The Atlantic Coastal Pipeline: Who Pays the Costs?

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is a 600-mile underground pipeline meant to bring natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina.  This federal project has spent the last 3 years getting approval to move forward as many oppose it’s reliance on a non-renewable resource and the cost on poor communities.  This year they hope to break ground and begin laying the pipeline. It claims to provide jobs, boost the economy, and supply energy to towns across the mid-Atlantic “where it is urgently needed”(1). The ACP highlights that natural gas is a “clean-burning energy source” producing less than half of the emissions of coal.

But what about the costs? Are these benefits truly worth it, or should NC be investing more in renewable, clean energy instead?

First, consider environmental impacts: air quality from the compressor station emissions may be “normal”, but unfortunately it is being imposed on Northampton County, a community already overwhelmed with air quality issues (3).  Natural gas may be cleaner than coal, but it is definitely not an ideal energy source due to the Methane it produces when burned (6). Water pollution in NC most commonly comes from sedimentation and erosion during construction, and due to this the state has only approved the ACP’s construction plan for the southern half of NC since the ACP could endanger “dozens of rare and endangered species” counter to section 401 of the Clean Water Act (3).

The ACP’s website portrays the project as environmentally beneficial, but in reality it has run into many obstacles in getting the pipeline constructed for environmental reasons. Beyond these muddied environmental impacts that are difficult to fix, there are inherent risks of the ACP that disproportionately impact vulnerable populations.  Two of the major partners of the ACP in NC, Dominion and Duke Energy, appear to have a poor reputation among lower income citizens and marginalized groups in NC such as Native Americans and communities of colour. Environmental Justice has been a major issue in NC for decades, though recently the placement of hog farm’s waste ponds in African American communities has come into national awareness (2). The ACP’s chosen path runs its path of least resistance through counties where the poverty level is far higher than average and where African American communities constitute 30-50% of the population (6). An article in NC Policy Watch highlights the voices of the “little people” (rich in land but not in cash) that get lost in the discussion of the ACP, noting the poor compensation they receive for their land as most cannot afford lawyers (6). The ACP also runs through most Native American communities in NC—a significant minority group making up over 1.24% of NC (4).

The ACP claims that it will safely and equitably bring energy and jobs to citizens of NC and VA, but in reality it will only create 20 long-term jobs in NC.  Critics also claim that there is no current demand for the increase in energy use despite the ACP’s claim that energy is “urgently needed” (1). The project hopes to draw in industry, but it seems more likely to gentrify towns than to actually benefit local residents.  Gas explosions along pipelines are a relevant risk that is rarely acknowledged by the ACP though it deeply worries the residents of NC who will have the pipeline running through their back yard (6).

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has taken several years to get approval from the public and WV and NC’s state Environmental departments for many good reasons: both environmental and human-health related.  Though Governor Cooper of NC supports the ACP, NC could be investing instead in more valuable and less dangerous renewable energy such as solar and wind. Solar energy takes up less land and produces more energy than it is rumored to in NC, and the technology is only getting better (5). Wind also has a lot of potential for growth in NC, but currently there is a moratorium on building new wind farms (7).  Instead of exploiting the poor and minority communities of NC for a pipeline that will bring unnecessary energy, Governor Cooper should consider acting against the ACP and instead work toward clean energy in NC.

(Photo credit: Atlantic Coast Pipeline (1))


  1. “Atlantic Coast Pipeline ‘About.’” ACP,
  2. Goodman, Amy. “North Carolina Hog Farms Spray Manure Around Black Communities; Residents Fight Back.” Democracy Now!, 3 May 2017,
  3. Ouzts, Elizabeth. “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Hits More Delays in North Carolina.” Southeast Energy News, 11 Jan. 2018,
  4. Richardson, Gregory A. “American Indian Tribes in North Carolina.” NCpedia, 2005,
  5. “Solar Farms Occupy Only .08% of North Carolina’s Precious Farmland.” Clean Energy NC, 22 Dec. 2015,
  6. Sorg, Lisa. “Opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: ‘Nobody Is Saying What’s Happening to the Little People’.” NC Policy Watch, 16 Feb. 2017,
  7. “Understanding Unnecessary Wind Moratorium in NC | INFOGRAPHIC.” Clean Energy NC, 27 Sept. 2017,



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