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 final part of a three-part blog on the Line 3 pipeline. Part 1 decodes Line 3 language and Part 2 discusses the destructive wildfires created by the pipeline construction.

This past spring, most Minnesotans failed to remember a noteworthy anniversary in the state’s history. In fact, it’s an anniversary that Enbridge and supporters of Line 3 hope we forget about.

Thirty years ago, on March 3, 1991, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history happened in Minnesota. More than 1.7 million gallons of crude oil gushed out of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline outside of Grand Rapids, MN. The spill rushed over the landscape – filling nearby wetlands and flowing into the Prairie River, a tributary of the Mississippi.

Mother Nature was the only thing that saved the spill from becoming as devastating as Enbridge’s massive 800,000-gallon spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010: Fortunately, the Prairie River was still frozen. In a warmer time of year, the extent of the environmental damage would have had a far greater reach – including poisoning drinking water for millions downstream.

Still, the devastation was incredible.

In a June 2018 report by MPR News, landowner Harry Hutchins recalled the sight he saw when his 16-acre patch of land outside of Grand Rapids, MN was consumed by crude oil from  the pipeline. A forest ecologist who taught at Itasca Community College, Hutchins had purchased the farmland to return it to its natural wetland state. “It just covered these aspen trees, because it went up 30, 40 feet,” Hutchins recalled. “It was quite a geyser.”

This year, only a few took the opportunity to remember the accident: About 50 people gathered at the Prairie River on the anniversary to renew their vow to prevent another oil spill.

Opponents of the Line 3 pipeline say the 1991 spill is an indicator of the risk that oil pipelines pose to Minnesota waters.

In an opinion piece published in the Grand Rapids Herald Review, Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth, calls out the significance of the pipeline spill anniversary and decries the hypocrisy of Enbridge continuing to use the original Line 3 to carry crude oil.

“Line 3 is a ticking time bomb,” writes LaDuke. “They cite this as justification for building a new one. But that is backwards thinking. The rational response would be to shut it down immediately and prevent them from doing this again to our grandchildren.”

For those who believe that pipeline spills rarely happen – check yourself. One spill is more than enough.

Plus, despite all of Enbridge’s propaganda – spills do happen. And they happen to Enbridge frequently. In fact, between 1999 and 2010, Enbridge’s pipelines have created more than 800 spills in the U.S. and Canada – leaking more than 6.8 million gallons of crude oil. When it comes to Line 3, Enbridge reports that since 1990, there have been at least 15 large spills (more than 50 barrels each). This includes the 2007 explosion in Clearbrook, MN, that killed two workers.

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Minnesotans must not forget Enbridge’s record for, if we do, history will repeat itself with even more devastating consequences. Enbridge’s so-called “replacement” Line 3 pipeline is set to carry twice as much oil as the old pipeline – doubling the potential devastation.

Let’s make March 3 Minnesota’s last oil spill anniversary. Join us in being part of the resistance.

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