by Justice Peche, JOSHUA Environmental Task Force member
Are Enbridge’s pipeline expansion projects locking all of us into a climate catastrophe?
The Canadian based fossil fuel giant, Enbridge is expanding it’s Line 3 pipeline which transports Alberta tar sands from Alberta, Canada to it’s refinery terminal in Superior Wisconsin. The new pipeline being constructed would carry nearly double the volume of tar sands, transporting emissions equivalent to fifty coal fired power plants everyday, and take a new route cutting through First Nations along the way.
Construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 expansion project began in Minnesota last December and was immediately met with resistance when Standing Rock style encampments were established near the pipeline’s new route. Over 700 water protectors have been arrested attempting to halt construction of the pipeline.
There has never been an oil pipeline that hasn’t leaked. Enbridge and its joint ventures and subsidiaries reported 307 hazardous liquids incidents to federal regulators between 2002 and 2018 – one incident every 20 days on average. Enbridge’s Line 3 is responsible for the largest inland oil spill in US history, spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil. This pipeline destroys land and natural resources that First Nations retain the right to hunt, fish, and gather on, violating treaty rights, which Article Six of the United States Constitution states are the “supreme law of the land”.
Minnesota’s DNR initially permitted Enbridge to divert 500 million gallons of water in order to construct the pipeline. In June this amount was increased to 5 billion gallons. Throughout the year Minnesota has been facing an extreme drought, the most serious in 40 years. It’s feared that this massive diversion of water paired with the current extreme drought is having serious effects on natural ecosystems. The White Earth First Nation has launched a lawsuit against the State of Minnesota because of this diversion’s destructive effect on wild rice, which has immense cultural significance to many First Nations.
Pressure is being placed on state governments and the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke essential permits. The Biden Administration revoked a key permit to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline earlier this year shutting it down. The administration has the authority to revoke the same permit necessary for Enbridge’s Line 3 and could do so at any time if enough public pressure is placed on them.
Enbridge’s Line 5 is less well known than it’s Line 3 but is being opposed for many of the same reasons. Line 5 begins where Line 3 ends – at Enbridge’s refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. It continues eastward cutting through the Bad River reservation. In 2017, the sovereign nation ordered Enbridge to cease operations and remove its pipeline from their land. Enbridge disregarded the order and has been operating as if nothing happened. Line 5 has spilled in Wisconsin’s Menominee River Watershed four times, releasing over 200,000 gallons of oil. Michigan’s governor Gretchin Whitmer ordered Enbridge to shut down Line 5 on May 11th of this year. Again, Enbridge disregarded the orders and launched legal challenges in response to the order.
When Line 5 was built in 1953 the pipeline’s engineers gave it a life expectancy of 50 years in which it could operate safely. That same line is still operating to this day, 68 years later. Line 5 is exposed and unsupported under the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lakes Michigan and Lake Superior, seriously threatening both Great Lakes. For the portion running under the Straits of Mackinac, Enbridge is proposing to simply place a tunnel around the existing outdated line.
Both pipelines destroy lands that First Nations retain the rights to hunt, fish, gather, and conduct ceremonies on, violating treaty rights. It’s apparent that Enbridge disregards tribal sovereignty in pursuit of profit. These pipelines exacerbate the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Since construction of Line 3 began, Enbridge workers on the project have been arrested on charges of sex trafficking. The International Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report issued a “Code red for humanity” warning that the absence of swift and bold action will result in dire consequences. Allowing massive expansions of fossil fuel infrastructure would be contrary to all of the warnings and recommendations coming from the scientific community and seriously run the risk of locking us all into a devastating climate catastrophe.