In early 2021, I visited the tent encampment of a group of anarchists and activists in the forests of Appalachia. Far from having reliable cell service and the comforts of consumerism, I found myself in a self-sustaining, anticapitalist community — a small contingent of a larger coalition of climate activists and organizations. Their goal: to block construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a 303-mile natural gas pipeline being built across West Virginia and Virginia. Stop the MVP has drawn inspiration from Indigenous organizers who mobilized against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and the Coastal GasLink Pipeline on Wet’suwet’en land in Canada — epic struggles to restore relationships of mutuality and interconnectivity to the land.
Thanks to a barrage of direct action campaigns, along with numerous legal challenges and an outcry from local communities, the Mountain Valley Pipeline project is now years behind schedule, its cost ballooning from an initial estimate of $3.7 billion to $6.6 billion. In one of the group's most dramatic actions, dubbed “the Yellow Finch blockade,” Stop the MVP activists built elaborate treehouses among the last stand of trees in the pipeline’s path. For 932 days, forest defenders lived in the trees, stalling construction and garnering ground support from environmental activists and many local residents.
In March 2021, two of the then residents of the tree-sit, known by the aliases Robin and Acre, were extracted by police and arrested. By the time these activists were forcibly removed, the Yellow Finch blockade had become one of the longest continuous tree occupations in the United States, longer even than Julia Butterfly Hill’s stay in the canopy of a redwood named Luna in the late 1990s.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is set to traverse 75 miles of the steepest slopes in Appalachia, as well as more than 200 miles with “high landslide susceptibility,” according to the Virginia Mercury. Over its five years of construction, as the Roanoke Times has reported, the pipeline has racked up about 500 violations of erosion- and sediment-control regulations. Environmental advocates such as the Natural Resources Defense Council say the pipeline’s infrastructure has very likely degraded, due to being exposed to the elements for years as construction has stalled.
In an email to Teen Vogue, a spokesperson for Equitrans Midstream Corporation, MVP’s lead sponsor, states that they have attempted to work with their opponents in good faith, but they are unable to provide comment on “speculative allegations” about the pipeline. With the project 94% complete, their statement reads, “Mountain Valley remains committed to safely and responsibly completing construction of this critical energy infrastructure project and bringing it into service to meet domestic residential and business demands for cleaner, affordable natural gas in the second half of 2023.”
Powerful officials have also been pushing for the pipeline’s completion. In September, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin pressured Democrats to speed the completion of the pipeline amid negotiations around the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ landmark climate deal. While that bill does make major headway in addressing the climate crisis at the federal level, organizers say concessions to oil-leasing projects and other major fossil fuel projects, such as the MVP, represent a piecemeal response to an existential crisis.