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Mountain Valley seeks to unmask critical Facebook group

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — The Mountain Valley Pipeline is trying to find it who some of its very public online critics are.

The Roanoke Times reported Saturday that the company filed a subpoena in federal court last month to try to find out who is behind a Facebook group called Appalachians Against Pipelines.

The group established a Facebook page in 2018. That’s about the time that tree-sitters began to try to block construction of the natural gas project.

Mountain Valley is asking Facebook to reveal the names and telephone numbers of those who established and maintain the page.

The group says the subpoena is an an effort to intimidate and silence it. Mountain Valley declined to comment.

Mountain Valley’s efforts has been criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The nonprofit advocates for privacy and free speech on the internet.

Adam Schwartz, a senior attorney with the San Francisco-based foundation, said the rights of critics to often remain unnamed has been established in the courts. Schwartz said that Mountain Valley must prove to the court that its needs or concerns outweigh the First Amendment rights of the commenters.

The planned 303-mile (488-kilometer) mile pipeline will take natural gas drilled from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations and transport it through West Virginia and Virginia. The project has faced legal challenges from environmental groups. A 75-mile extension into central North Carolina also has been proposed.