Author

Ritvik Shukla

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Environmental Health Sciences

First Advisor

Conor Harrison

Abstract

Natural gas has become a major share of energy consumption in the U.S. over the past two decades. This rise has resulted in considerable investment in the natural gas pipeline network so that the supply can be maximized. However, pipeline infrastructures, much like other fossil fuel energy infrastructures and activities, have an uneven distribution of benefits and costs across different regions. In regions where natural gas activities and infrastructure are being developed, local communities can become increasingly dependent on natural gas systems for stable revenue and employment. Such communities risk becoming “locked in” to carbon energy at a time when the U.S. is expected to transition towards a low carbon energy sector. By framing natural gas in selfbeneficial ways, industrialists, politicians, media outlets, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and local community members attempt to influence the local discourse around these systems. If the public find the benefits of the pipeline infrastructures more favorable than the costs, pipeline siting is more successful, however when communities do not favor the benefits, pipeline siting is heavily contested.

In this study, I investigate how discourse around natural gas pipeline was influenced by pro- and anti-pipeline stakeholder’s framing of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline projects in Virginia. I conduct a framing analysis across social media and newspapers and examine how discourse around pipelines changed over time and in proximity to the pipeline projects. Additionally, I interview local NGO and CSO representatives who pushed back against the pipelines being sited in their communities to place the social media and newspaper framing analysis in context to events and emotions associated with the pipeline project. I find that framing of pipelines changes over time as a result of competitive framing by various stakeholders and in turn shapes the public discourse around ongoing pipeline siting processes. Additionally, I find that pro-pipeline advocates framed natural gas pipelines predominantly through economic benefits, especially in counties where the pipelines were sited. Anti-pipeline groups, however, framed the natural gas pipelines in opposition to any and all actions and statements made by the pipeline groups.

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