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 second part of a three-part blog on the Line 3 pipeline. Part 1 decodes Line 3 language.

In early January, when construction started on Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, the temperature in northern Minnesota near Bemidji, MN was brisk and cloud cover made the sky overcast and grey. Or so residents thought. What they soon learned was that the sky wasn’t simply grey, it was filled with smoke from the clear-cut burning of trees and brush to make ready for construction of Line 3.

The cloud cover trapped the smoke, and wind pushed the smoke-thickened air east toward Bemidji. It didn’t take long for the smoke to permeate everything in its path. Homes sealed up for the winter months now smelled of smoke and ventilation systems within local businesses were fighting to circulate clean air.

“I kept smelling smoke and was worried that someone’s fire had gotten out of control,” said a Bemidji resident who didn’t wish to be named. “The smoke smell was everywhere, including inside our house. Coworkers were complaining about their asthma flaring up and having a hard time catching their breath. In a pandemic, it isn’t the time for not being able to breathe. And for all that smoke, it must have been some big fire.”

To construct Line 3, Enbridge had to clear-cut a 750-foot-wide corridor 340 miles long across northern Minnesota – irreparably scarring the Earth and displacing wildlife inhabitants (1). To put it in perspective, the swath of destruction is longer than that of General Sherman as he marched his troops through Georgia.

For every mile of the Line 3 corridor, Enbridge bulldozed approximately 3,960,000 feet of trees, shrubs, and grass. Huge bonfires were set, and smoke filled the air for months – traveling without prejudice or regard toward houses, farms, and communities of all sizes.

Clear-cutting and burning aren’t new. However, the sheer amount of burning by Enbridge’s construction crew created the same effect as forest and grass fires. A similar effect occurred in late March 2021 when a grass fire broke out west of Bemidji near Fosston, MN. The grass fire, initially caused by two men burning crops on land enrolled in the Federal Conservation Reserve Program, engulfed approximately 15,000 acres with so much smoke it could be seen on radar. (2).

Whether deliberate, human error, or Mother Nature, where there’s smoke, there’s devastation! And Enbridge created devastation by simply preparing for construction of Line 3.

According to the NOAA, wildfires have an impact on the climate and air quality and, even more importantly, people.

  • Wildfires affect climate. Wildfires release large amounts of carbon dioxide, black carbon, brown carbon, and ozone precursors into the atmosphere. These emissions affect radiation, clouds, and climate on regional and even global scales. Furthermore, the fires release greenhouse gases that hasten climate change (3).
  • Wildfires affect air quality. Wildfires also emit substantial amounts of volatile and semi-volatile organic materials and nitrogen oxides that form ozone and organic particulate matter. Direct emissions of toxic pollutants can affect first responders and local residents. In addition, the formation of other pollutants as the air is transported can lead to harmful exposures for populations in regions far removed from the wildfires (4).
  • Wildfires affect people. Studies on the health effects of wildfire smoke exposure show deaths, as well as hospital admissions for coughs and wheezing, eye and nose symptoms, colds, bronchitis and pneumonia, respiratory system function, and inflammation. In fact, one study estimated that landscape fires – consisting of wildfires and prescribed burns – globally caused 339,000 premature deaths per year (5).

With Gov. Tim Walz calling climate change an existential crisis, the greenhouse gases being created by the construction of Line 3 should have been factored into the environmental assessments and permitting process. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency should have factored the impact of the widespread burning into their assessment as well.

So, when Enbridge talks about how the construction of Line 3 is safe and “carbon neutral,” remember that their talk is just “smoke.”

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.