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Commentary: Enbridge pipeline brings about questions

By Winona LaDuke


The Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline proposal is a big thing to Park Rapids and Hubbard County. Most of us think of pipelines as a way to move something from one place to another, yet, along the way a $2.5 billion pipeline brings both jobs and risks to the north country. This is the first of a set of articles on the pipeline, and what it is proposed and some questions we might ask.

Pipelines come to new regions

“This is land that has been in my family for decades. It is prime Red River Valley agriculture land. It was handed down to me by my mother and father when they passed away, and I’m intending to hand it down to my children when I pass away … My wife and I have … told our children that we will pass this on. Of course if 225,000 barrels of oil bursts through this thing, that certainly is the end of this family legacy.” – James Botsford, North Dakota landowner in Enbridge Sandpiper right of way.

The Enbridge pipeline corporation is proposing to construct a pipeline estimated to be around 610 miles from Beaver Lodge Station just south of Tioga, N.D. to Superior, Wis. This new proposal may be of interest to local residents because of the size of the expansion, the economics of small towns and tourism, and a recent spill in Tioga, N.D., of an estimated 865,000 gallons of oil. The pipeline which ruptured is owned by Tesoro, and was six inches in diameter, and 20 years old, and carried the same substance projected to move in the Sandpiper

The Enbridge Sandpiper line is expected to be around 30 inches in diameter by the time it comes through Clearwater, Hubbard and Cass Counties, carrying 375,000 barrels per day of Bakken oil from North Dakota to the Enbridge refinery in Superior, Wis. From Superior, this oil will go across a set of pipelines around the Great Lakes, including one pipeline which goes under the Straits of Mackinac, just as an example. (That pipeline is some fifty years old).

Now all of this hasn’t been worked out exactly, there’s a lot of permits ahead- and there are l6 proposed refinery expansions in the Great Lakes region, largely anticipating this pipeline and the Alberta Clipper expansion (the Clipper is the tar sands pipeline which goes through the northern pipeline corridor from Bemidji, across the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations, and to Duluth). All of this complex network is under scrutiny. To put this pipeline through, Enbridge must secure over 2000 rights of way, and a good deal of permits. Although the corporation hopes to be operational in 2016 with a pipeline, there are many obstacles ahead for Enbridge.

Enbridge comes to town

Enbridge has held some meetings in the north country, including a few in Park Rapids. An early summer meeting was an invitation only meeting.

One landowner, whose land is near the proposed pipeline route said, “I got this call, and they asked if I was interested in the environment and energy,” Linda Rogers told a reporter. “So we went to dinner, it was a nice dinner … They all talked to us, and at the end, they told us, they were the Enbridge Company, and wanted to put in a pipeline. If we stayed for dinner and the presentation, they gave us all a hundred dollar bill in an envelope.”

She thinks that some family members might be interested in possible jobs.

On the other hand, not all landowners are pleased with the company. The Enbridge North Dakota company asked James Botsford if they could survey his land. He did not want them to. “I told Enbridge I am not going to give you permission,” he said. “You are going to have to take it.”

So, Enbridge filed a restraining order against Botsford, “denying me the private use of my own land.” It is not clear that the Enbridge North Dakota Corporation has the same rights in Minnesota.

Botsford is not alone. There are a number of landowners along the proposed route who are deeply concerned about the proposal, including a group of Carleton County residents called the Carleton County Land Stewards. They are a group of landowners who are particularly opposed to the Enbridge Alberta Clipper expansion, but, are also concerned about the Sandpiper proposal, particularly if it is not in existing corridors. And, elsewhere, in June of 2013,the British Columbia government denied Enbridge permits for a very large pipeline- called the Gateway pipeline, citing environmental, safety, and economic concerns about the corporation.

Pipelines and employment

This is a big discussion in terms of the economics of the pipelines.

Union leaders say they strongly support this project. Enbridge is planning on thousands of jobs during construction, although by 2016 when the proposed line is completed maybe 40 employees will be working permanently on the 610-mile line.

Harry Melander, President of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, says, “This is a big employer for us. Pipelines feed a lot of families.”

