Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke, a lifelong activist from the White Earth Nation and executive director of Honor the Earth, spoke at Tuesday’s public meeting in Grand Rapids concerning the replacement of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline and its effects on tribal populations.

Called “the largest project in our history” by Enbridge Energy, the Canadian-based company is seeking Minnesota’s approval to build a new pipeline to carry crude oil from Canada to Superior, Wis. Approximately 337 miles of the proposed new line, which would expand capacity and carve a new path for pipelines across the state, will cross through Minnesota, following a new path between Clearbrook, Minn., and Superior.

The new pipeline’s intended purpose is to replace the original Line 3, a 1,097-mile crude oil pipeline built between 1962 and 1967, which runs through portions of Itasca County, a project which many residents of Northern Minnesota were against from the beginning.

Of concern to many pipeline opponents is Enbridge’s proposal to simply abandon Line 3 in favor of the new line, leaving the former in the ground. If this were to occur, it would be the first major crude oil pipeline to be abandoned in the state.

“Line 3 is a replacement project intended to upgrade and improve the pipeline while restoring capacity to its original volume to meet the demands of refineries in Minnesota and the Midwest,” said company spokeswoman Shannon Gustafson.

The original Line 3 has been running at half its original capacity and thus requires increasing attention. Estimates from Enbridge indicate more than 900 integrity “anomalies” in the pipeline. According to the company, it simply makes sense, and is more cost-effective, to build an entirely new line.

“Line 3 has experienced external corrosion inherent and common in the pipe coatings used at the time the pipeline was constructed in the early 1960s,” said Gustafson. “Enbridge currently forecasts more than 6,000 maintenance activities are required on the line in Minnesota alone over the next 15 years to maintain safe operations.”

This, however, has been far from comforting to local concerned citizens and organizations.

“If you ask me, if you're Enbridge, saying ‘we are operating a line and it’s very unsafe, can we build another,’ is not a great argument for building a new pipeline,” said Andy Pearson, a member of the organization MN350.

The new pipeline, at 1,031-miles, will cost approximately $7.5 billion to construct. It is a 36-inch pipe that will be able to carry 760,000 barrels of oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the Enbridge terminal in Superior.

Tuesday, June 6 began a series of 22 public meetings scheduled by the Minnesota Department of Commerce to take place in every county where the proposed pipeline would be installed or the aging pipeline abandoned. Residents of Itasca County had their opportunity Tuesday, at the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids, to address their concerns for Enbridge’s proposed new pipeline and the abandonment of Line 3.

Of pressing concern to many who spoke at the meeting were the impacts of the projects on the environment as well as the livelihood of the native populations who call the impacted areas home.

“The current Enbridge pipeline system runs through my property and I am deeply concerned that abandoning the crumbling Line 3 will mean that I am not able to leave my property for my children in the condition that it was left to me by my parents,” said James Hietala, a landowner in Warba. “We are so fortunate to live in an area with pristine water; there is simply too much at stake as highlighted in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to abandon and rebuild this pipeline.”

“I never wanted [Line 3 on my property] in the first place. And I don’t want it now,” continued Hietala.

Even without oil flowing through the pipeline, many are concerned about the potential impact the decaying structure could have on the environment.

According to the DEIS (8.3.1), “When a pipe is empty, the weight of the liquid load that once contributed to buoyancy control is lost. As a result, the pipe could become buoyant and begin rising toward the surface at watercourse crossings, in wetlands, and in locations where soil density is low and the water table is high.”

“I think it’s just a scandal that Enbridge isn’t going to pull up that old pipeline,” said John Munter of Warba. “Iowa has a great law: If a pipeline is abandoned, after five years landowners can request the pipeline be removed at the expense of the owner. We don’t have that here.”

According to a document entitled “The Line 3 DEIS Highlight Reel” released earlier this month by Honor the Earth, the public was allotted three weeks to read and analyze the 5000+ pages of the DEIS for the Line 3 replacement. After doing so, the organization had a number of comments and concerns including tribal impacts, big picture problems, spill risk, abandonment, construction and restoration, economic impacts and climate change.

According to Honor the Earth, the DEIS estimates that, over the next 50 years, one can expect 14 pinhole leaks, 54 small spills, four medium spills, three large spills and, potentially, one catastrophic spill from the replacement pipeline.

This has raised many concerns for environmental activists, including the potential impact the proposed pipeline may have on water quality.

According to Abbie Plouff, Northeast Minnesota program coordinator for Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 61 percent of respondents during a statewide poll said that they would not be in favor of an increase of tar sands oil moving through the state.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” said Plouff.

The current Line 3 proposed pipeline spans more than 300 miles across Northern Minnesota, crossing Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations and the 1855 and 1842 treaty areas. As with the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline, tribal groups, such as Honor the Earth, are stepping up in opposition of the Line 3 replacement.

“They’ve chosen this time to go around the reservation so they don’t need to get tribal approval,” said Eryn Wise, an organizer with Honor the Earth. “But where they need to go through is (much) of the country’s wild rice habitat. We are committed to keeping the environment safe, clean and protected.”

According to Honor the Earth, “Chapter 9 [of the DEIS], ‘Tribal Resources,’ states that any of the possible routes for Line 3 ‘would have a long-term detrimental effect on tribal members and tribal resources’ that cannot be accurately categorized, quantified, or compared (9.6).”

The document also acknowledged, however, that “traditional resources are essential to the maintenance and realization of tribal lifeways, and their destruction or damage can have profound cultural consequences.”

It also acknowledged that pipeline impacts on tribal communities “are part of a larger pattern of structural racism” (Chapter 11) faced by tribal peoples of Minnesota, and 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” (11.4.3).

“In the DEIS, the state of Minnesota acknowledges the duress and stress and harm, inequality in health conditions and economic conditions that our tribal communities face,” said Winona LaDuke, a lifelong activist from the White Earth Nation and executive director of Honor the Earth, at Tuesday’s meeting. “Inside the DEIS, they acknowledge that this pipeline will cause more harm for our people, and at no point did the state recommend a no-build option. And that is what we need; a no-build option. No new corridor.”

However, according to Honor the Earth, the DEIS concludes that the “disproportionate and adverse impacts” which would occur to American Indian populations in the vicinity of the proposed pipeline is not necessarily a reason to deny the project.

“There’s some real tangible issues that are involved here, particularly the broader issues of climate change and the effects on climate, which are big issues for us in Minnesota and the world,” said LaDuke. “But there’s also the tribal impact. We’ve opposed this new route since the beginning. It goes through the heart of our 1855 treaty territory, through the heart of our best rice-ing lakes. Wild rice is the heart of our people. So we don’t want it to go through here. We think it’s a really bad, bad idea.”

With the DEIS citing little economic impact on the region, many are left far more concerned than comforted.

“We believe Enbridge needs to clean up their old mess before they make a new mess,” said LaDuke. “We think our people have suffered enough from the oil industry and the state of Minnesota.”

Photo by Kassandra Tuten | Herald-Review

Winona LaDuke, a lifelong activist from the White Earth Nation and executive director of Honor the Earth, spoke at Tuesday’s public meeting in Grand Rapids concerning the replacement of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline and its effects on tribal populations.

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