Natural gas threatens Southern people and places

Gas is a fossil fuel, not a so-called “bridge fuel”

Rising costs and staggering pollution have pushed the retirement of many coal-burning power plants in the South, but utilities are rushing to adopt another fossil fuel that threatens many of the same dangers. Methane, the primary ingredient of what is often but misleadingly called “natural gas,” is a potent greenhouse gas that has an incredibly destructive footprint on the environment where it’s extracted. Like other fossil fuel pipelines, such as the crude oil Byhalia Connection Pipeline that SELC and local partners in Memphis defeated in 2021, gas pipelines guarantee habitat fragmentation and open communities to serious risk. Fires, explosions, and irreparable damage to the surrounding air and water are all potential consequences of both gas pipelines and the hydraulic fracturing wells that are used to extract gas. What’s more, all gas infrastructure — from the wellhead to the power plant where gas is burned—leaks methane into the atmosphere, harming the environment and, as a result, human health. 

SELC is working to stop harmful gas pipelines and plants, and we’re pushing the adoption of cleaner energy solutions that don’t carry the enormous costs and risks of gas. Proposals for new, potentially hazardous pipelines and gas plants are driven by claims that burning gas for power generation produces less carbon dioxide than burning coal or oil. The problem is that combustion is just one stage in the life-cycle of gas. When its full life-cycle is taken into account, it can be as harmful to the climate as other fossil fuels — or even more. Yet utilities in SELC’s region continue to misrepresent gas as a so-called “bridge fuel” to renewable sources of energy. As the impacts of climate change become more severe and our timeline to tackle it more urgent, it is irresponsible to double down on another fossil fuel when utilities should be aggressively pursuing renewable energy options.

He said, ‘We’re a billion-dollar company and we’re going to put the pipeline wherever we want to put it.’

Jason Harris, Augusta County resident in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which SELC and partners defeated in 2020 

Why do pipelines route through the most vulnerable communities?

There are over two million miles of gas pipelines cutting across the United States today, and according to the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, they’re disproportionately concentrated in the most vulnerable communities. That’s because pipeline routing often follows what one industry spokesperson in 2021 called “the path of least resistance,” or land made cheap by a long history of discriminatory practices. Take the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, for example, which SELC, partners, and local communities defeated in 2020: its planned route took it through indigenous communities in North Carolina and historically Black communities in Virginia. 

Gas-fired power plants are disproportionately concentrated in communities of color or low-wealth communities, too, as are hydraulic fracturing wells that are part of a process known as “fracking.” Injecting huge quantities of water and chemicals into the ground, fracking has enormous implications for the vulnerable communities where gas production is most commonly sited. The data are clear: exposing low-wealth and communities of color to the risk of everything from leaking fumes to explosions, gas poses a particularly egregious threat to environmental justice.

SELC is defeating gas projects

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have put the people in its path at risk, threatened waters and land across three states, and locked citizens into using a dirty energy source for decades. It was a land grab by private utilities, and residents of Virginia and North Carolina would have footed the $8 billion bill. In 2020, after arguing multiple cases in the court of appeals and even one before the U.S. Supreme Court, we successfully defeated this destructive and unnecessary pipeline. Now we’re taking on projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline and utilities like TVA and Duke Energy. We’re building on our past success protecting communities like Virginia’s Tidewater region from drilling and fracking, and redoubling our work alongside citizen groups and allies to prevent the South from making bad investments in destructive, climate-warming gas projects.