A pipeline runs through it

The pink ribbons start in northern West Virginia. Tied to flimsy wooden posts stuck a few inches into the earth, they’re easy to miss as they whip in the crisp, fall wind. Heading south, they dot landscapes for 600 miles, marking the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. They pass over cave systems and watersheds, climb up and down densely forested Appalachian slopes, crossing the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway. They stamp quiet hollers and hillside family cemeteries. They divide historic African American communities and indigenous land.

The route stretches from the Marcellus Shale region of West Virginia, through Virginia, to southern North Carolina — though the energy companies behind the pipeline have floated the idea of extending it into South Carolina. If completed, the hundreds of miles of 42- and 36-inch diameter steel would carry 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day — enough to power 5 million homes daily. Three compressor stations along the route would help transport the gas, and, like much of the pipeline, would be built in lower-income, rural communities, bypassing more affluent property owners.

The project is part of a pipeline boom in the United States prompted by the fossil fuel industry’s shift from a fuel source on the decline, coal, to one on the rise, natural gas. Dominion Energy owns the majority share of the project, which was first proposed in 2014. Some of the most powerful utilities in the Southern U.S. — Duke Energy and Southern Company — own the rest. Those utility companies are also the wholesalers that would profit by reselling the gas to their ratepayers. The companies say the project is necessary because they and other utilities serving Virginia and North Carolina need cheaper gas. And they claim it would be an economic boon to the region.

But economists, environmentalists, researchers, and many residents in the places the pipeline would pass through say the project’s risks and costs outweigh its potential short-term benefits.

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