The new Enbridge Energy Pipeline 3? It’s the sequel to the Sandpiper, but larger and dirtier. Last year, that pipeline was canceled, after major community opposition. Now the Canadian company is back with another line — same route, same problems; perhaps more of them.
Throughout June — and Tuesday in St. Paul at the Intercontinental Hotel — the public will have an opportunity to ask questions and comment about a Line 3 replacement pipeline that will carry as much as 915,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day — twice as much as oil the old line. The court-ordered environmental review, or draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), released by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, is huge at 5,000-pages-plus and offers much good information. Yet it brings some deep concerns and questions, especially, why the no build option is not recommended? Here are some others:
1. Where is the spill data?
Enbridge has tried to bar the disclosure of this information, stating that some “ bad actors” might use it. The Park Rapids-based Friends of the Headwaters, however, pointed out that “ … Enbridge pipelines on its mainline route are exposed above ground or shallowly buried in many locations. Google Earth can be used to find such pipelines hanging above streams. This imagery reveals that many pipelines are within a few feet of each other. The type of person who would do deliberate damage already has plenty of information about where to do such damage … .”
There are some spill scenarios in the report, but none have been done, for instance, on the St. Louis River. If I were Duluth’s mayor or City Council, I would want to know the plan to protect the Great Lakes.
2. If you are an American Indian, you might want to know why you don’t matter
The Department of Commerce reports in the DEIS that “the impacts associated with the proposed project and its alternatives would be an additional health stressor on tribal communities that already face overwhelming health disparities and inequities … .” The Department of Commerce notes that the tribal community bears the largest impact of this proposed project: “Any of the routes selected would negatively affect tribal resources and tribal members. The … relationship to the land and the rights tribal members have in the ceded territories complicates the traditional notion of mitigation. The ceded territories and the rights that go with them are not mobile and cannot be transferred … .”
And then there’s this, “ … A finding of ‘disproportionate and adverse impacts’ does not preclude selection of any given alternative. … This finding does, however, require detailed efforts to avoid, mitigate, minimize, rectify, reduce, or eliminate the impact associated with the construction of the Project or any alternatives.”
In other words, does this language just mean, “deal with it?”
3. Potential harm to natural resources and tourism Up North?
The Department of Commerce also noted that the preferred project route would cross more wild rice lakes than any other proposed route. This area has the highest concentration of such lakes, the most pristine aquatic ecosystems and the shallowest aquifers, the most delicate soil types and other environmental features. Our wild rice beds, lakes, and rivers are precious, not just to Indians but to those who value the natural beauty and resources that make up a thriving economy Up North — and for many, a summer place to live — in Minnesota’s tourism industry. Regional fisheries generate $7.2 billion annually and support 49,000 jobs. The tourism economy of northern Minnesota represents $11.9 billion in gross sales, or 240,000 jobs.
4. What about pipeline abandonment?
There is not much about the abandonment of the old line in the DEIS and what should be done with the failing line, although this is a big problem and a precedent-setting issue. Today there are at least eight operating pipelines in Minnesota, most of them operating around 30 or more years. Line 3 is the first “abandonment” of a line that could become a national precedent.
This last legislative session, Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, proposed giving landowners a right to make decisions on pipelines in their territory. The idea of tribes and the state regulating abandonment in our pristine watersheds is an idea whose time has finally come. Many landowners believe that the abandonment issue be solved before we talk about any new pipelines.
5. Tar sands oil?
According to a Minnesota Environmental Partnership survey this year, 60 percent of Minnesota opposes tar sands pipelines? Why? It’s one of the dirtiest and most greenhouse gas-intensive fuels on the planet. A recent National Academy of Sciences report concluded that spilled tar sands oil is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to clean up and that U.S. communities are generally unprepared for spill response. And it is the source of the cancers and health impacts on the Dene people who live downstream from the tar sands projects in Alberta, Canada.
6. Is there really a need?
The Toronto Globe and Mail suggests that pipeline companies and politicians are overbuilding lines by 2.4 million barrels a day capacity. Plus, it is not clear how much tar sands oil will be produced in 10 or 15 years, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Investment in the extraction of Alberta tar sands has plummeted recently and major oil companies are pulling out, because oil prices are stuck at around $40-$50 per barrel, and tar sands oil costs $80-$100 to produce.
Why would Minnesota bear such profound risk for what will soon be a stranded asset? Now is the time to move away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy.
Winona LaDuke is the executive director of Honor the Earth, a national, Indigenous-led environmental nonprofit organization based on the White Earth Reservation. More information: www.honortheearth.org.