By Douglass Keiser
Student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

NOTE: This is the first part of a three-part blog on the Line 3 pipeline.

While calling their movement “grassroots,” supporters of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline have been spending a lot of money getting their message out – via television ads, digital ads, and a never-ending letters to the editor campaign extolling the economic benefits of the pipeline construction and applauding themselves for their commitment to bettering Minnesota.

The reality: This supposed grassroots movement is just an extension of Enbridge’s public relations campaign. Grassroots movements are a collective created to enact change formed by the people – not by corporate interests. For more than six years, Enbridge and its hired consultants have been cultivating public opinion based on a well-written set of messages, a public relations campaign designed to disarm and distract from the key issues presented by the opposition.

It’s easy to take the messages at face value. So let’s try to decipher their real meaning to understand what is (and isn’t) being said.

  • The Need. According to Enbridge, the old Line 3 pipe is running safely, but for it to continue to do so would require an excessive amount of maintenance that impacts the environment and tribal lands it currently crosses. At the same time, Line 3 supporters are implying that the line is old and a potential spill is imminent. Translation: The line is old and it would be less expensive to build a new line that can carry more oil. 
  • Replacement Line. One of Enbridge’s key points is that the Line 3 project is a replacement project, not a new project. They are very keen on abbreviating the project as L3R – with the “R” reinforcing the idea of replacement. Minnesota Public Utilities Commission states that the Line 3 Pipeline project “would involve the construction of 330 miles of new pipeline to replace 282 miles of the existing pipeline.” According to the company, “by far most of the project follows the existing line until it gets near Bemidji where it deviates from the existing line to follow other existing infrastructure.” Translation: The new pipeline takes the place of the old pipeline, but it has a new path and bigger capacity. It’s an upgrade, not an even swap or replacement.
  • Same Capacity. While Line 3 is being built with increased capacity, Enbridge insists that the new line will run at the previously approved volume, no more than the current line was approved to ship. And according to Enbridge, “The larger 36-inch pipe was chosen because it is more energy efficient, more commonly used size and can be maintained using the same high tech safety equipment used for other Enbridge lines in same area.” However, Enbridge is not ruling out potentially reapplying to increase the capacity. Translation: It’s likely they said they wanted to run at current capacity simply to get approvals. Once the line is commissioned, anticipate a swift petition to increase capacity (and profits).
  • Creating Minnesota Jobs. Another one of Enbridge’s key messages was about how many jobs the project would create for Minnesotans. In fact, the company made a pledge that half of all the jobs would go to Minnesota workers. The veiled implication was that these would be sustained full-time jobs with benefits, but the reality is that these jobs were project-based temporary jobs. And according to Enbridge’s own filing, it turns out only 33% of the workers during the first quarter were actually Minnesota residents – a far cry from the promised 50%. Translation: The project will bring in a lot of workers from outside the state, and there will be no lasting impact from the job creation. 
  • Strengthening the Local Economy. The number one message the supporters of the line are championing is how “thanks to Enbridge,” so many small businesses have been able to survive the pandemic. According to an Enbridge representative, “the Line 3 construction came at a critical time for many Northern Minnesota communities during the pandemic. Some businesses were able to stay open through the tough times thanks in part to our work in the area.” However, this was simply happenstance. Translation: It wasn’t part of their plan, but they took advantage of the situation to garner public approval and support for the line. The economic impact will not be sustained after the construction crews move on.
  • Respecting Tribal Locations. According to Enbridge representatives, the company hired Indigenous people to conduct a “first-ever” cultural survey of the route. “These individuals applied their cultural knowledge to look at the same route from a completely different perspective. And more than 60 changes were made to the route to avoid tribally significant locations.” Translation: The company made sure to not disrupt any sites within its route, but respecting and protecting broader culturally significant areas outside their 750-foot corridor wasn’t a factor.
  • Leaving Behind the Old Line. According to Enbridge, decommissioning the old Line 3 by leaving it behind is simply industry practice. “Removal would be as disruptive to the environment as another construction project. Because Enbridge has 6 pipes in the existing corridor and Line 3 is often right in the middle, to take it out would add tremendous risk working over the other live lines. And would leave soil stability issues.” Furthermore, landowners have the choice to have the pipe removed. Translation: Enbridge is doing what everyone else is doing but nothing more – unless demanded. Taking it out would cause environmental harm just like fixing it would. But the company is fine with creating a whole new corridor that causes just as much – if not more – environmental harm.

As demonstrated, the misleading nature of the pro-Line 3 “grassroots” campaign requires serious decoding. The language and implied meaning of Enbridge’s messages reinforce the reality that the Line 3 project is about corporate expansion and nothing else. It isn’t about growing the local economy or creating jobs – it’s about big oil’s greed and supporting our continued dependence on fossil fuel. Join MN350’s campaign to stop Line 3 today.

Douglass Keiser is a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.