Take a stand against the planet-threatening Line 3 pipeline

Boulder resident and Enbridge board member can be a voice against harmful project

Construction on the Line 3 replacement pipeline underway near Palisade, Minnesota, on Jan. 5, 2021. (Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer)

By Sara Hersh, Dave Robinson, Heidi Leathwood, and Michael Denslow

As we will outline below, Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline is unneeded and an environmental disaster in the making. It unnecessarily contributes to our climate emergency, violates Indigenous lands and treaties, and puts local people at risk of COVID-19 and worse, considering the history of missing and murdered Indigenous women correlated with the “man camps.” We implore Teresa Madden, a Boulder resident and Enbridge board member, to stand with local Indigenous and environmental activists, expressing her dissent to the board of the Enbridge corporation.

To begin with the immediate cost to human life: Indigenous communities are already being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and the construction of Line 3 will put more than 4,000 Enbridge workers, many from out of state, living and working in close quarters; this has the potential to develop into a superspreader event. Additionally, 1 in 3 Indigenous women is sexually assaulted during their life and 67% of these assaults are perpetrated by non-Indigenous people. The link between extractive industries and sex-trafficking is well documented. For example, man camp establishments near oil extraction sites and along pipelines are strongly correlated with an increased number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Pipelines also coincide with higher rates of human trafficking, domestic violence, drug and alcohol use, toxin exposures, and other societal stressors. The statistics are staggering and the links of violence to extractive industries are well established. Shouldn’t we do everything in our power to put an end to this violence?

This is a risky enterprise on other fronts as well. Enbridge has a history of pipeline leaks, a disregard for agreements, and is in financial danger with the current low oil prices. The existing Line 3 Enbridge pipeline transports tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin, spanning northern Minnesota and crossing the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations, and the 1855, 1854 and 1842 treaty areas. In operation since 1968, it has had a number of leaks. One of those leaks was the largest inland oil spill in the United States: In 1991, 1.7 million gallons spilled in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Crews work on Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline near Hill City, Minnesota, on Jan. 26, 2021. Fifty-foot paths through forest and wetland were cleared to make way for the pipeline. (Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer)

Enbridge was also responsible for another of the largest oil spills in U.S. history, near Marshall, Michigan, in 2010. In 2016, Enbridge reached a $177-million settlement with the U.S Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency over this spill and another, in Romeoville, Illinois. In November, Enbridge received notice from the state of Michigan that a 1953 easement allowing it to operate dual pipelines is being revoked and terminated, “based on Enbridge’s persistent and incurable violations of the easement’s terms and conditions.”

Enbridge is an industry giant, but according to financial analyst The Motley Fool it is in danger of bankruptcy. It has over $50 billion in debt, and, if oil prices remain low as they are likely to, this will spell financial disaster for the company. Is Enbridge using the Line 3 pipeline and the people of Minnesota to eke out a few more dying breaths? Now reaching the end of its lifespan, the decaying Line 3 pipeline cannot continue to haul oil. Instead of decommissioning Line 3 and paying for its removal and the rehabilitation of the lands it has destroyed, Enbridge plans to expand the pipeline — in order to transport oil at a higher volume and in a new corridor — calling it a “replacement.”

It will be built through untouched wetlands, through treaty territory of the Anishinaabe peoples, through the Mississippi River headwaters, to the shores of Lake Superior. The construction itself violates treaties and will cause irreparable damage to ecosystems, but imagine the damage a spill will cause, to local Indigenous communities, to the farmers of Minnesota, and also to waterways that are vital to all of the states nourished by the Mississippi. This is only the short-term damage; the long-term damage will be global.

At $7.5 billion, the proposed new Line 3 would be the largest project in Enbridge’s history and one of the largest crude oil pipelines in the world, carrying up to 915,000 barrels per day of the dirtiest fuel on my Earth, tar sands crude. It would contribute the equivalent of 50 coal plants worth of carbon pollution to the atmosphere, and its carbon footprint would exceed the entire state of Minnesota.

According to retired NASA scientist James Hanson, “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate. Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets accelerates out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction.”

This project poses a direct threat not only to frontline Indigenous communities and millions of people who depend on the rivers and lakes for clean drinking water, but also to living beings all over the planet who would be annihilated by the carbon bomb this project would emit. Line 3 is poised to be a linchpin in tar sands infrastructure. It is designed to prop up a dying industry for decades more. The oil from this pipeline will be sold to other countries. There is no gain for the United States, and it has potential to destroy fresh water for its inhabitants. Why build another pipeline when the emissions produced by burning the fossil fuels currently in development exceed global agreements many times over?

What is right for Enbridge is not simply what can make money. We, both as individuals and corporations, need to honor treaties with Indigenous nations, protect our natural resources and water systems, and make sure we have an inhabitable planet for our children. Madden has a chance to act on what is good and right at this crucial time in human history. She should be a champion for fresh water, clean air and life itself. She should take a stand against dirty, unnecessary, and unprofitable tar sands oil. Will Madden be a voice against Line 3 inside the Enbridge corporation?

Sara Hersh, Dave Robinson, Heidi Leathwood, and Michael Denslow live in the Boulder and Denver areas.