A Pipeline to Nowhere

July 17, 2023


  • The MVP Southgate pipeline is a proposed natural gas pipeline through north-central North Carolina
  • America is in the middle of an oil and gas production boom – but most is exported
  • The pipeline poses major environmental hazards with no discernible economic benefit to consumers


There’s an enormously significant matter of energy policy playing out at the highest levels of both the North Carolina and federal governments, and chances are good you’ve never even heard of it.

Source: IEEFA.org

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (“MVP”) Southgate extension is a proposed 75-mile spur off the much larger MVP pipeline that, if constructed, would thread from Pittsylvania County in southside Virginia down through Rockingham and Alamance counties. The main MVP itself was recently given the green light for construction as a part of the debt ceiling deal in a provision inserted by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. With the MVP itself now going forward, gas industry insiders have turned their eyes to the Southgate extension, which has been blocked – until now.

The MVP Southgate pipeline would be bad for North Carolina almost any way one examines it. Not only would it require forcible government seizure of private citizens’ land through eminent domain, but it would do so without any clear broader community benefit. The pipeline would, of course, be environmentally ruinous to the land it crosses, as nearly all gas pipelines inevitably turn out to be. Most of all, it would further entrench North Carolina’s dependency on a dirty fossil fuel, yoking consumers to the wild fluctuations of a globally traded commodity and further setting back real energy independence.

America’s oil and gas boom

There is a prevalent myth that America is producing less oil and gas than it really is. In fact, under the Biden administration, the United States is producing (and exporting) more fossil fuels than at any time in its history.

Under President Obama, America’s crude oil industry went gangbusters, massively increasing its total output. Oil production expanded under the Trump administration too, though it collapsed due to COVID. The Biden administration has also expanded production, and is currently on track to hit an all-time-high in American production in the next several months.

Some observers may wonder why oil (and gasoline) prices have not massively deflated, with all the new crude oil supply. The reason is simple: we have exported most of it.

America is exporting more crude oil today than at any point in its history. The United States is currently the #3 oil exporter in the world, just behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. Oil, after all, is a global commodity, and if consumers in Indonesia or Chile or Ireland offering to pay more for it than Americans, oil producers will send their product there instead.

America is also producing more natural gas than at any time in history.

It may come as no surprise that U.S. natural gas exports have also exploded (if you’ll excuse the term). In 2023, the United States became the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. Much of the recent increase in U.S. natural gas production is now exported globally.

To state the obvious, the United States has no nationalized oil or gas production company. U.S. Presidents have very limited ability to affect the production of oil or gas, and effectively no power to encourage American producers to use those supplies to affect domestic prices. Nevertheless, oil and gas production has surged under both Republican and – especially – Democratic administrations, much to the frustration of scientists, leaders and voters rightfully concerned about climate change.

These facts behind America’s energy disposition are key background to understanding the dynamics behind a proposed natural gas pipeline in North Carolina.

Who would the pipeline benefit?

The MVP Southgate pipeline would bring natural gas from the main MVP down to North Carolina for the sole benefit of its owner, Equitrans Midstream, a publicly traded corporation. It would do so only by forcibly transferring private land from its current owners to Equitrans by eminent domain. Indeed, Equitrans was in active eminent domain court proceedings against holdout North Carolina landowners as late as December, before dismissing them when it looked like the MVP might not go forward. Yet now, with the MVP being greenlit, those proceedings will commence again.

(Note: curiously, North Carolina’s energy lobby’s spokesperson omitted any mention of eminent domain in a recent missive on the pipeline issue.)

Typically, eminent domain is reserved only for large economic projects with a clear immediate benefit to the wider community. For example, the state of North Carolina employed eminent domain for the VinFast auto manufacturing plant (albeit at a far smaller scale than in the MVP Southgate case). VinFast expects to invest $4 billion and employ 7,500 workers on that very site. Pipelines, by contrast, not only generate no such immediate jobs, but also destroy the value of the land they are built on. Pipelines make the land impossible to further improve upon, frequently leak or spill (as residents of Huntersville know all too well), and in the case of natural gas, occasionally explode.

Perhaps the most damning argument against the MVP Southgate pipeline is also the simplest: not only is natural gas unreliable, but it also offer no tangible cost relief for North Carolina consumers.

Last Christmas, millions of North Carolinians were treated to Duke Energy’s surprise rolling blackouts because natural gas (and coal) infrastructure simply froze up in cold weather. Duke Energy, which is in the midst of a large-scale expansion of natural gas, is also announcing major rate hikes to not only pay for that expansion, but the natural gas fuel it relies on.

Renewable energy sources, like utility-scale solar and wind, have not only been proven more reliable than fossil fuels, but importantly, also do not rely on a constant source of fuel trucked in (or pumped through pipelines) from hundreds or thousands of miles away. By kilowatt-hour, solar and wind are now the cheapest sources of energy available. Converting more of the state’s energy mix to renewables like these would also help unshackle North Carolina consumers from the wild price fluctuations of global commodity markets.

The MVP Southgate pipeline is corporate welfare at the public’s expense, and it should be stopped. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which provides oversight of permitting, is accepting public comment until July 24th. Interested parties may send in their comments here. Residents of Alamance and Rockingham counties, of course, should contact their state representatives.

Help build progress for North Carolina.

Get in touch
PO Box 452, Carrboro, NC 27510

    Stay updated with us

    Stay Updated

    Receive the latest news from Carolina Forward