According to prophecy, the Ojibwe people were meant to migrate until they found land “where food grows on water.” This is why, according to oral histories, they settled by the wetlands and rice beds near Lake Superior.
Now, thanks to the approval of yet another natural gas pipeline through indigenous territory, their prophesied homeland and way of life could be in danger.
Ever since the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) finished construction, activists and their allies are more alert to pipelines that threaten the environment and tribal sovereignty. Eyes fall on Minnesota as water protectors await the fate of the Line 3 replacement pipeline — which presents all the same dangers as DAPL and more.
On Nov. 29, 2016, Canada’s federal government approved Enbridge Inc.’s replacement project to build a new Line 3 pipeline and abandon the old, corroding one. Parent company Enbridge claims the replacement with advanced technology will better protect the environment from oil spills as it runs 760,000 barrels per day from Hardisty, Alberta, through Minnesota, ending at Superior, Wisconsin.
With double the amount of oil running in the line, the boost in supply would allow transportation to refineries in the Midwest. The new route is similar to the previous one, but will diverge at Clearbrook, MN for a more southerly route to avoid the Ojibwe Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations which already live near the existing Line 3, a violation of treaty land rights.
However, this proposed path crosses through Mississippi River headwaters and Anishinaabe territory, threatening over 3,400 acres of wild rice beds. Ojibwe wild rice, known as manoomin, is staple food with significant nutritional value that can be stored for long periods of time, and it is often used for major community feasts and ceremonies.
“Our wild rice is very fragile as it is, whether there's a pipeline or not,” said Ojibwe gatherer Harvey Goodsky Jr. in an interview with 4-traders. “With a pipeline, we'd be counting the days until there's a spill and people would come out and say, 'We did the best we could.'”
It doesn’t help that the proposed route also hydrologically connects 215 lakes — that’s 2.8 percent of the lakes in Minnesota’s 15 major watersheds. This means an oil leak spreading downstream from the pipeline would first hit 36 of the hydrologically connected lakes. Despite such obvious threats to the environment, Enbridge representatives find the risks “overstated,” and they remain confident that oil would be blocked by soil and vegetation.
Enbridge also has no plans to remove the existing pipeline, which already contaminated soil and water with about 50 years worth of leaks and spills. If left in the ground for too long, the corroding pipe will likely become a water conduit which will drain lakes and wetlands or flood farm fields. Minnesota has no pipeline abandonment regulations, so the state won’t hold Enbridge liable if there is residual contamination.
Construction of the new Line 3 began in July and Aug. 2017 in Hardisty and Superior, respectively. This prompted protests at Superior’s site, briefly shutting down construction and stoking opposition from students at the University of Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Enbridge waits on approval from Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by this upcoming summer before continuing construction in the state.
Although Minnesota’s Department of Commerce conducted an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in the past year, it was rejected on Dec. 7, 2017 by the PUC for lacking a tribal cultural resource study, as well as inadequately showing alternate routes to avoid possible environmental damage. The PUC originally gave the Department of Commerce 60 days to revise the EIS before making a final decision on Line 3 in April 2018, but on Dec. 27, 2017, Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly pushed that decision to June 2018 to allow more time to evaluate environmental and cultural impact before granting permits to Enbridge.
Enbridge’s promises to be more environmentally friendly cannot mask its desire for profits as it pushes for Line 3 even though the state Department of Commerce found no need for a new pipeline. Minnesota and Upper Midwest refineries are well-stocked in oil and demand is not expected to rise. There are also no alternative routes to avoid tribal territories and their natural resources from another dangerous pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners made similar promises regarding DAPL’s safety, but the pipeline leaked five times since it began operation in June 2017.
Given Enbridge’s extensive history of leaks and spills, its empty promises do little to persuade locals that the new pipeline would be any different.
Most notable of the company’s shortcomings is the aftermath of the Kalamazoo River oil spill, in July 2010, where the Line 6b pipeline burst and leaked a million gallons of crude oil and chemicals, making it the largest inland oil spill in United States history. Two years later, after the Environmental Protection Agency cleaned most of the river and reopened it to the public, the National Pipeline Safety Board released a report showing that Enbridge knew of about 15,000 cracks in the pipeline for five years, but did not have enough trained employees on hand to manage the damage or recognize oil was leaking despite that the alarm sounded for 17 hours.
It was a disaster waiting to happen, and Enbridge did nothing.
How are rational people expected to believe Enbridge’s guarantees of environmental stewardship when it won’t even properly replace a corroding pipeline? Its spokepeople argue that clean-up would be too expensive, but how can money be a factor when the same company continues pushing for a new pipeline worth $8.2 billion?
Line 3’s project manager, Barry Simonson, implied in an interview with Fox Business that Enbridge is well aware of the opposition, but hopes to sway opinion and avoid “another Standing Rock…in Minnesota.” Unfortunately, “another Standing Rock” seems likely if Enbridge won’t take these concerns seriously and continues repeating the same mistakes.
Thankfully, the state of Minnesota appears to be on the right track in actually following through with proper regulations before fast-tracking another pipeline. It is important not to forget the harsh realities that occur when the builders and operators of pipelines disregard tribal rights and environmental protection. History must not repeat itself again.