For so many North Carolinians, summertime means sitting by a lake, fishing in a creek and floating on a river. These bodies of water are essential to our way of life. Growing up outside of Wilson, I was baptized in Finch’s Millpond and swam in Contentnea Creek to cool off during breaks from barning tobacco. These days I run our family farms in Nash and Wilson counties. Contentnea Creek crosses right through the old family farm in Wilson County. If Duke Energy gets its way, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cross our farm – and it will cross the creek, too.
Waterways like Contentnea Creek aren’t just important for us here in Nash County, they’re important for folks across the state. Contentnea Creek takes water from Buckhorn Reservoir to Wiggins Mill Reservoir to be turned into the drinking water for people who live in Wilson. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of creeks all across eastern North Carolina that run into rivers that end up being our drinking water, swimming holes and fishing spots. If Duke Energy gets its way, though, the fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be built across more than 500 North Carolina waterways as it is constructed from West Virginia through North Carolina, cutting through numerous communities, family farms and reservoirs along the way.
Similar pipelines in other states have presented a host of problems. Just recently, the Rover Pipeline, another fracked gas project, has faced one disaster after another, and the states of West Virginia and Ohio have ordered part of its construction to stop. In just one accident, 2 million gallons of drilling fluid were leaked into Ohio’s wetlands.
Here in North Carolina, we know far too well the dangers fossil fuel projects can pose to our waterways. We’re still dealing with the Duke Energy coal ash spill of 2014. We worry about chemicals contaminating our water, too – like the GenX that flowed from the Fayetteville area down the Cape Fear River into the drinking water of Wilmington.
Just as an oil spill from offshore drilling could threaten our beach tourism economy, an accident during construction of the pipeline could hurt the communities these rivers cut through. Fishing, duck hunting, swimming and boating could all be affected throughout eastern and coastal North Carolina.
With such terrible threats, you might wonder why a company like Duke Energy would even suggest building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It really comes down to profit rather than need for the pipeline. Duke plans to take private land through eminent domain. It will then raise our rates to pay for the construction and get a 14 percent return on the investment for its shareholders, whether or not the fracked gas is ever used. Not a bad deal for Duke Energy, but it has already proposed raising rates on its customers, in part to pay for cleaning up the coal ash ponds – and I’m not feeling particularly charitable toward the nation’s largest energy monopoly.
North Carolina has the second-highest solar capacity of any state and even more untapped potential, including some of the best wind resources on the east coast. That means it’s within our reach to make our state more energy independent while providing new job opportunities for rural counties instead of continuing to import fossil fuels from out of state. Meanwhile, the the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will threaten everything it comes near – including homes, schools and businesses that would be at risk if there were any pipeline accidents like spills or explosions.
North Carolina has long been a state of firsts; we were first in flight, we started the first public university in the United States, and we were the first state to send a woman to the state legislature when Lillian Exum Clement was elected. Just as we want to lead in technological innovation, educational opportunities and political progress, we can lead the transition to clean, renewable energy. We are one of the top states for solar energy, our governor has come out against offshore drilling, and now, we can lead by being the state that stopped the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Pearl Finch is a farmer in the Wilson area and a board member of the N.C. Council of Community Programs.
To comment on Duke Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, email PublicComments@ncdenr.gov and include “ACP” in the subject line before the Aug. 19 deadline.