As day broke over the small mountain town of Elliston, Virginia, one Monday in October, masked figures in thick coats emerged from the woods surrounding a construction site. Three of them approached three excavators and, one by one, locked themselves to the machines, bringing the day’s work to a halt. As they did so, several dozen of their fellow protesters gathered around them, unfurling banners and chanting amid the groaning and beeping of construction equipment.
They made their way across the field, over patches of bare earth, around sections of rusty pipe meant for burial beneath the mountain. Eventually the metal tubes will form yet another section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will soon carry 2 billion cubic feet of fracked methane from the shale fields of West Virginia to North Carolina each day. Their breath billowed in the crisp air. Beyond them stretched a bright blue sky, and mountains tinged with yellow. The past night’s rain pooled on the muddy and compacted soil beneath their feet.