Environmental Injustice and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
Plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline were announced in September 2014 as part of a partnership between Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas. The proposed pipeline would span close to 600 miles across three states, including North Carolina.
Like so many other pipelines, the route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cuts away from wealthier more developed counties like Orange County and Durham County and through minority communities of lower socioeconomic status.
In “Environmental Justice: Human Health and Environmental Inequalities,” authors Robert Brulle and David Pellow argue that “it is people of color and the poor who tend to live near environmentally hazardous facilities and who bear a larger share of the health burden from exposures to toxins” (Brulle 104). The same article emphasizes that environmental inequality is not the result of natural processes, but rather of social ones.
This trend holds true on far more than just an anecdotal level. A 2014 analysis of chemical disaster vulnerability by the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform found that those who faced the most serious risks from chemical environmental mishaps were black, Latinx, and low-income communities.
In an article focusing more explicitly on the oil industry, authors Dara O’Rourke and Sara Connollly said risks from the oil and gas industry include “deforestation, ecosystem destruction, chemical contamination of land and water, long-term harm to animal populations (particularly migratory birds and marine mammals), human health and safety risks for neighboring communities and oil industry workers, and displacement of indigenous communities” (Connolly 594).
In addition to destruction of land during pipeline construction, residents in these areas can face substantial risks from both leaks and explosions once the pipelines are completed. It is “estimated that 67 million gallons of crude oil, gasoline, and other petroleum products leaked from U.S. pipelines in the last decade” (Connolly 604).
O’Rourke and Conolly argue that construction of pipelines has been linked to human rights violations and injustice across the world.
The current proposal for the Atlantic Coast pipeline would affect eight North Carolina counties: Northampton, Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston, Cumberland, Sampson, and Robeson counties.
To explore 2015 demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau about the poverty levels in these eight counties as compared to the North Carolina average please click on the map below. You can click on each county (distinguished by color) to see these comparisons.
Real stories from affected people:
Below you will find excerpts from three interviews with residents from different counties about what their homes mean to them and why they oppose the ACP. These personal stories are accompanied by more demographic data (2015 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau) to demonstrate the racial and socioeconomic marginalization that is occurring in these communities.
From a speech given by Valerie Williams, an African-American resident of Halifax County:
“They never told us. They never talked about; it was for a pipeline. Nothing was stated on the letters or anything that it was for a pipeline. So I initially took it casually, but then I started doing the research, googling you know pipelines and all the information. And then I began to see how harmful they were and the harm and damage they had caused in many places.
But anyway, to make a long story short, I became involved because my parents–my mom is a senior citizen. Our farm is a century family farm. It’s been in our family for 100 years. We have very close ties to our farm because it…that farm served as our sustenance. It was sustainability. You know, it provided not only our food, but it provided recreation. It was safety. It was there for family gatherings. We were protected. You know, even when integration was going on, everything would be segregated. We were protected because we were like four miles back on a dead-end road. And we weren’t water-hosed like some of my classmates were because we were down on the farm having a grand time. The farm had (places) where wildlife–anything you can imagine is there. And so it’s a very beautiful place. We cannot separate–it’s like the blood that runs through your veins. You can’t separate that blood running through your veins; so we can’t separate our ties to our home because that’s how dear it is to us. And for anybody who think any different–unless they don’t have those ties–I don’t understand how they could feel otherwise.
Anyway, so I’m fighting this pipeline because I don’t like what eminent domain is doing to our world today. I think enough has happened already and and we need to conserve and preserve and protect some parts of our country. There are too many pipelines too many places. And it’s time to say no to these pipelines, and yes to keeping our land, keeping our properties, and doing what we deserve to do with our properties…We all feel that property means ownership. And when you own something, you do what you want to with it. You decide how to use it, what to use it for, who we want to transfer it to by will or deed, not to be taken by eminent domain because somebody else has a private interest in calling it public use. Well, it’s our private property. And this is the way, from the depths of my heart, I feel about the private property. We have our private bodies, don’t we? Do you want anybody to touch your body without your permission? Do you want anybody to come and…pour water on you when you didn’t ask or it? That’s the way I feel about our land; it’s our private property. And if somebody touched you and carried on with your private body, it’s called rape when it gets to a certain point, right? But yet they want to…they think it’s great and okay to come in and do whatever they like with our private properties.”
From Marvin Winstead, resident of Nash County:
“Well that’s where I grew up. I mean, the week after I was born in the hospital I was brought home. And the neighborhood I grew up in, the culture I grew up in, the farming community. I worked with my dad all afternoons (when) I came home from school in the afternoons, weekends, summers, that sort of thing. And (I) worked here on the farm side by side with him; it’s a family tradition. Although I’m, you know, not a full-time farmer now. I have had a 15-year career in the field of education. I used to be a guidance counselor. But I had my afternoons and weekends free to be back here. This farm paid for my education. I have bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. And the income from this farm paid those tuition and fees to allow me to earn those degrees. On my dad’s side (the farm) goes back three generations. He and an uncle purchased the farm sometime back in the 30s.