Glen Johnson, business manager for the 12,000-member local 49 Operator Engineers, said, “Enbridge has a good record of employing union contractors. The union for heavy equipment operators in North Dakota and Minnesota already has thousands of members working in a range of oil and gas projects from local feeder lines and interstate transmission lines and refinery upgrades.”

This is an important selling point for most of the new energy projects.

Some of these challenges are that there will be a lot of union or highly trained or skilled workers for the pipelines in the north that are required.

Both people could move into the area – these are known as “man camps” when they move in for pipeline construction and there’s a number of them throughout North Dakota – or local could be trained for these jobs. The jobs are often filled by skilled union members from out of state.

While jobs are scarce in the present economy, there is, as some union leaders point, out, plenty of opportunity to work on infrastructure and improvements, including pipeline improvements by the Enbridge corporation itself. There is , for instance a $l.5 billion set of upgrades in the Michigan line, but this has not yet touched ,what most consider to be the most dangerous portion- the Straits. A number of unions have pointed to the need for upgrades, and also the need to employ people in crumbling infrastructure in many urban areas, before new pipelines are built. “There are jobs which we need besides those which destroy the environment,” one union representative said.

The next article will discuss the possibility of oil spills.

Part 2

Presently held Enbridge lines, including Line 6 , often consist of aging materials. This has concerned many regulatory officials, and may point to some larger challenges, considering the fact that pipeline companies are largely self-monitoring, and also that the only federal agency responsible for pipelines PHMSA ( Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) has a scant l35 inspectors. Those inspectors are responsible for 2.5 million miles of pipelines to monitor, according to a recent article in Scientific American. (Those inspectors, incidentally were on federal furlough when the 865,000 gallon leak occurred in Tioga , North Dakota. )

Enbridge has 50,000 miles of these pipelines, including an extensive network through the Great Lakes area, home to one fifth of the worlds’ freshwater. Of particular concern to many regulatory agencies, and of interest to many skilled workers in the pipeline field are the aging Enbridge pipelines which cross the Great Lakes region- most of these pipelines are over 40 years old, and new concerns are emerging with the transportation of tar sands and other fluids through these pipelines, as these substances are more corrosive. Of particular concern to many is the segment under the Straits of Mackinac ( between Huron and Michigan) which is over 50 years old, and is no longer anchored in many places. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, these substances are l5 to 20 twenty times more acidic than conventional oil, causing a much higher rate of corrosion. The proposed Bakken oil which the Sandpiper would carry has many unknown substances, and is also of significant concern for corrosion.

Spills Unlikely but not Impossible

“… Farmer Steven Jensen said the smell of sweet light crude oil wafted on his (rural Tioga) farm for four days before he discovered the leak, leading to questions about why the spill wasn’t detected sooner…”

Reuters News Service said of the 865,000 gallon spill in October of 2013.

According to Enbridge’s company data, between 1999 and 2010, across all of the company’s operations there were 804 oil spills that released 161,475 barrels (approximately 6.8 million gallons) of hydrocarbons into the environment. This amounts to approximately half of the oil that spilled from the oil tanker Exxon Valdez after it struck a rock in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1988. The single largest pipeline oil spill in US history was the Kalamaoo spill, which was an Enbridge line. According to testimony by Michigan lawmakers, “ Federal regulators are investigating the 2010 rupture of Line 6B, part of the Enbridge-operated Lakehead pipeline system. The National Transportation Safety Board found Enbridge knew of a defect on the pipeline five years before it burst open and spilled around 20,000 barrels of oil into southern Michigan waters.”

