By Erica Hellerstein
If you look closely, you can see the signs scattered throughout Nash County, poking out from sprawling fields and sun-scorched patches of grass. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are bright yellow with just one word: DANGER. Others are square and white with a circle and a slash. All of them have the same message, peppering a sleepy, rural stretch of land with a small yelp of protest: No Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
On a hot afternoon in September, Marvin Winstead strides confidently to his sign, propped up against a pile of overgrown grass.
“This is where it’s scheduled to go,” he says, gesturing to the ground and then pointing across the street, to a dense forest brimming with bushes. “What they’ll do is come through here and just knock all these trees down. They don’t have any concern for the impact …” he trails off, shaking his head.
When Winstead talks about the pipeline, he gets angry. Occasionally, he’ll launch into a ten-minute diatribe, barely taking a breath. The whippet-thin farmer is sixty-six years old, with kind eyes and a gray mess of hair that juts out from a black baseball cap. Just behind him stretches the seventy-acre farm that has been in his family for generations. It’s currently growing soybeans; at other times of the year, it sprouts corn, cotton, and wheat.
Winstead is one of about a thousand landowners in North Carolina who would be affected by the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5 billion joint venture by Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Company Gas. Forty-two inches in diameter, the pipeline would cross six hundred miles of the Southeast, transporting fracked natural gas from West Virginia through the verdant Shenandoah National Park and into eight eastern North Carolina counties: Northampton, Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston, Sampson, Cumberland, and Robeson.
The project, part of a series of pipelines popping up around the Southeast, would be capable of transporting 1.5 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas to customers in North Carolina and Virginia, according to Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, the joint venture of Dominion and Duke. ACP calls it a “vitally important infrastructure project that will ensure the economic vitality, environmental health and energy security of the Mid-Atlantic region.”
Across the state, however, a dedicated base of opponents has mobilized, from Asheville to Fayetteville. They worry that the pipeline will cause irreparable environmental damage, lead to rising utility costs, and disproportionately affect poor and minority communities.
In North Carolina alone, they point out, about thirty thousand Native Americans live along the proposed route.
“There’s no question that, if you look into it, Native American communities are disproportionately impacted,” Winstead says. “These companies are driven by greed. To me, they’re traitors to society. They’re compromising our safety, our health, and they are harming the air that you breathe.”