Visiting the Enbridge Pipeline Blockade

By Terry R. Houle

On June 26, nearly 30 of us set out on a bus trip to view crude oil and tar sands pipelines in Northern Minnesota.

The reason for this trip was to understand the impacts of tar sands pipelines in northern Minnesota. Enbridge Energy is currently proposing to expand its Alberta Clipper (or “Line 67”) pipeline, which was built in 2010 and transports tar sands from Alberta through North Dakota and Minnesota to Wisconsin.  The proposal would pump an additional 350,000 barrels per day through the pipeline, increasing the risk and size of a spill.  And if approved, the full Enbridge pipeline expansion could be as big as Keystone XL.

We visited a couple of sites that had oil spills in 1979 and 2002, and where some of that oil is still in the ground.  The 1979 spill near Bemidji is believed to have left 110,000 gallons of crude oil below the surface.

The group also stopped at the Clearbrook pumping station, across the highway from the Minnesota Pipeline Company (MPL). MPL is operated by the Koch Pipeline Company, L.P., and is a wholly owned, indirect subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc.

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The Clearwater River is a designated trout stream with special protections — and pipelines crossing it.

Later, we actually got to walk some of the exposed pipeline near Leonard, Minnesota.

What struck me most about the entire trip was seeing places where the pipelines might be unnoticeable to an average person – where fairways are cut through the trees, or pipes run along the railroad right-of-way.  And unless pointed out, or you are sensitive to it, you would probably not even take a second look. We did not see any birds coated in oil that provided such a “photo op” during the gulf oil spill.

We ended our tour with a visit to the Enbridge Encampment, which is on Red Lake Nation indigenous lands.  The encampment is a traditional camp set up by Red Lake members as a protest against Enbridge Energy and their illegal use of tribal lands for the pipelines.  For safety reasons, the pipeline is supposed to stop pumping if buildings are placed above it. With structures now built and people living there, the pipeline is still flowing — and the protest continues, as of this writing.

So, how do we change the hearts and minds of people?  Most would look at the area and not notice any major cause for concern. They know they want and need fuel for their vehicles, homes, etc.   So I think it becomes an “out of sight, out of mind” situation.

The challenge for us “eco-warriors” becomes: how do we educate, inform and cause change for those who are trying to keep a job, raise their kids, juggle information overload, recreate and a host of other things?

I think part of the answer is to keep the issues visible, provide some options, and be a role model.  I am reminded of the saying: “endless pressure, endlessly applied.” And so we keep up the fight for what is right.

On July 17, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will hear Enbridge’s application for the pipeline expansion between 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Show your opposition to this proposal by helping us pack the room: 121 7th Place East, PUC Large Hearing Room, St. Paul 55101. Please let us know if you can attend.

Terry Houle is a volunteer leader with the Sierra Club North Star Chapter.

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