By Michael Rockhold
Writer and volunteer with MN350's Communications Team

All oil pipelines break. It’s simply a matter of when, how often, and how catastrophically. The safety record of Enbridge, the energy infrastructure company behind the new Line 3 pipeline (extending from Hardisty, Alberta, through Minnesota, to Superior, Wis.) is a story of broken pipelines and broken promises. Among the most affected by these broken pipelines and promises are Indigenous people.

Perhaps the most devastating of the Enbridge broken pipeline stories still stands as the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, taking place in July 2010 and covering 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River watershed in Michigan, a disaster that, to this day, still leaves its mark on the area and on the Nottawaseppi people who inhabit the region. Yet just 10 days before the fated oil spill, in a congressional hearing regarding its safety record on the 6B pipeline responsible for the disaster, Enbridge promised it could detect a leak “almost instantaneously.”

It took 17 hours to stop the flow of oil from Line 6B, and the National Transportation Safety Board, after a review of the incident, cited Enbridge as embodying a “culture of deviance” on safety. Unfortunately, the disastrous Line 6B oil spill was not an aberration: Oil pipelines are inherently unsafe. Since 1986, pipeline accidents have spilled an average of 3 million gallons of oil per year, with Enbridge, from 2002 to 2018, being accountable for 307 hazardous liquids incidents, or one incident every 20 days on average.

It took five years of cleanup after the Kalamazoo spill for the Nottawaseppi people to begin restoration of their wild rice crops, with animal diversity necessary to the area’s ecosystem not likely to ever fully return. Like Line 6B, much of the 338-mile stretch of the new Line 3 pipeline that runs through Minnesota also passes through Anishinaabe territory and the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations. On his first day in office, President Biden canceled the permit for the notorious Keystone XL pipeline due to lack of proper environmental review, violation of Native American treaties, and risk of oil spills. This offers hope of a similar outcome for Line 3 – it should be cancelled for these same reasons.

Even beyond the legal technicalities of proper environmental review and treaty rights, the International Energy Agency just announced that investment in new oil and natural gas projects must stop immediately to avert climate disaster. This is a particularly significant announcement from an agency whose purpose is to ensure energy stability and that just a year ago expressed significant concern about the disruption of the oil industry from the pandemic — a clear sign that energy stability is not dependent on continued consumption of fossil fuels.

To the threats of action against pipeline deployment, the standard response from Enbridge is to warn of the potential economic impact from rising fossil fuel costs and the loss of construction jobs. But a recent MN350 poll of 573 registered voters found that only 29% of Minnesotans are concerned about a negative impact to electricity costs resulting from a move to clean energy. As for Enbridge’s misinformation on job loss, there are an estimated 30 million jobs worldwide from investment in clean energy infrastructure, not to mention all the jobs that can be created from cleaning up decommissioned fossil fuel infrastructure, capping the 3 million abandoned oil wells, and removing abandoned pipeline infrastructure. Unfortunately, investment in these public interest projects doesn’t align with fossil fuel industry profitability goals.

Like Enbridge’s poor track record of ensuring public safety, our state and federal government’s handling of Native American Treaty Rights is another tale of broken promises. From the Treaties of 1837, 1854, and 1855, much of the land that Line 3 crosses has been guaranteed to the Anishinaabe people for hunting, fishing, and cultivation of wild rice crops. These rights were even upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999. More than jobs, a culture and the physical survival of a people is being threatened.

The fossil fuel pipeline infrastructure is proven to be both dangerous and unnecessary, and colliding broken promises on safety and land rights have a high potential for tragic results. The voices of the Anishinaabe people, and all who seek climate justice, must be honored by stopping the construction of the Line 3 pipeline.

Michael Rockhold is a writer and volunteer with MN350’s Communications Team.