Water Protectors Fight Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was moved from a route bordering affluence to poorer rural areas; now water protectors are fighting back.

CORRECTED AND UPDATED on Monday April 3 to reflect the Monacan Indian Tribe's official opposition to the pipeline.

Is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline another DAPL in the making? Given the way the project’s route was moved from a wealthier, whiter area to a poor part of the state that has high percentages of indigenous and African American residents, it seems to be.

That was on the minds of people who walked along the 200 miles of the proposed route across North Carolina. It brought together climate activists from the western part of the state with low-income white, African-American and Native farmers and other residents of the eastern flatlands.


“This pipeline will directly affect the traditional lands of several tribes, including the Monacan, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Nansemond, Nottoway, Occaneechi, Haliwa-Saponi, Meherrin, Tuscarora, Coharie and Lumbee,” said Ericka Faircloth, a member of the Coalition of Woodland Nations. The coalition is made up of individuals from many tribes and nations along the Eastern seaboard who have taken a position on the pipeline, which would bring fracked gas from West Virginia 550 miles south to the North Carolina–South Carolina border.

The Monacan Indian Tribe, a state-recognized tribe in Virginia, is staunchly opposed.

“The Monacan Indian Nation would like to make clear its strong opposition to the proposed construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) through Nelson County, Virginia, and specifically through that area known as the Norwood-Wingina Historic District, due to the locations of Monacan archaeological sites found there," the tribe said in a March 31, 2015, letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. At about the same time, the tribe released a video explaining the potential destruction of archaeological sites.

The 42-inch-diameter Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carve an eight- to 12-foot trench and a 125-foot construction corridor. It’s a project of Duke Energy, one of the world’s largest utilities, and Dominion Resources, which would build the pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a draft Environmental Impact Statement in December declaring the project would have “less-than-significant levels” of environmental and other impacts, and moved the project closer to final approval.

Members of the Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live (APPPL), which organized the walk, disagree. They took their first steps at the Virginia border on March 4, and for two weeks, pipeline opponents carried banners and wind turbine props for eight to 15 miles per day, past countless harvested fields of cotton, wheat, corn and soybeans awaiting spring planting. They ended in Robeson County in the heart of the 55,000-strong Lumbee Tribe’s territory.

Their message was clear: This Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not needed, it’s dangerous, and it’s discriminatory.

Walkers passed acres of utility-scale solar installations—one indication that renewables could be ramped up to meet the energy needs of North Carolinians and that the state could move away from fossil fuels, which currently dominate Duke’s portfolio.

People are worried about an explosion or leaks along the pipeline route—more so since the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration began allowing pipeline companies to use steel about half as thick as what is required closer to population centers, making these rural people feel like guinea pigs and even more at risk of an accident. The PHMSA has reported a huge spike in incidents over the past decade as pipelines have been rushed to completion across the country.

Residents are also resisting the use of eminent domain to seize their property for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline right-of-way if they don’t grant dominion for an easement across it.

And they point out that the current route is the third one proposed for this pipeline. The first and second ones were going to go near Durham and Raleigh, and would have been more direct than the current route.

“But I guess people who had more power or more standing felt it wouldn’t be best for their area,” said Lumbee tribal member Robie Goins. “So it went into a poverty-stricken area with African-American, Indian and white people, and I guess [the company] felt these people wouldn’t mount much opposition, and poor people would want to get money for easements.”

The only route currently referred to on Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline website is the current one, and the company did not return repeated requests for comment.

Goins works with a group called Eco-Robeson, which tackles climate and other environmental challenges. He said he asked the tribal council to take a stand against the pipeline, but they have taken no action yet. However, they did go on record opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). He hopes that soon the tribe will oppose a pipeline in their own back yard.