Action Needed on Alberta Clipper/Line 3: Stop Tar Sands from Threatening Minnesota’s Water and Wild Rice

By Scott Russell

Enbridge is trying once again to add unneeded capacity to its tar sands pipelines through northern Minnesota, threatening our waters, wild rice beds, tourism, and tribal territory.

We need your help to stop it.

At issue are two interconnected and parallel pipelines in Minnesota: the Alberta Clipper and Enbridge Line 3. The pipelines cross into Minnesota near the state’s northwest corner, cross the Mississippi River, and continue southeast to Superior, Wisc., where the tar sands crude is refined.

Pipelines require multiple permits. Today we are focusing specifically Enbridge’s permit request to expand the Alberta Clipper’s capacity where it crosses the U.S. Canadian border. Our leverage point is the U.S. State Department, which has the power to approve or deny the permit. (The new administration has shown strong support for the fossil fuel industry, so this will be difficult.)

The State Department has scheduled only one public meeting on the permit, Tuesday, March 7, 4:30-7:30 p.m. Sanford Center, 1111 Event Center Dr NE in Bemidji. The State Department also is taking comments electronically on its draft environmental impact statement until March 27. You can submit comments electronically, too.

This is a tricky proposal to explain, because Enbridge used a trick to bypass U.S. regulations.

Technically, we and our allies are asking the State Department to deny a permit that would allow Enbridge to nearly double the Alberta Clipper’s capacity, from 450,000 barrels per day to 800,000 barrels per day at the border crossing. (FYI: That’s nearly the same capacity as the Keystone XL pipeline.)

In reality, this is about increased capacity in Line 3, not the Alberta Clipper. Enbridge already has increased the Alberta Clipper’s capacity through a ruse. It diverted crude oil from the Alberta Clipper pipeline to Line 3 near the border. (Line 3’s border crossing is approved for a higher capacity than it was using.) Once the tar sands cross the border, Enbridge switches it back from Line 3 to the Alberta Clipper. This switcheroo let Enbridge increase the Alberta Clipper’s capacity without getting a State Department permit.

However, Enbridge’s request to expand the Alberta Clipper’s capacity at the border crossing remains critical because of what it means for expanding the capacity of Line 3. Enbridge wants to replace and expand Line 3 in Minnesota. Line 3 has been limited to 390,000 barrels per day because of structural problems in much of the existing line. The proposed Line 3 replacement and expansion would increase its capacity to 790,000 barrels per day.

As things stand, the Line 3 border crossing is at or near capacity because it is carrying the Alberta Clipper’s diverted oil. If the State Department denies Enbridge’s request to expand the Alberta Clipper’s capacity at the border, it will make difficult if not impossible for Enbridge to expand Line 3. If the State Department approves the Alberta Clipper border crossing, Enbridge could stop the line switching,   freeing up capacity for the Line 3 expansion in Minnesota.

We will have other avenues to oppose the Enbridge Line 3 expansion project. But let’s nip it in the bud right here.

Here are four things to know about these projects:

  1. This is not about our energy security, it is about private profit. This increased crude oil is not needed for domestic consumption and our energy security; we have been exporting gasoline as a nation since 2011. Enbridge will get to use eminent domain to claim private property for itself and its profit, with no public good in return.  With Trump in the White House, and ex Exon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson running the State Department (and the decision maker on this permit) it is clear that the oil industry is using our government for their own profit.
  2. Tar sands are highly polluting. Mining results in the destruction of Canadian forests; the overall process of mining and processing releases a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases.
  3. These projects threaten Minnesota’s water, and Enbridge has a bad safety record. The risk of a pipeline rupture threatens our natural resources; the heavy tar sands slurry is very difficult to clean up once it spills. These risks are real. Enbridge was called incompetent by the National Transportation Safety Board for its role in allowing for the largest inland pipeline disaster in the United States, the massive 800,000 gallon spill in 2010 into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
  4. The Line 3 Expansion and Reroute would violate treaty rights. The Anishinaabe people (Ojibwe/Chippewa) retain hunting, fishing, and wild rice rights in broad areas of northern Minnesota beyond just reservation lands.  It is time the Minnesota and Federal Government take responsibility and respect treaties they hold with Indigenous peoples.  This means respecting their sovereignty and not building dangerous and unneeded oil through protected areas.

What you can do:

Scott Russell is a volunteer leader with the Beyond Oil and Tar Sands Committee.

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