By Julia Stern
New York City, New York
Indigenous and environmental groups have resisted the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota on Anishinaabe land for seven years due to environmental hazards and treaty rights violations. Their efforts are culminating in a mass demonstration on August 25.
Enbridge, a multinational pipeline company that operates the largest liquid petroleum transportation system, is replacing the existing Line 3 pipeline that stretches from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin to more efficiently and safely transport crude oil.
The coalition–MN350, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, R.I.S. E. Coalition and Indigenous Environmental Network–announced in early August that they are planning a protest at the Minnesota State Capitol, as well as a sister demonstration in Washington D.C., to demand that Line 3 be canceled immediately. They plan to stay in Minneapolis as long as it takes for President Joe Biden to order the Army Corps to cancel the permits for the pipeline.
“Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan have completely failed us. They have had years to take action but have sat back - and worse, directed state agencies to expedite construction,” said the coalition on their website TreatiesnotTarsands.com. “This pipeline directly violates treaties, preventing Anishinaabe communities from exercising their guaranteed rights to hunt, fish and engage in cultural practices. It’s also a climate disaster and a carbon bomb, threatening to release as much greenhouse gas emissions as 50 coal plants - every year for decades.”
In response, Enbridge released a statement saying that they respect Tribal sovereignty, and the Line 3 project included a Tribal Cultural Resource Survey that helped the company to identify cultural resources.
Priya Dalal-Whelan, an organizer with the Minnesota Youth Climate Strikes who is working to push the Minnesota State Board of Investment to divest from the tar sands industry, disagreed. “Line 3 is active colonization,” she said. “Our entire history is a continuation of broken treaty after broken treaty. These camps [of indigenous activists] are creating cultures of decolonization.”
Enbridge said in a statement on their website that stopping the Line 3 replacement project will not mitigate the impacts of climate change. The company disputes the claim that Line 3 is equivalent to 50 coal-fired power plants, stating that failure to replace Line 3 will actually cause increased carbon emissions, as oil will need to be transported via trains or tank cars. Enbridge said, “climate change emissions come from oil usage–a responsibility we all share.”
The new pipeline will have an average daily capacity of 760,000 barrels of oil–enough to power more than 10,000 rail cars each day. Line 3 is a tar sands pipeline, meaning that one gallon of gasoline made from the oil it transports produces about 15% more carbon dioxide emissions and uses three times as much water than conventional oil, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Dalal-Whelan believes that stopping Line 3 is crucial in ending the tar sands industry and moving towards renewable energy options that will limit climate change. “The industry doesn't have the ability to move more tar sands until they get new pipelines. They need one of these pipelines. If we don’t give them that, the transport industry will probably go under.”
Others worry about oil spills that could ruin surrounding communities and water sources; Greenpeace reported that Enbridge had on average one pipeline incident every 20 days between 2002 and 2018, and newly installed pipelines were just as likely to cause accidents.
Nearly 64,000 people advocated against the pipeline during public hearing meetings, but in June 2018 the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the pipeline. After protests throughout 2020, Governor Tim Waltz also authorized the pipeline in November. When construction began as scheduled in December 2020, so did direct actions to impede progress. Thousands of Anishinaabe activists and allies have locked themselves in pipes, organized sit-in protests and chained themselves to equipment. Protestors face heavy police presence at the construction sites.
“We were doing anything we could to get in the way of construction,” said Dalal-Whelan, “The Department of Natural Resources [was] deployed along with the police to stop us from resisting. They were there to protect resources for extraction and for profit,” she said.
Vice reported that Enbridge paid two million dollars to police who had been meeting protesters with violence, leaving some with serious injuries from tear gas and rubber bullets. According to Waging Nonviolence, 600 arrests have been made for trespassing on construction sites as of August 2. Protests have slowed down the construction process; the pipeline is now expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year, rather than in August.
The August 25 demonstration will come just weeks after the August 9 release of a “code red for humanity,” the 2021 report from the International Panel on Climate Change. The 3,949-page document concludes that climate change is underway and intensifying. It states it is “unequivocal” that human influence has caused climate change, and global warming of two degrees Celsius will be exceeded before 2100 unless greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.
In response to this report, Resist Line 3 said on Instagram that “We must halt all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects now. The line 3 pipeline endangers every community across the globe.”