Enbridge pipeline in Minnesota brings protest, and a tribal liaison's 'abrupt' resignation

Tribes calling foul on the environmental review process for Line 3 will stage their first protest on Monday.

Tribes calling foul on the environmental review process for Line 3 will stage their first protest on Monday. Association of Oil Pipe Lines

Something needs to be done about Enbridge’s aging Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota, which transports Canadian crude oil to Superior, Wisconsin.

Corrosion and cracks have halved its capacity to move oil, and maintenance workers say patching leaks is like playing “whack-a-mole.”

Enbridge wants to abandon Line 3 and build a new one, at a cost of $6.5 billion, which would generally follow a similar path. Minnesota environmentalists, land owners, and members of the Ojibwe and Chippewa tribes oppose the idea of leaving the old pipe in the ground, and have proposed an alternative route which bypasses the sensitive wild rice lakes of the state's northern counties.

To obtain its permits to build, Enbridge needs to prevail on an environmental impact study. On Thursday the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the agency tasked with that review, published its final draft following two months of public meetings, and the harvesting of more than 2,800 public comments.

The Public Utilities Commission is expected to decide whether Enbridge gets its permits, based on this review, in the spring of 2018.

The review echoes the Ojibwe and Chippewa reservations' overwhelming resistance to Line 3. The pipeline could potentially fragment forests, aid the spread of invasive species, and contaminate northern lakes. Even before that, construction could restrict hunting, fishing, and the gathering of wild rice and medicinal plants. Tribes fear leakage from construction refueling might pollute natural habitats, and that the old pipe – with the contamination it’s already caused – would become their burden once abandoned by Enbridge.

Nevertheless, Red Lake (Chippewa) Tribal Council Chairman Darrell Seki, Sr., who read portions of the final study before it was published, felt the review failed to adequately capture the full scope of tribes’ aversion to the project. The public comment period was too rushed, discussion about the pipeline’s threat to the lakes too cursory, as he wrote in a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton on August 15.

“The discussion in the [draft environmental impact study] of the proposed Line 3 project upon Tribal Nationals does not come close to addressing the actual impacts from the pipeline project in a meaningful way,” Seki wrote. “In fact, the discussion of tribal impacts in the DEIS and the mitigation that is proposed appears to have been written by Enbridge itself.”

He was also concerned about the sudden resignation of the Department of Commerce’s first-ever tribal liaison, Danielle Oxendine Molliver, who recently resigned after less than four months.

“Ms. Molliver opened doors for the Department of Commerce, and convinced tribal people to share their true feelings about the impacts of Enbridge’s proposed project,” Seki wrote. “Her abrupt departure casts a further cloud over the environmental impact statement process.”

Molliver, a member of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina, helped the Department of Commerce consult with tribes by explaining regulatory processes and facilitating meetings. That was, until Enbridge complained to the governor’s office that she was over-empathizing with tribal members, according to Molliver, which led Commerce to suggest that she restrict her role in public meetings to merely greeting people at the door.

Later, when tribal members complained about seeing trains loaded high with stacks of pipe traveling through Minnesota, bound for a project that had yet to survive an environmental review or receive permits, Molliver tried to communicate those concerns to the commerce department. Tribal members who saw the expensive cargo suspected their cause was already lost.

It turned out that the Public Utilities Commission had already issued Enbridge the permits to begin staging construction areas back in 2015 -- a fact not widely known among the tribes.

Molliver says she had been sold on the sophisticated permitting process in Minnesota, a supposedly progressive state, for this controversial pipeline. Now she believes the process was not transparent from the start. She resigned from her state job on July 24.

“I did not think that Enbridge had the influence over state agencies,” she says. “Literally the pipes are on the border with Minnesota and Wisconsin, you’ve now shipped billions of dollars. Does anyone really think the state of Minnesota’s going to be like, ‘Well no, actually you’re not going to get [permits]?”

Three camps of protesters, a total of about 75 people, have already congregated near Line 3. A nonviolent demonstration, the first having to do with this project, is planned for Monday in Cloquet.