Sierra Club, Red Lake Native speakers deliver pitch against N. Minnesota pipeline at M-State campus meeting

By Benjamin Spidahl
Special Contributor

The Otter Tail County Indivisible organization and Sierra Club North Star Chapter provided information on the proposed Enbridge Line 3 Replacement, a new pipeline which would carry crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands through Minnesota to Superior, WI.

Judy Carpenter of Otter Tail County Indivisible opened the event, held Oct. 5 on the M State campus in Fergus Falls, by welcoming the 20 attendees and introducing the evening’s speakers, Marty Cobenais and Scott Russell.

Carpenter stated that the purpose of the evening was to provide facts about the existing Line 3 pipeline and the proposed Line 3 Replacement and to encourage the public to participate in the ongoing public hearings on the Line 3 Replacement by testifying against the pipeline either in person or in writing.

Before handing over the mic to Cobenais, a member of the Red Lake Band with extensive environmental activism experience, Carpenter acknowledged that “facts can be over- whelming,” but added that, “the more you know, the more confident you are to share.”

Cobenais explained the many reasons he believes the Enbridge Line 3 should be opposed by detailing his personal background as an activist.

Working as the Pipeline Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network (EIN), he led successful campaigns against Alberta Clipper and Keystone XL Pipelines. He also worked to stop the transport of massive Tar Sands refinery equipment over narrow mountain roads in Idaho and Montana.

 Speaker forged collaboration between “cowboys and Indians” 

A co-founder of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, Cobenais helped bring Nebraska ranchers and Native American groups together in opposition to the Keystone project. He emphasized that all winning fights against proposed pipelines have hinged on Native treaty rights, thus alliances between tribal governments, environmental groups, and ordinary citizens are key to preventing oil infrastructure projects that threaten the health and safety of the public and environment.

Three key reasons why the Enbridge Line 3 Replacement should not be approved were presented by Cobenais.

First, the pipeline will carry crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands which represents the most environmentally destructive form of all fossil fuel extraction and production. Tar sands oil is extracted either by clear-cutting boreal forests and strip mining the land or by pumping massive amounts of hot water into the earth to dilute the tar enough for it to be extracted. This process accelerates global climate change and converts four million barrels of fresh water pumped from the Athabasca River into extremely toxic waste water every day. Besides causing great environmental harm, tar sands oil production has also led to an increase in rare cancers and other ailments in and around Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Secondly, the the proposed route could pollute numerous Minnesota lakes and rivers, including the Mississippi River headwaters. Furthermore, Line 3 will violate U.S. treaty agreements with the Anishinaabe people that grant tribal members the right to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice beyond their reservation borders.

Fossil fuel consumption down; reducing need for pipeline

Finally, Cobenais contends Line 3 should not be approved because of declining need for more pipeline capacity. U.S. oil consumption has decreased 18% since 2008 and currently 20% of the country’s oil pipeline flow goes through the Clearbrook terminal in Minnesota. The existing Line 3 pipeline is currently running at half capacity because of structural integrity anomalies.

The new line is not needed to satisfy our country’s decreasing demand for oil, or to get us off of ‘foreign oil’ because, “after all,” quipped Mr. Cobenais, “Canada is a foreign country!”

With this, Russell took the stage to explain the regulatory processes in pipeline permitting and how citizens can get involved.

Northern Sierra Club leading campaign in Minnesota

Russell is co-chair of the Beyond Oil and Tar Sands Committee for the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter. He also volunteers with Healing Minnesota Stories, an interfaith effort to promote dialogue, understanding and healing between Native and non-Native peoples. He began his presentation by re-iterating need to stop infrastructure projects that support this form of fossil fuel extraction.

Russell then turned his focus to the key players in the regulatory process: the MN Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the MN Department of Commerce, and Governor Mark Dayton.

Currently, the PUC is waiting for a recommendation from the Administrative Law Judge assigned to this case as to whether it should approve the Certificate of Need and Route Permits needed for the Line 3 construction to proceed. Concerned citizens can speak directly to the Administrative Law Judge by attending the public hearings on this issue being held around the state through October 28 or by submitting written comments to the PUC by Nov. 22.

Line “not needed economically” says Commerce Dept.

To strengthen his argument against Line 3, Russell cited a recent report by the MN Department of Commerce that states Line 3 is not needed economically.

He also referred to the Environmental Impact Statement on the Line 3 Replacement which estimates that over the 30-year life span of the pipeline, the “social cost of carbon” it carries will be $287 billion. This cost is not going to be paid by Enbridge, the Canadian company operating the line, but will be transferred instead to the public.

Furthermore, because the U.S. has been a net exporter of refined oil since 2011 our country doesn’t need this pipeline to guarantee energy security.

“It is depressing to see the risks that we are taking for a project that we don’t need,” concluded Russell.