Ryan Emmanuel

Ryan Emanuel, an associate professor within the College of Natural Resources and a member of the Lumbee Tribe, talks about the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline while in his office in Jordan Hall Addition on Thursday Feb. 18. If completely approved, the natural gas pipeline will start in West Virginia and run through Virginia and into eastern North Carolina. According to Emanuel, the addition of the pipeline would adversely affect nearby low-income residents, especially people of color and Native Americans.

Proponents of The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) claim that the 600-mile fracked gas pipeline will create new jobs, lower energy costs, promote cleaner air and meet urgent energy needs; however, critics contend that energy bills in North Carolina will increase, North Carolina’s crucial ecosystems may be in danger and climate change could be exacerbated.

The ACP is a project led by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy. The pipeline will transport fracked shale gas from West Virginia through Central Virginia to southern North Carolina, where the pipeline will connect to Dominion’s existing infrastructure.

According to Duke Energy, the pipeline is a necessity and will stimulate economic activity in eastern North Carolina while lowering costs for Duke Energy customers. Tammie McGee, a spokesperson from Duke Energy, said customers will enjoy savings of $134 million annually once the pipeline is in service.

“The ACP is actually going to give us more advantageous pricing, so we’ll be able to pass that on to customers in the state” McGee said.

McGee also said that the pipeline will not only be beneficial for customers, but also is a necessity for the state.

“Over the next 20 to 30 years, North Carolina is going to have increased population, and the Transco line that comes up the western part of the state is not going to have the ability to serve the growing population that we are seeing” McGee said.

However, opponents of the pipeline have brought up multiple arguments against the ACP. Ryan Emanuel, associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State and a member of the Lumbee Native American tribe, discussed some of the negative aspects of the pipeline.  

“If we want sustainable energy in North Carolina, we need to push back against this thing,” Emanuel said. “If you pay electricity bills in North Carolina, the energy company plans to recoup the $5 billion they are spending on this pipeline. They are going to get that from us. We are paying for this pipeline, whether we want it or not.”

According to Emanuel, Native Americans and other minorities in eastern North Carolina will be disproportionately impacted by the pipeline. He said that the proposed route cuts through economically depressed regions of the state, further decreasing already low property values.

Hope Taylor, executive director of the environmental watchdog group Clean Water for North Carolina (CWFNC), discussed who would be affected by the pipeline.

“It’s a major environmental injustice,” Taylor said. “It will disproportionately affect African-American and Native American Communities, and poor communities.”

Pipeline supporters believe that natural gas will provide a transitional source to more renewable energy sources.

“We see natural gas as continuing to help grow renewables by providing that 24/7 backup power when solar is not available” McGee said. “At the moment we're not there with the technology, that we could provide 24/7 power with solar or wind. Natural gas is cleaner-burning, and it also has the ability and reliability when renewables are not available. It’s certainly a great partner with renewables and they go hand-in-hand.”

Taylor contends that the new pipeline is unnecessary for the state.

“There is no justification for the pipeline; there is no shortage of energy in the Southeast,” Taylor said. “There will be increased costs for Duke and Dominion Energy customers, and there is going to be significant climate impact from methane, a much more climate-forcing gas than CO2.”

Matthew Starr, Neuse riverkeeper, discussed how water and specific species in North Carolina will be threatened by the pipeline. The pipeline will cross multiple waterways, including the Neuse and Lumbee rivers.

“It will have a tremendous impact on our streams, rivers and aquatic environments,” Starr said. “The pipeline route crosses numerous aquatic habitats that support rare, threatened or endangered species, including the Neuse River waterdog.”

Starr mentioned how the pipeline’s potential impact is not restricted to endangered wildlife species.

“The pipeline does pose a risk to surface water, and there are a number of communities downstream that get their drinking water from the Neuse River,” Starr said. “The whole thing is concerning.”

Another contentious aspect of the ACP is the social and cultural impact it will have on Native American Tribes along the pipeline route. The Lumbee Tribe in Robeson County has deep ties to the Lumbee River, one of the water sources crossed by the pipeline route.

According to Duke Energy, they did attempt to speak with the Lumbee people, and the pipeline will not harm their environment or sacred sites.

“We sought an audience with them for a couple of years, without success,” Mcgee said. “But lately, in the past six months, we've had much better [ways] to get with some of their leaders and talk about the benefits. The project has seen some dialogue with the tribes. We've worked really hard to ensure that this environment and those historical and cultural resources are protected.”

The Lumbee Tribe filed a resolution on Feb. 22 opposing the ACP that directly contradicts Duke Energy’s claims. The resolution claims that the pipeline will harm the environment and sacred lands integral to Lumbee culture. Furthermore, the resolution requests meaningful consultation and expresses concerns about desecration of burial grounds.

“If the Lumbee River is damaged or altered, that destroys part of my identity as an indigenous person,” Emanuel said. “To some people, these areas near the pipeline route may just look like farmland. To us, it is where our ancestors are buried. We have a collective memory of this place.”

According to Emanuel, the social justice impact is the most egregious aspect of the ACP.

“When you talk about Native American tribes, these are original peoples of the land,” Emanuel said. “Their culture and identity is tied to specific places. You can't pick up someone's culture and move it from one river basin to another.”

According to Duke Energy, ACP construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2018 and is expected to be completed in 2019.