local property owners, environmental activists and students from distant places like Warren Wilson College near Asheville.
Environmental group NC WARN helped organize Saturday’s marches.
There are safety concerns, environmental concerns, agricultural concerns. This is a bigger issue than people realize.
Joe Poland, retired farmer
Poland said he rejected pipeline planners’ request to build on his property off Lindsay Road, which has been in his family since the 1840s.
Dominion representatives say the company plans to bury the pipeline three to five feet underground. Poland said he worries about the gas leaking into his soil or the water system – or even causing an explosion.
“There are safety concerns, environmental concerns, agricultural concerns,” Poland said. “This is a bigger issue than people realize.”
Marvin Winstead said he also rejected the companies’ offer for his land about 15 miles south of Red Oak but worries that the companies may take him to court to seize the land under eminent domain laws.
“I grew up on this property. This is my family home, my ancestral home. The house is about 85 or 90 years old,” Winstead said. “I don’t want a private, for-profit company telling me what I can and can’t do with my land.”
Landowners who allow the pipeline on their property can’t grow trees on it but can grow crops and raise livestock, said Ruby, Dominion’s spokesman. The company, which plans to hire 18 people in North Carolina, has high-tech safeguards against leaks, he said.
To check for leaks, Dominion X-rays “every single weld of pipeline,” Ruby said. To make sure the pipe is durable, the company tests the pipe using water that puts 1.5 times the maximum pressure that the pipe will undergo when funneling gas, he said.
“We employ overlapping layers of protection to make sure gas doesn’t leak from the pipeline,” Ruby said. “We know about leaks instantaneously and fix it before it becomes a safety risk to the public or the environment.”
Ruby referred to Saturday’s protesters as the “vocal minority.”
The project has its own support group known as the EnergySure Coalition that includes dozens of businesses in areas that would host the pipeline. Local governments in counties such as Robeson, Sampson, Northampton have also endorsed the project.
Dominion has signed easement agreements with half of the property owners on the route and adjusted its plans in accordance with residents’ wishes, he said.
“We’ve made more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and address specific landowner requests,” Ruby said.
Still, the pipeline’s presence is worrisome to residents like Roger Drake. Drake, who says he rejected the companies’ request to build the pipeline on his property near Nashville, said the energy companies should instead start building wind and solar farms.
“It would be more expensive, but it wouldn’t pollute the ozone or the water,” Drake said.