There is a tree here on this property that, when my parents first got married, it was located–my father took down a fence that bordered a pasture–and that made the tree end up being in the middle of the field. Before it was adjacent to a pasture fence. And he was going to turn the pasture into a roped off field. He was going to cut the tree down and get it out of his way of his tractors and equipment and stuff. And my mom liked trees, and she said no let it stay there. It’s been there all those years, don’t cut it down now. We can steer around it. And so I’ve labeled that the mother tree.
I don’t know how much you know about gardening and agriculture and that sort of thing, but the land will never be anywhere near as productive after they put that pipe in as it was before. You know, they dig down seven feet in the ground, gravel is spread around the field, the layers of clay are disrupted from their natural layers in the soil….I could take you to a farm later this summer, after—planting has just happened where all the corn, beans, and stuff like that. There’s cotton, various crops like that that are going in or are just about to be planted right now. But later this summer in August I could take you to a farm in Johnston County where a 20-inch pipeline was installed 20 years ago. To this day, the spot you can see where that pipeline runs, the crops are still stunted. You think of eminent domain, well were it me, you think of eminent domain as used when a new highway needs to be built, or a city or a county needs a new hospital for everybody’s benefit, or a new school needs to be built to educate children. But this is an example of, you know, private companies–companies with shareholders–to come and take our land to make money off of it.
At the present time, (the pipeline) is within 255-feet of my home. If there is a leak, an explosion, it’ll be gone. If I’m here, I’ll be gone too.”
From Barbara Exum, a black resident of Wilson County:
I live in the western part of Wilson County where the proposed pipeline is going through. And my family’s farm will be directly impacted by the pipeline. I am 64, and my family has owned this farm…my parents have owned this farm for at least 70 years. And before that, they bought it from relatives. So it’s a family farm that has been in my family for over…for about a hundred years.
It’s not even just the fact that we’ve lived here so long; it’s the fact that it’s going to be detrimental to our community for the rest of our lives. We’re not talking about something that’s going to come through here and pass through like a storm. It’s going to be a monster that we will have to live with for the rest of our lives and pass onto our descendants.
I was talking to a fire chief in a neighboring county recently and I said, you know, what do you guys have to do to prepare for the…you know the possibility of an explosion…I said “What are you gonna do?” and he said “We’re gonna look at it through binoculars.” And I thought he was just joking, and we kept talking. And I realized that there’s nothing they can do. The only thing they’re trained to do is keep people back and keep people…keep themselves safe. And I feel like it’s pretty obvious that the ACP has marginalized our lives because there’s no way to save us. If there’s an explosion…the blast range can affect homes up to a half mile away. Not a football field. Not two football fields, but a half mile away. It endangers homes that far away. And people don’t normally survive them. And in our community, they are going near people’s homes, where they sleep at night.
My parents and my family, we’ve worked very hard for this land. You know, and I’ll give you a little background. I live on a road that was named after my father. And part of the reason it was named after my father is because there was a time in our history where black people could not buy property to build a home very easily. It was very hard back in the 60s and early 70s where black people–we could not just buy lots somewhere and build a home. And because my father had experienced of that, he made the decision in the late 60s to sell lots to people who couldn’t readily buy elsewhere. And so, we built—he started selling and made the decision to sacrifice his farmland so that other people could have homes. And so, there’s probably about 15…The road that I live on is about 3 miles long, and most of the homes are segregated right here in this little area. And if there are 15 homes on this road, 13 to 14 of them are homes of minorities. And they’ve been here since the 60s, the late 60s early 70s. And so, this is home for them. And most of the people are–if I’m 64–most of the people that live on this road, they’re older than I am. So they’re in their later years. And, you know, they have nowhere to start over. They can’t move. Because this is the sacrifice they made back then to buy a home. And so they are senior citizens living on fixed incomes. They are either caring for an ailing spouse or an ailing parent. So there’s no starting over for these people.
They have run the pipeline through low-income minority communities and poor white communities. So, you know, it’s obvious that they have taken the course of least resistance in their minds. I also heard that there were three (route) options initially and the other two were closer to the Research Triangle area or Raleigh. And they considered those people more highly educated, you know, higher income so they marginalize our lives because they apparently look at us as a bunch of poor hicks that don’t know any better and won’t be able to fight them.”
Brulle, Robert, and David Pellow. “ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: Human Health and Environmental Inequalities.” ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: Human Health and Environmental Inequalities | Annual Review of Public Health. Annual Review of Public Health, 09 Aug. 2005. Web. 03 May 2017.
O’Rourke, Dara, and Sara Connolly. “Just Oil? The Distribution of Environmental and Social Impacts of Oil Production and Consumption.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources (2003): n. pag. Web. 3 May 2017.
U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045216/37
“Who’s in Danger: Race, Poverty, and Chemical Disasters.” Coming Clean NC. ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND HEALTH ALLIANCE FOR CHEMICAL POLICY REFORM, May 2014. Web. 3 May 2017.