Environmental risk factors associated with support for anti-pipeline activism

This pilot study examines the responses of rural western Virginia property owners whose claims of attachment to place and demands for the safety and security of their natural and human environments are at odds with the construction of a natural gas pipeline. Harvey (2004) might characterize such a taking of private property for a non-public purpose as an accumulation by dispossession. Scholars argue that such violations to a sense of place are fundamental to the mobilization of resistance (Fisher and Smith 2012; Martin and Miller 2003). Semi-structured interviews queried property owners regarding their dispossession from longstanding land-use practices, including not only land tenure but also knowledge and concern for such things as karst terrain and fragile wetlands. These inquiries were followed by questions regarding property owners’ perception of risk exposure, differentiating between properties that are within the pipeline’s blast zone and those elsewhere in the six counties along the pipeline path. These risk factors include not only potential harm to physical and mental health and safety, but also perceptions of potential loss of property value. Variability in property owners’ claims of attachment to place and perception of risk is then compared to homeowners’ reported support and/or involvement with pipeline activists, as markers for the mobilization of resistance. This study of reaction to a pipeline project, as a linear source of violation and risk, may reveal differences from point sources such as toxic waste dumps or mines, with potential implications for impacts anticipated by federal and state permitting agencies.