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Explainer: why the rural pipeline is a climate battleground


As Enbridge Energy prepares to complete rebuilding of an oil pipeline in rural northern Minnesota, protesters are occupying part of the construction area and promising a “heat of resistance” on the ground and in court.

Enbridge, which has received all necessary state and federal permits for the Line 3 project, says it will be finished by the end of the year.

The Canadian company called it essential to reliable oil supplies in both countries, saying the plan has received stringent environmental clearances and will boost Minnesota’s economy. Opponents argue that it jeopardizes waterways, violates indigenous treaty rights and increases reliance on fossil fuels that will further warm the planet.

Beyond controversy is that the project fits into an escalating battle over the future of energy pipelines, which federal regulators say are generally safer than carrying fuel by rail or highway, but pose their own dangers, Especially spread in ecologically sensitive places.

What is Line 3 Project?

About 16.4 million gallons (62 million liters) of oil in this line is used in fuels and other products.

Enbridge says the original 1960s pipe is deteriorating and is about half its capacity. The company is replacing it with a pipe made from sturdier steel, which it says will be able to resume normal flow – about 32 million gallons (121 million liters) per day.

Work is finished in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin and 60% is complete in Minnesota, where 337 miles (542 km) of new pipe is being laid. A new section revolves around the reservation land of the Leech Lake tribe to the south, who objected to the project.

Apart from protest and civil disobedience, what options do opponents have?

They are awaiting a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals on whether the State Public Utilities Commission’s approval was valid. A pending lawsuit challenges the issuance of permits by the Army Corps of Engineers. State and federal judges have refused to stop construction while the case proceeds.

At the same time, the groups are prompting President Joe Biden to order the Corps to withdraw the Clean Water Act permits. During a protest on Monday, actress Jane Fonda carried a placard with Biden’s image and the words, “Which side are you on?”

Although Biden pleased environmentalists by canceling the Keystone XL project, his administration has not done so with other disputed pipelines, including the Dakota Access Line near Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakota.

Tim Walz of Minnesota Gov. remained on edge while the legal process unfolded on Line 3. His hands-off approach differs from that of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a fellow Democrat, ordered Enbridge to close Line 5, which carries oil from Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, from Superior, Wisconsin.

Whitmer’s demand centered on a nearly 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) section down a channel that connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, where the state granted an easement for the pipeline in 1953 and now seeks to cancel it. . That action is also tied up in the court.

Line 3 opponents are focusing on blocking the reconstruction project rather than closing the line, although their long-term goal is making it obsolete through conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Why are energy pipelines becoming a celebrity?

A day after Fonda joined Line 3 protesters in Minnesota, the National Wildlife Federation in Michigan announced a radio and television ad campaign against Line 5 featuring actor Jeff Daniels. While environmental and Indigenous activists have struggled with energy pipelines for years, the participation of celebrities is an example of widespread resistance.

It comes after high-profile spills over the past decade, including an Enbridge line rupture in southern Michigan in 2010 that sent oil into the Kalamazoo River. A resulting federal consent decree required Enbridge to upgrade the US portion of Line 3.

Another factor: the growing awareness that racial minorities suffer more than environmental damage.

Native Americans have been on the front lines of opposition to pipelines, some of which run through or near the reservation. They say Line 3 threatens their rights to hunt wild rice, fish, and fish in their waters and native land. Enbridge says it consulted with tribes to protect cultural resources and has employed more than 500 native people for the project.

Also fueling the fight against pipelines is climate change. Many activists consider virtually any project — whether it’s new, an expansion or replacement of existing pipes — a lifeline for fossil fuels that delays the transition to clean energy that scientists say will avoid catastrophic warming. required quickly.

Enbridge says people will need oil in the coming years and that closing pipelines will mean more shipments by train and truck.

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