The truth is, pipelines are not just an environmental issue. The pipelines intersect with many other issues facing society.
Racial and economic targeting practiced by the pipeline companies perpetuates racism and colonialism. Along both the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and Mountain Valley (MVP) pipelines’ routes, it is communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-income communities that will be disproportionately impacted.
Dominion Energy, primary stakeholder of the ACP, targeted the historic Black community of Union Hill for the ACP’s only compressor station in Virginia. Compressor stations constantly emit toxic chemicals and particulate matter into the air, produce excessive noise, and leave nearby residents under constant threat of explosion. The negative health and economic impacts that compressor stations have on nearby communities are well-documented.
ACP’s only compressor station in North Carolina will also be placed in a predominantly African-American community in Northampton County. The ACP will impact the drinking water sources of many low-income communities and communities of color, like in Emporia, which already has an at-risk drinking water supply. Connectors to the ACP to be built in Hampton Roads will also be constructed through predominantly communities of color. Thirteen percent of the people that will be impacted by the ACP in North Carolina are Indigenous peoples, while only one percent of the state’s population is Indigenous. Oftentimes the communities targeted by Dominion and other pipeline companies already bear disproportionate impacts of industrialization, including higher cancer rates and other health issues.
[More on the dangers and environmental injustice of pipelines and compressor stations, particularly related to the ACP, can be found in this report. Another report, done by the NAACP, gives more detail on the disproportionate impacts of fossil fuel infrastructure on communities of color (including a case study on the ACP).]
Both the ACP and MVP will transect Indigenous lands that were already stolen from Indigenous peoples during colonization. The pipelines will cross the lands of the Powhatan, Monacan, Meherrin, Tuscarora, Nottoway, Cheroenhaka, Nansemond, Lumbee, and other First Nations. Consultation with these nations by the pipeline companies was inadequate or non-existent.
Both pipelines will also result in the destruction of sacred Native sites and the erasure of Native and African-American history. EQT, owner of MVP, acknowledged almost 140 historic or prehistoric sites within a mile of the pipeline, and noted in one of its resource reports that “cemeteries, many not mapped, related to Native Americans, enslaved African Americans, and Euroamericans (including possible Civil War-era burials) that may be in the path of the Project.”
The ACP compressor station slated for placement by Union Hill, a community built by freed slaves, threatens historic African-American churches as well as slave cemeteries. The ACP will traverse over 100 acres of the Great Dismal Swamp, which historically was a sanctuary for Indigenous peoples fleeing from colonists and a site of settlements of escaped slaves.
Low-income rural communities will suffer as a result of these pipelines. Federal regulation allows for the thickness of pipeline walls to be significantly thinner in rural areas, making the pipe more likely to leak or explode. Many rural communities rely on scenic vistas and recreational waters for tourism revenue. Farmers rely on streams and private drinking wells for water for their families, livestock, and crops. The pipelines will inevitably damage recreational waterbodies, aquifers and other drinking water sources, and scenic vistas that are crucial for tourism revenue. [See more on the negative economic impacts of the pipelines here.]
The ACP and MVP are also a matter of healthcare injustice. The negative health impacts of pipelines and compressor stations are well-documented, and the pipelines will inevitably cause health issues to residents of the communities in the pipeline paths. Oftentimes, the communities targeted by the pipeline companies already suffer from a lack of access to healthcare. Studies, like this one, have found that air pollution, especially from PM2.5 – which is some of the toxic matter emitted from compressor stations – is tied to increased Medicaid and hospital spending. Water contamination resulting from the pipeline construction, operation, and facilities will also cause increased health problems.
Routing these pipelines, which will inevitably cause health issues, through communities without access to medical care will only compound what is already a public health crisis in those areas without healthcare. Not only is healthcare a human right, but so is the ability to live in an area where one is not exposed to infrastructure that is detrimental to one’s health.
Women too will be forced to bear disproportionate negative impacts as a result of the ACP and MVP. Pipeline construction will bring about the formation of “man camps” of massive numbers of pipeline workers in communities along the pipeline routes. These camps have been statistically tied to an increase in violence against women, sex trafficking, and drug trafficking. A prime example of this was seen in the Bakken shales in North Dakota, where the levels of violent crime against women and girls, especially Indigenous women and girls, dramatically increased with the arrival of mass amounts of male, out-of-state workers. [More on man camps and their impacts, especially on Indigenous women, can be found here.]
The ACP and MVP will bring these man camps and the related violence and sex and drug trafficking to communities in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Because the pipelines are disproportionately routed through communities of color and Indigenous communities, where women often already suffer higher rates of violence, women of these communities will be even more threatened.
A study found that women are more likely to be impacted by environmental pollution, like that resulting from pipeline infrastructure, than men. Globally, climate change also has disproportionate impacts on women, as well as communities of color. The communities in Hampton Roads that will be impacted by the ACP already have to endure the effects of flooding due to climate change-induced sea level rise. An analysis found that the ACP and MVP will contribute to climate change by producing annual emissions equivalent to 45 coal-powered plants.
Finally, the ACP and MVP demonstrate the erosion of our democracy via corporate influence over our government officials and agencies. The long-known and well-documented influence Dominion has over Virginia politics is a prime example. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who campaigned on a platform of racial, healthcare, and environmental justice, has willfully ignored the injustice involving the MVP and ACP presumably under the influence of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from Dominion and EQT. The Governor even ignored an official letter from his own Advisory Council on Environmental Justice that found racism to be involved in the routing of the pipelines and called for a stay on the projects and subsequently disbanded the Council. Further, Governor Northam decided to terminate the terms of two members of the Air Pollution Control Board, which is charged with approving or denying the ACP compressor station’s air permit. He did so after the Board pushed back against approving the permit and before the Board could make a final ruling on the permit. The Governor claimed that the Board members’ terms were up and he had simply found replacements, but this is negated by the fact that it is common practice to allow Board members to serve beyond their term limits (as described in this article); and the fact that it had been years since one of the selected replacements for the terminated Board members had submitted an application for consideration. Northam’s decision is blatant participation in corruption and interference of the regulatory process in order to push Dominion’s interests; an open support of the environmental racism involved with the ACP; and a danger to both our environmental safety, which is supposed to be guarded by citizen boards like the Air Board, and our democracy in Virginia.
The oil and gas industry’s influence over government agencies, like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), is also well-known. This results in FERC unjustifiably issuing certificates of public necessity, which allows for the use of eminent domain, or forceful seizure of private property; and it results in our state DEQ failing to protect the communities who will be impacted by industry projects.
When citizens are forced to protect health and livelihoods through means of non-violent resistance, the pipeline companies team up with law enforcement to employ state oppression through inhumane tactics like starvation, spotlighting, excessive noise exposure, and more. One tree-sitter, who was living in trees to prevent them from being cut for the MVP, was injured when an MVP worker intentionally cut part of a tree they were clipped to. The pipeline companies and the state agencies collaborating with them then go on to falsely paint those non-violently protecting their rights as terrorists, and use this as justification to spend tax dollars on surveillance of peaceful citizens and other state oppression tactics.
These pipelines are causing and will continue to cause the loss of Constitutional rights, like the right to life and liberty, which includes not being forced to live near polluting infrastructure that causes illness, and property rights. First Amendment rights are also being oppressed, like freedom of speech and peaceable protest.