Down with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
The ACP will have long- and short-term damaging effects on the environment
Callie Houghland, a second year at the University, has spent the past eight summers as a camper and student with the Nature Camp Foundation in the heart of the George Washington National Forest, just south of Shenandoah. Houghland recently assumed a counselor position to teach young children the effects of natural disturbances ranging from hurricanes to coal mining. The timing of last year’s theme couldn’t have been more perfect. As campers hiked, swam, and foraged, plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline were being unfurled.
The pipeline — which is proposed to run through GWNF to deliver gas being produced in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia — endangers forestry practices, recreational areas and ecosystems. Effects of the pipeline construction could reverberate throughout the state, threatening biodiversity along its path, including fragile ecosystems that the campers study. Houghland worries that “these issues could affect the ability of the camp to run if there were an issue with the pipeline.” The ACP has potential to affect far more than the Nature Camp Foundation and its students. Plans for the pipeline include the disruption of thirteen counties in Virginia running from Highland to Greensville.
Landowners in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline oppose its construction because they believe it is an unacceptable disregard for their rights as property owners. Thirteen Nelson County residents have filed lawsuits against Dominion for disregarding state law concerning property surveying. Even if a homeowner refuses to consent to the pipeline being built on their land, Dominion can still obtain a land easement using a court order. Under the Natural Gas Act of 1938, pipeline infrastructure qualifies as a “public use” under eminent domain. Therefore private companies can seize private land for their own profit with the speculative assumption that it will benefit the public.
The problem is that this pipeline will bring significantly more harm than benefit to Virginia communities. According to a map produced by Dominion, the pipeline will cross through unstable karst topography, which is prone to sinkholes. This significantly increases the likelihood of the pipeline collapsing which would lead to the release of dangerous chemicals into the groundwater and explosive vapors ending up in homes, schools and business. The threat of pipeline explosions is very real — precedented by an explosion in Appomattox Virginia in 2008 which injured five people and damaged 100 homes, and another that occurred this year in Kentucky, which sent two people to the hospital and destroyed two homes. Because living in range of a pipeline is both a threat to property and life, property rates will decrease and home insurance rates will increase.
On a broader scale, the installation of natural gas infrastructure locks Virginia into an energy reliance that has no place in our future energy economy. The construction of the ACP removes incentive for the necessary development and investment in renewable energy in the state. Natural gas is simply not an alternative to renewables; it is a finite fossil fuel that — while emitting less CO2 than coal — creates far more methane byproduct, which is about twenty times more potent. While methane leakage can contaminate groundwater supply, fracking — a method by which natural gas is commonly extracted — is also incredibly detrimental to the environment. We must not focus on a non-renewable and harmful energy source, but instead on more sustainable solutions that ultimately define our energy future.
Governor McAuliffe made a promise to protect the environment for future generations of Virginians. He has acknowledged the lack of clean energy jobs here in Virginia and pledged to bring more cutting-edge energy jobs to the state while protecting our forests and nature preserves. Construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline contradicts this promise. Instead of embracing an “all of the above” energy plan, the governor must help Virginia break free from its dependency on natural gas and begin building an economy for the future. As students, we rely on the actions of energy providers and state leaders for not only an ecologically sound future, but also a strong and sustainable job market. Instead of building a new pipeline, we need to invest in renewable sources of energy production like windmills. Virginia has great potential for on- and off-shore wind farms, which could generate power for 700,000 homes and create thousands of jobs, compared to the estimated 118 long term jobs created by the pipeline.
Why should University students care? For Callie and other student campers, the benefits of Nature Camp are unmatched, and any risk to the experience simply isn’t tolerable. Their appreciation for our state’s nature reserves echoes beyond the borders of the George Washington National Forest and resonates in the hearts and minds of many Virginians and University students. A shift to more renewable resources is crucial for the communities around our university and the economy on which we all depend. Our generation holds a high standard for socially and environmentally conscious energy practices, and if we’d like to carry those ideals into the future, we need action now. We must let those in power know that an “all of the above energy” will not be tolerated by the future generations of Virginians.
Laura Cross, Kendall King, and Alex Reed are first-year students in the College.