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Pipeline opponents, supporters gather in Bemidji for meeting on Enbridge expansion request

 
 

BEMIDJI—Conflicting narratives collided Tuesday at the Sanford Center, where pro- and anti-oil pipeline groups voiced support and concerns during an open house on the expansion of Line 67.

The U.S. Department of State meeting, meant to allow public comment on a proposed increase of oil flowing through a small portion of Line 67, triggered events in both support and opposition earlier in the day.

Those on the pro-pipeline side of the aisle gathered Tuesday morning for a news conference; those opposing the expansion marched from Rail River Folk School to the Sanford Center before the meeting and held a news conference of their own.

At stake Tuesday was a presidential permit which, if granted, would allow Canadian energy company Enbridge to increase the amount of oil that flows through a three-mile section of Line 67 that crosses the U.S.-Canada border. State Department officials were on hand to answer questions and copies of the supplemental environmental impact statement were available.

Also known as the Alberta Clipper pipeline, Line 67 runs from Hardisty, Alta., in Canada, to Superior, Wis. The pipeline passes through North Dakota and Minnesota on its way to Superior.

While most of Line 67 already transports 800,000 barrels per day of crude oil, Enbridge must be granted a presidential permit before they can allow that same amount of oil to flow through the section at the border. Currently, Enbridge is able to bypass the portion through "interconnects," which allow the oil from Line 67 to enter another pipeline called Line 3. The oil then travels inside of Line 3 for three miles before it is put back into Line 67.

Those who attended Tuesday's meeting—which took the form of an open house—were able to submit comments in writing, or by speaking with a stenographer. And while no speeches or presentations were allowed, those opposing the pipeline made themselves heard through dances, songs and chants.

The Sanford Center filled with activists who had traveled by bus from as far as the Twin Cities. A large group of attendees waited outside the building in snow and below-freezing temperatures for their chance to go through the metal detectors stationed at the entrance. Jingle dress dancers and drummers performed in the middle of the meeting, and some chanted lines like "people over pipelines."

And while pipeline supporters were less vocal during the event itself, a handful spoke out at the morning news conference held by Jobs for Minnesotans.

"It's time to move forward without delay and realize the important benefits that this expansion can bring to our nation's energy security, the economic vitality of local communities, like ours, that we depend on," said Jobs for Minnesotans' Vice Chair Kyle Makarios. "The members of Jobs for Minnesotans call on the Department of State to recommend that the presidential permit for Line 67 be issued expeditiously."

Each of the five speakers at the news conference emphasized Enbridge's role in bringing jobs to the region, though the expansion of Line 67 would not result in any new construction. Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Lucachick said that while he and other pipeline supporters are aware of the benefits of other energy sources, cutting off the use of petroleum products is unrealistic.

"We need to use it wisely, we need to start transitioning to renewables as much as possible," Lucachick said. "But even if we said today—and we haven't said that today—that we're going to go 100 percent renewable energy, it will take 25 to 35, maybe even 50 years to transition away from our petroleum-based manufacturing and everything that we do."

But anti-pipeline demonstrators believe the risk to the environment is too great. While Lucachick, Makarios and other speakers said that pipelines are the safest way to move oil from one location to another, activists such as BSU professor and author Anton Treuer said pipelines are bound to leak eventually.

"There has yet to be a single pipeline constructed that has not leaked so it's not a question of if, it's more a question of when," Treuer said. "I'm concerned. I harvest wild rice, I live in this area, I like having clean water, I think the absence of that would make life very difficult here."

A large portion of those gathered Tuesday shared Treuer's concerns. Winona LaDuke, founder of the Native-led environmentalist group Honor the Earth, simply said there is not a need for more oil.

"We don't need any more tar sands oil," LaDuke said. "We don't need another 148 million tons annually of carbon coming our way...It's a bad plan. I'd like to see investments into infrastructure for people, not oil companies."

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