Enbridge pipeline report ignores alternatives (like not building a new one)

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline is falling apart.

The pipeline, which cuts through northern Minnesota as it delivers tar sands oil from Canada to Wisconsin,  was built back in the 1960s with substandard steel. Over the decades, it's eroded to the point laborers tasked with maintenance describe sealing its cracks as a game of “whack-a-mole.”

The largest spill in Enbridge’s history occurred in 1991, when Line 3 leaked 40,000 barrels --  or 1.7 million gallons -- of oil into the Prairie River. Over the years, the amount of crude pushed through the pipeline has diminished to an all-time low of 390,000 barrels per day, down from its heyday capacity of 760,000 barrels a day.

Everyone agrees, the sooner something is done about this aging pipeline, the better. They disagree about what that something should be.

Enbridge has proposed shutting it down, cleaning it out, and leaving the remains in the ground while laying brand new pipe that mostly parallels the original.

The company has said that failure to replace Line 3 would result in fuel shortages in Minnesota.

Neil Earnest, a Texan chemical engineer who testified on behalf of Enbridge before the Public Utilities Commission in January, said that if there isn't enough oil to go around, midwest refiners would divert supplies to Chicago to take advantage of higher prices there, thus decreasing Minnesota's stock. Minnesota prices would increase to balance supply and demand.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce released its first draft environmental impact study of the Line 3 project on Monday. The 1,900-page report assesses the construction’s potential risks to water and wildlife, climate change, and surrounding communities. 

As interested parties begin to wade through the large document, Andy Pearson of MN350, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting climate change, already has some criticism.

The study gives the most serious consideration to Enbridge’s preferred route, which was confirmed to have the most impact on wild rice lakes. A plan to reroute Line 3 through southwestern Minnesota -- proposed by the pipeline-neutral Friends of the Headwaters, bypassing the wild rice region -- is discussed only briefly, Pearson says.

Anti-fossil fuels environmentalists’ preference that Line 3 be decommissioned for good wasn’t considered at all.

Natlie Cook of the Sierra Club says the report's focus on transporting oil presents a "false choice that the industry puts forward," leaving real alternatives behind. "Moving more oil makes them more money," says Cook, who thinks Minnesota should be investing in public transit, technologies to improve fuel efficiency, and infrastructure to support electric car ownership.

“We know if we put this pipe in the ground," Cook says, "it’ll be around for decades. And it’ll lock us in to doing what we’ve always been doing, which is using a lot of fossil fuels, contributing to climate change, adverse health impacts that go along with that, and putting more frontline communities at risk.”

Enbridge’s own proposed alternatives, which include cobbling together a delivery system using rail and trucks, seem “deliberately unrealistic,” Pearson says. “For the most part, the different options, in many ways, are biased in favor of building a pipeline.”

Native Lives Matter also criticized the study for devoting only about 15 pages of the nearly 1,900 total to environmental justice concerns, such as human trafficking of Native American women and children near pipeline construction sites. 

"This is an insulting resolution to the issue, barely skimming over the surface and inadequately addressing the negative impacts to the most vulnerable and the most impacted communities," said co-founder Rene Ann Goodrich.

"Enbridge should address this problem as they pursue building a new Line 3 by consulting with tribal advocates and local MN task forces working on the issues of violence against native women, and responsibly inform the public in their recently released EIS on how the man camps contribute to missing, trafficked and murdered native women as exampled in the Bakken oil man camps." 

The state's commerce department will host 22 public meetings throughout northern Minnesota beginning June 6, and the public has until July 10 to communicate its feelings on pipeline proposals. Read the massive analysis for yourself here; for a schedule of public meetings on the Line 3 plans, click here