Pipeline Protests

RAPTORS is a local protest organization standing against the pipelines, their routes and environmental effects.

Local Rockingham County and Harrisonburg community members stand in solidarity with the pipeline fighters across the commonwealth in the anti-pipeline group called Rockingham Alliance for the Protection and Transformation of Our Resources and Society.

The emergence of this organization happened a year ago when a number of members became unified through common-interest meetings and the indigenous movement to stop the Dakota Access pipeline. 

The RAPTORS assemble to formulate strategies, educate the public and organize trips to spread awareness about the effects pipelines can have on the land and the community. 

“It’s not an easy feat to stop these pipelines,” Lara Mack, RAPTORS member and field organizer for Appalachian Voices, said. “The fact that these folks in Harrisonburg, who don’t even live along the route, have gotten involved and care so much is really moving and really inspiring.” 

Appalachian Voices has become a leading force in Appalachia’s switch to clean energy from fossil fuels. The organization advocates for healthy communities and environmental protection throughout the region. 

The Mountain Valley pipeline is a 303-mile-long pipeline that’ll begin in Northwestern West Virginia and travel down toward southern Virginia. The Atlantic Coast pipeline will start in West Virginia and traverse 600 miles through the Appalachian Mountains until reaching Virginia, and eventually South Carolina and North Carolina.

These two pipelines will cross watersheds, farms, mountains and numerous communities in order to transport natural gas across the country. The RAPTORS understand that even though they aren’t close to the families who are being affected, it’s still important to stick together during this time.    

“I don’t have to know them personally to appreciate the tragedy and urgency of their predicament,” Tim Wiggins, RAPTORS member, said. “Part of being a Virginian means looking out for other Virginians. Same with being a U.S. citizen. Same with being a human being.” 

The proposed routes of both pipelines were chosen over a two-year long process of examining land and engaging with property owners in order for developers to find the best possible route with the least amount of impact on the environment. 

After addressing landowners’ concerns and conducting surveys, over 300 additional adjustments were made to the proposed route to avoid environmentally sensitive areas. 

Following these modifications, the MVP and ACP are the two newest pipelines to receive a certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which says that the applicant’s pipeline complies with the Department of Transportation’s safety standards. With the FERC certificate, the construction of the two pipelines will begin later this year. 

“It’s not the end of the world, though it’s not favorable for us,” Joshua Vana, RAPTORS member, said. “It kicks the pipeline builders’ schedules back into action.”

The controversy surrounding pipelines encompasses multiple perspectives. Supporters of the pipeline emphasize the fact that it’ll generate thousands of jobs, increase yearly tax revenue and save people money with lower energy costs.

“To be clear, I am not opposed to energy,” Wiggins said. “But the fact is that sooner or later we will have to look past fossil fuels for energy. We can act now and try to get out ahead of it, or we can wait until we have no choice.”   

Other fighters of the pipeline, including the RAPTORS and many anti-pipeline organizations, publicize how pipelines can contribute to the destruction of natural landscapes, depletion of ecosystems and risk of methane air pollution. For Vana, his biggest concern is how the pipelines will cross six out of nine watersheds over 1,000 times. 

“The headwaters of several major rivers that provide drinking water to our state are threatened by these two pipelines,” Vana said. “Just because it’s not in my backyard doesn’t mean it’s not important. Everything is at stake.” 

Natural gas supplies almost a quarter of all the energy that’s used in the U.S. by having over two million miles of distribution pipelines that carry the gas to thousands of communities from coast to coast. 

While natural-gas pipelines are the major provider of electricity for many people’s homes across the country, the RAPTORS believe that they’re not being constructed for the right reasons.

“We don’t need these pipelines,” Mack said. “They are being built because they are going to make a profit. They are not being built because there is a need for them.”  

The RAPTORS are a fairly new organization that was called together to fight the specific issue of the MVP and the ACP. They’ll still continue the work they’re passionate about, no matter the outcome of this battle. 

“Even though they are responding to this particular issue of these pipelines, they gave themselves that name,” Mack said. “So in the future, when we hopefully win these pipeline fights, that name really lends itself to whatever spectrum of injustice they want to get involved in.”

The issues that the RAPTORS are fighting won’t be quick fixes or easy battles. In the past 40 years, only one pipeline that was proposed was rejected. Combating multi-million dollar government infrastructures that have the support of energy companies will take many years of hard work. 

Now that the pipelines have the FERC certification, it’ll be that much harder for the RAPTORS to stop the construction, but they’re not giving up their fight. 

“We haven’t had a lot of victories, but we’ve delayed the heck out of this process,” Vana said. “These pipelines were supposed to be in the ground over a year ago, and the more you delay, the more people start getting educated on the issue.” 

 Contact Karey Gardner at gardneke@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.

Karey Gardner is a senior writing, rhetoric, and technical communication major with a minor in creative writing. She plans to take the skills she has learned at JMU to New York in order to chase her dream of becoming a best-selling author.