Op-Ed

The hidden dangers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Like a snake in the grass, the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would threaten Eastern North Carolina with dangers that tend to go unseen until it is too late to stop them. The people who expect to make money off the fracked gas pipeline – Duke Energy and their corporate partners – are hoping that their “out of sight, out of mind” strategy will allow them to slide the project by local residents until it is built. A corporate monopoly is ripe for abuse, especially when given the power of eminent domain.

Much of the opposition to the ACP has rightly been focused on the ways it will harm our water quality. As we have seen from similar projects, runoff from construction sites can kill fish and drilling fluid can pollute our waterways, as when the Rover Pipeline spilled 2,000,000 gallons of drilling fluid in Ohio wetlands just last year. The pipeline will pass through or under over 320 rivers and creeks in eastern North Carolina, in addition near wells, underground aquifers, wetlands, swamps and marsh.

It’s important to consider the hidden dangers of these pipelines, too. The gas in the ACP would be mostly methane, which is colorless and odorless, but far from harmless. Methane is 87 times more harmful to our climate than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere, exacerbating the effects of climate change like faster sea level rise and stronger hurricanes. All pipelines leak, and if the ACP gets built, it’s going to leak into the air we breathe here in Eastern North Carolina and Duke Energy knows that, of course, and planned to put something called a compressor station in Northampton County, where they are counting on an underprivileged community to put up less of a fight than they would get in Raleigh or its suburbs. Not only will this gas leak into our air, but also into our water, approximately 320 rivers, creeks and streams.

The gas in the pipeline would also be highly flammable and present a threat to life and limb. Pipeline explosions do cause severe injuries and death. In fact, two farmers in Illinois were killed when their equipment struck an underground pipeline a few months ago.

Landowners are at risk for damages and injuries to themselves as well as at risk for liability for damages or injuries to others. Yet Duke Energy says through their spokesperson that the ACP will assume all liability for the pipeline. The ACP is not assuming all liability for harm from the pipeline as the public records reflect in the “Easement Agreements” filed. These risk were not mentioned by ACP representatives at the numerous meetings promoting the pipeline since 2015.

So if the pipeline is so dangerous and Duke has to sue landowners in order to put it across their land, why is this pipeline proposed at all? Duke and their partners are telling us that it’s needed to bring fracked gas to Eastern North Carolina. However, a new report shows that they are using smoke and mirrors to justify demand by selling contracts for the gas to themselves via their own subsidiaries. And do they really need that much gas in North Carolina? It does not appear that way, since despite plans showing the end point in Robeson County, leaked audio from an ACP executive’s comments to gas industry insiders revealed they plan to extend the ACP into South Carolina, too.

Secret contracts were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the ACP and all its partners to justify the “need” for a gas pipeline. Through this zero transparency, they want the people in eastern North Carolina to believe their intentions are good. And of course, if the ACP breaches promises made to get the pipeline approved and built, there is no enforcement authority for the citizens against the ACP for failing to honor promises and representations.

As if being bad for our health wasn’t enough, these pipelines threaten our property and prosperity, too.

Pipelines drive down property values, substantially limiting landowners’ use of their properties, while the landowners continue to pay the property taxes, not the ACP. The installation of a large pipeline like the ACP destroys soil quality, causes wet fields and significantly reduces crop yields for farmers for many years. Not to mention the anxiety from the close proximity of the pipeline to many homes. Invisible gas, from a hidden underground pipeline, with purported justification for the demand, is all smoke and mirrors. The citizens of Eastern North Carolina deserve better treatment and more respect than this.

Jane Flowers Finch is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina and a native of Nash County.

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