Louise Erdrich is a wonderful writer of poetry and fiction as reflected in her recent opinion piece "Line 3: Not just another pipeline" (Jan. 3).
It is true that it is winter in northern Minnesota, and over 4,000 skilled union men and women who have waited a very long time to work are replacing an aging pipeline, the most studied pipeline project in state history. There also are protesters braving the cold to oppose the work. But lest we get caught up in a novelist's narrative, we should dig into the project's truths.
The truth about the existing Line 3 is that it was built in the 1960s and is part of the Enbridge crude oil pipeline system that crosses the Mississippi in Minnesota and has done so safely for decades. Line 3 travels 1,097-miles from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wis., and currently operates below its designed capacity to increase operational safety. Its replacement was ordered by a federal consent decree during the Obama administration.
The Line 3 replacement project is safety- and maintenance-driven. It replaces an aging pipeline with a safer one made of thicker steel with more advanced coatings. This will reduce maintenance and disruptions to the environment and provide a source of energy that our economy continues to rely on.
The most studied pipeline project in Minnesota history has been the subject of more than six years of science-based review by regulatory and permitting bodies. This included more than 70 public hearings, a 13,500 page environmental impact statement (EIS), four separate reviews by independent administrative law judges, and 320 route modifications in response to stakeholder input and reviews.
The process also included approvals from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (the only tribe with "Treatment as a State" water quality authority along the pipeline route).
According to the EIS, the pipeline might not have any impact on greenhouse gas emissions, especially if restored capacity on the replacement line displaces crude oil being delivered today by truck or train.
In 2019 Minnesota Public Radio asked: Will consumption happen regardless of whether the pipeline is replaced? The answer came from an expert who studies energy life cycle impacts, Stefan Unnasch, who said, "If the pipeline isn't built, the oil will find a market some other way."
Those other ways are more carbon-intense. The EIS notes that the full volume transported on Line 3 would require 10 trains 110 tank cars long, or 4,000 tanker trucks — traveling daily. The EIS reinforces the fact that pipelines have relatively minor emissions.
Even so, Line 3 has been held to stringent water quality certification as noted by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop, "The MPCA has used sound science and thorough analysis to ensure that necessary safeguards are in place to protect Minnesota's waters. The 401 certification requires Enbridge to meet Minnesota's extensive water quality standards instead of lower federal standards. … The result is a certification and permits that are strong, enforceable, and protective."
Despite Erdrich's words, tribal participation has been important throughout the permitting and regulatory process. Respecting tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, we worked closely with tribes along the right of way to make sure communities and resources are protected.
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa managed the state's most extensive Tribal Cultural Resources Survey ever for this project — identifying significant cultural resources along more than 300 miles. Route changes and mitigations were implemented and amended plans were shared with all the consulting tribes. The project is even being built under the supervision of tribal monitors with authority to stop construction, to ensure that important cultural resources are protected.
Erdrich cites the Kalamazoo River oil spill 10 years ago as evidence that pipelines are not to be trusted. In truth that oil spill transformed Enbridge forever. Beyond cleanup, we enhanced safety in everything we do. Last year we safely transported a record of nearly 4 billion barrels of oil. Even so, we know even one leak is too many. The cleanup itself was hailed for restoring the river corridor, improving water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and the experience of river users.
One local resident, Jesse Jacox, who has served as an Emmett Township trustee, told the Detroit News in 2015, "I never in my life could have imagined the river looking like it does now. I could not imagine them cleaning up the mess the way they have and addressing the issue the way they have."
Truth is, as long as most of us desire modern conveniences, what is in Line 3's pipeline will be needed to drive, cook, heat our homes, fly on planes and manufacture products. And millions of products made of poly fibers and plastics — from computers to heart monitors, from medical supplies to shoes, warm winter coats and camping gear are today greatly dependent on crude oil.
That may change with time. Enbridge itself is investing in energy's transition and working toward a goal of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050; with an interim target to reduce GHG emission intensity 35% by 2030. It's also why we're proud to be one of the few energy companies in the world to earn an A- for our climate change efforts from the Carbon Disclosure Project.
As we work toward a just energy transition, we can't leave people out in the cold. We need to keep energy safe and affordable for every family. And replacing Line 3 helps us do just that.
Mike Fernandez is senior vice president at Enbridge, Calgary, Alberta.