Between its mountains, beaches and rolling pine forests, North Carolina is a state of immense natural beauty. But it’s also a state in desperate need for jobs everywhere outside of the I-85 corridor.

That has made the fight over a controversial new natural gas pipeline especially potent. Here’s what you need to know about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

What is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline?

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a proposed 604-mile underground system that would bring natural gas from the mountains of West Virginia to electrical plants in Virginia and North Carolina. A total of 186 miles would be in North Carolina.

The $5.5 billion project is a joint venture between Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.

The companies estimate that more than 17,000 jobs would be created to build the pipeline, and then about 2,000 ongoing jobs to maintain it.

But the project would also require the pipeline to go through private property — and most importantly to environmentalists, traverse more than 300 N.C. bodies of water.

The jobs would be a big deal for eastern North Carolina, one of the poorest parts of the country. Here are the most recent unemployment rates in the eight counties the pipeline would pass through:

  • Northampton: 6.5% (90th out of 100 N.C. counties)
  • Halifax: 7.3% (96th)
  • Nash: 5.9% (83rd)
  • Wilson: 7% (93rd)
  • Johnston: 4.1% (16th)
  • Sampson: 4.9% (63rd)
  • Cumberland: 5.7% (80th)
  • Robeson: 6.5% (91st)

All but Johnston County are well above the statewide rate of 4.1 percent.

But between Duke Energy’s coal ash spills and the GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River, there’s not a lot of trust between North Carolinians and energy companies. The state collected page after page of comments from people worried about downstream effects.

In the final deal, the pipeline builders are sending Gov. Roy Cooper a total of $57.8 million to help with environmental impacts.

Gov. Roy Cooper

The North Carolina approval was the biggest hurdle the pipeline faced. The permit requires the four companies to conduct regular testing for environmental impact.

The pipeline already has approval in West Virginia and has federal approval to start chopping down trees. Construction will likely start this year.

Why is Gov. Cooper under investigation?

The Republican-led General Assembly is looking into how Gov. Cooper negotiated that $57.8 million deal. It’s pretty unusual for companies to have to give the governor direct control over a major pot of money as a condition for permit approval.

Sens. Harry Brown and Paul Newton are leading a committee looking into the deal, but are already calling it “pay to play.” North Carolina agency staff had already recommended approving the deal.

In November 2018, they announced that they’ve hired a special investigator to look into the arrangement.

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Cover image of a train hauling pipes for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline near the N.C. border by Mark Levisay via Flickr (Creative Commons).


  1. Those are misleading job numbers on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The ICF economic impact study indicates that the savings in energy costs will create 925 jobs (indirectly) and 75 permanent jobs based on the increased capacity for energy generation. This means the numbers are projected for the state whole-heartedly embracing natural gas for the next 20 years and expanding. Is that 1.) What we actually expect to happen as renewables continue to drop in cost? 2.) What we want for our state?


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