The Fight Over Line 3

Finn Witham, Editor

As we’re living through another year of smoke-spewing wildfires, record-breaking temperatures, and natural disasters on the news, climate change is on many peoples’ minds. Currently, the forefront of the effort to reign in the disruption were already experiencing lies in Minnesota, where the fight over the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline is raging. Enbridge, the Canadian Oil Giant, proposed the pipeline in 2008, but only began construction in December 2020 after receiving necessary permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Army Corps of Engineers. 

An indigenous-led resistance against the pipeline is ongoing, as it is controversial for several reasons. Firstly, it cuts through treaty territory of the Anishinaabe that dates back to treaties with the US government from 1842, 1854, and 1855 which allow the nations to continue operating sustainable economies in the region that have been a traditional center of the indigenous economy in North America. Secondly, the construction of oil pipelines lead to an influx of out-of-state workers that create “boomtowns” in indigenous areas. Over 50% of indigenous women have reported sexual assault in or near boomtowns, and these areas are a major cause of the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. Out-of-state workers also create fears around the spread of COVID-19. The proposed route also runs over 200+ bodies of water, including the Mississippi River in two areas, which is especially pertinent given that Enbridge averages one oil spill every 20 days on its pipelines. But perhaps the largest issue at hand is the fact that the pipeline would carry tar sands from Canada. 

Tar sands differ from other forms of oil in that the oil coats grains of sand, rather than existing in pure liquid form. According to experts, this makes the oil extraction process two to three times more energy intensive than in traditional forms of oil. An MIT study estimated that, because of this, the operation of the pipeline would lead to emissions equivalent to that of 50 new coal plants or 38 million new gas vehicles on the road. As of now, the tar sands industry is economically shaky, due to how expensive it is to turn tar sands into usable oil. However, the construction of Line 3 would revive the industry and make Enbridge an estimated $1.4 trillion in the process. Scientists say that this increased feasibility of the tar sands industry could make worst-case climate change scenarios all the more likely in the coming years. 

These realities have made resistance fierce. In Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearings, 94% of over 68,000 public testimonies opposed the construction of the pipeline. After the MPCA issued permits for Line 3, their own Environmental Justice Advisory Group resigned. The Minnesota Department of Commerce did a study estimating the social and economic costs from the pipeline’s environmental damage at $287 billion. It also joined the lawsuit against the continuation of plans for the pipeline. And of course, on the ground protests have been raging since construction began, with over 600 people arrested since December 2020. 

Despite this, Enbridge and proponents of the pipeline argue that it would be economically beneficial, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided in favor of Line 3 over those involved in the lawsuit against it in June 2021. As a result, the pipeline is on schedule and nearing completion. But, opposition still remains strong, and there are avenues to stop Line 3 before it’s too late. The most viable of these is Presidential: Joe Biden could use executive power to revoke or amend the permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. Unless this occurs, the pipeline will be built and begin pumping tar sands from Canada, reviving an industry and igniting fears in the process. 

The future of Line 3 is unknown. But, it is clear that that future will greatly impact us all.