Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which has faced protests from environmental activists and local residents in West Virginia and Virginia, was temporarily halted in late June.
According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the move was made to “ensure that proper soil erosion and sentiment controls are implemented.”
But soil erosion has not been the only issue making construction of the pipeline difficult. Since the pipeline was announced in 2014, it has faced resistance and opposition.
MVP is a proposed $3.5 billion project to bring fracked gas from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Upon completion, it will be 303 miles in length and controlled by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a joint venture between EQT Midstream Partners LP, NextEra U.S. Gas Assets LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream, and RGC Midstream LLC.
Russell Chisholm, co-chair of the local environmental group Protect Our Water, Heritage, and Rights (POWHR), is involved in resistance against the pipeline. He told Shadowproof he was compelled to protest because of a “desire to stand in solidarity with [his] community and speak out against very powerful forces hell-bent on creating new extraction sacrifice zones.”
“I believe we have a responsibility to recognize and defend against human rights abuses from the frack fields [throughout the country],” Chisholm said.
Direct action against MVP occurred in late February 2018, when activists climbed trees in Monroe County, West Virginia, and refused to leave.
At the end of March, protesters erected a blockade across an access road in the Jefferson National Forest.
“Exploitation and extraction have gone on far too long,” organizers declared in a statement. “The actions of companies like Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) LLC threaten land and lives in pursuit of power and profit. Their continued destruction endangers ecosystems and human communities—from those poisoned by fracking to those trapped amid increasing storms.”
“We struggle against this pipeline on stolen land. No appeals to so-called authorities, who uphold the state and capitalist systems attacking Appalachia and the planet, can stop this destruction,” they added.
Shortly after, a 61-year-old resident named Theresa “Red” Terry and her daughter Theresa Minor Terry climbed trees to prevent pipeline workers from clearing an area through their land. Their family has lived on the land since the 18th century.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared that their actions were “unlawful” at the end of April and said he was concerned about Red’s health. Mountain Valley asked a judge to find the two women in contempt for violating a previous eminent domain ruling. The judge did, which prompted them to come down after 34 days in the tree.
“I’ve got their attention,” said Red after coming down, “Now let’s go ahead and start the fight.”
Another tree sitter named “Nutty” held up construction for over a month.
“I want the pipeline not to be built. It may seem impossible, but we need to keep fighting until we don’t have to live in a world where it feels like that anymore,” she said.“It may not seem worth it, but we have to try and break the structure of domination.”
Emily Satterwhite is a local resident and associate professor at Virginia Tech. Last month, she locked herself to pipeline equipment to stop construction in Montgomery County, before being arrested on trespassing charges 15 hours later. Satterwhite told Shadowproof she was inspired to act by the initial round of tree sitters. “The system is failing, and we need direct action.”
Satterwhite believes resistance is having a bigger impact than the companies behind the pipeline are letting on. “We’re living in strange times, and it’s going to take people showing up to stop this.”
According to documents obtained by the Climate Investigations Center and published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, local police agencies collaborated with a state anti-terrorism center to monitor pipeline protesters. Those documents also show that the center shared “pipeline situation reports,” which include information about environmental groups’ Facebook activity.
Chisholm said the surveillance will only increase the amount of resistance against the pipeline.
“People around here do not like seeing their neighbors bullied, and they don’t like being lied to. What stops these projects is a growing sense of optimism and unity in the sacrifice zones.”
“Even if this pipe is stranded in the ground, we’re going to move to a sustainable future built on the energy and ideas of the people who live here,” Chisholm added. “Divestment will eventually overtake these dead end projects as investors shift to renewables and energy infrastructure with real public support and benefit.”
Will Potter documented how the state uses terrorism laws to prosecute environmentalists in his 2011 book, “Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege.”
“I think the most important thing I found out in my research is that all of this was actually created by the industries that are being protested,” Potter said in a 2014 interview. “In the mid-1980s, these corporations got together and created a new word called ‘eco-terrorist’—because at the time, these protest movements were growing very quickly and effectively, and they had widespread public support. There clearly was a concern that unless public opinion shifted, there’d be a really big problem on their hands.”
MVP LLC faces several legal actions that should continue to stall construction.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued four notices to the company for violating water pollution regulations.
As Appalachians Against Pipelines proclaimed, “The pipeline would destroy water, mountains, forests, and family farms. Neither West Virginians nor Virginians will see any of the profit. Instead, they will bear the destructive consequences of extraction and construction.”