As the developer of a pipeline to bring fracked natural gas to North Carolina sues landowners for refusing to cooperate, a politically influential collection of opponents is trying to raise $1 million to torpedo plans to route the project through Virginia farms and properties, saying the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be a scar on Appalachia.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is becoming the East Coast’s most controversial pipeline project. There are constant protests by Virginians along the potential path and plans for a media blitz aimed at persuading state and national lawmakers to object.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would ship natural gas 554 miles from West Virginia, through rural Virginia to eastern North Carolina. The project has the support of the governors of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Also on board with the plan are officials of economically struggling North Carolina counties who hope the natural gas will help them lure manufacturing businesses.
Concerns in South Carolina that private land would be condemned for a petroleum pipeline along the Savannah River prompted Palmetto State legislators to introduce a bill earlier this month that could further complicate plans for a 360-mile-long pipe from Anderson County to Florida.
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The bill won’t be debated until next year when the Legislature returns to Columbia. Opponents say that still should give them time to derail the $1 billion pipeline proposed by energy company Kinder Morgan that would run through six South Carolina counties.
Greg Cummings, the economic development director for North Carolina’s Robeson County, which has an unemployment rate of about 8 percent, said it might mean a “major boost economically” if there are connecting pipelines from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to local industrial parks.
He said manufacturing companies demand access to natural gas, and he doesn’t want opposition in Virginia to thwart a pipeline that could help his community. Opposition to the project has been muted in North Carolina. The resistance is centered in rural Virginia, where locals say they’d bear the risk of the pipeline without seeing a benefit.
The “All Pain No Gain” group raising money to fight the project includes Republican heavy hitters with southwest Virginia land near the potential route. One is Phil Anderson, president of the Washington, D.C., mega lobbying firm Navigators Global. His family has long owned a farm in the area. Another is Tom Harvey, a former national security official who runs a nonprofit group that works with corporations on global environmental initiatives.
Neither would agree to an interview. Charlotte Rea, a local landowner who is working with them in the anti-pipeline group, said their backgrounds have helped with fundraising as the group launched radio and television ads in Richmond, Va., with hopes of expanding closer to the nation’s capital.
“We’re looking now at potentially moving into larger markets in northern Virginia or the District of Columbia,” Rea said.
Rea said the goal is to persuade lawmakers to pressure the pipeline developers to “find a responsible route that doesn’t unfairly burden private property owners.”
Rea, a retired Air Force officer, is among dozens of Virginia landowners refusing to allow access to surveyors from Dominion Resources, which is developing the project along with Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas. Rea has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Virginia law that forces property owners to let natural gas utilities survey on their land.
Dominion filed its own lawsuits against 27 of the landowners. Dominion spokesman Frank Mack said that’s just the beginning, and the company “expects to file legal action against more than 100 landowners who have steadfastly refused to give permission to survey along the proposed route.”
The natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields would go to Duke Energy power plants and Piedmont Natural Gas residential and business customers in North Carolina, with a spur to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Charlotte, N.C.,-based Duke Energy is banking on the pipeline as it increasingly turns to natural gas and shutters coal-burning power plants. Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams said there are already customers signed up for 92 percent of the gas.
“It’s a large capital project but it’s certainly one that has a tremendous amount of support in the state,” he said. He referred questions on the lawsuits against landowners to Dominion, which is handling the construction.