Close to home, on July 4, 2002 in Cohassett, Minnesota, a 34-inch-diameter steel pipeline owned and operated by Enbridge Pipelines (Lakehead), LLC ruptured in a marsh west of Cohasset, Minnesota. And the 34-inch pipeline leaked more than 252,000 gallons of crude oil into surrounding Blackwater Creek. In an attempt to keep the oil from contaminating the Mississippi River, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources set a controlled burn that lasted for 1 day and created a smoke plume about a mile high and 5 miles long, in order to prevent the oil from entering the Mississippi River. On April 24, of 2013, the line 67 pipeline breached and 600 gallons were spilled near Vining Minnesota (

And, in 2010, Enbridge Energy Partners ( one of several subsidiary corporations) was fined $2.4 million for a Clearbrook 2007 explosion which killed two people. Regulators, according to the Minnesota Post, found that Enbridge “… failed to safely and adequately perform maintenance and repair activities, clear the designated work area from possible source of ignition, and hire properly trained and qualified workers.”

In 2012, the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA) ordered Enbridge to submit plans to improve the safety of the entire Lakeland System. Also, Canada’s National Energy Board has stated that Enbridge is not complying with safety standards at 117 of its pumping stations and is analyzing the concerns and solutions. As Greg Sheline, an engineer for Enbridge who works out of the Superior, Wisconsin office., explains “There are pump stations up and down the line of our facilities that serve both as a pump station and also as a maintenance base for technicians and pipeline maintenance repair employees. “

In an August interview, Shelen was asked “…if there’s a spill between

( for instance) Park Rapids and Hubbard, it could get closed down anywhere along there, is that right?”Sheline: “It can. There are block valves placed on the mainline, as well as the pump stations that can be used to close off the flow. The block valves are positioned according to a program that takes into consideration the geography of the land, any navigable water ways, wetlands, and areas of high consequence. And that’s how the valves are positioned strategically along the line.”

The pipeline safety system itself, however is not local. , “This line – the Sandpiper line – the plan is that it will be operated from the control center in Estevan, Saskatchewan.,…northwest of Minot, across the Canadian border,” Sheline explains. From here, Sheline explains, “ They monitor pump stations and other technology that’s on the line. That information gets reported back to the control center, so that the operators can monitor the operation.” Sheline is confident that the system will hold. “There have been many improvements and additions through the years.” A number of landowners and tribal members, however are very concerned with Enbridge assurances, “ We don’t know if any of those lines will hold, and Enbridge has not proven itself to be a safe part of our environment . Our lakes and wild rice beds will be here forever, but if there’s an oil spill, they will be destroyed, and Enbridge will not be here. They are a 50 year old Canadian corporation and we are a people who have lived here for l0,000 years,” said Michael Dahl, a White Earth Tribal member, and researcher on the Enbridge lines.

Rights of Ways :

“The company hopes to secure 2,000 right-of-ways and easements in the next couple of years with a projected completion time of 2016. The corporation has skirted the major pipeline corridor from Bemidji to Superior through the Leech Lake Reservation. That corridor already has six pipelines in it. Apparently, the Leech Lake Tribal Council does not seem interested in a new pipeline to add to these six other pipelines across the reservation. As well, tribal right-of-ways are costly to the company and are according to sources, for twenty years as opposed to perpetual with private land owners.

Enbridge Pipelines North Dakota ( a limited liability corporation created in is working in North Dakota as well as Minnesota to secure rights of ways. Many landowners are pleased with the project, while others are not. One North Dakota landowner opposed the initial survey of the land, James Botsford, and Enbridge did not seem pleased.

“ What I told them is I am not going to give you permission. You are going to have to take it…”Botsford, who is an attorney and Judge for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska , said. The Enbridge Pipeline North Dakota Corporation filed a temporary restraining order against Botsford to gain access to his farm. “ They denied me access to and enjoyment of my land, “ Botsford said. “They told me Enbridge has powers that trump mine with regard to decisions about how to use and preserve my land.”

It is not clear that the Enbridge Corporation will have the same rights in Minnesota as it does in North Dakota, where, despite it’s Canadian ownership overall, it is considered a North Dakota utility. This designation under North Dakota law , appears to give the parent Canadian company, rights of eminent domain as a North Dakota utility.

Botsford believes that it is important to question Enbridge, and sees the pipeline expansion as part of the question as to where America is going in energy futures. “ I think that making oil more difficult to exploit, also helps to push us more towards sustainable energy alternatives. I think that a little push back to fossil fuels, is good. I intend to resist.”

The preferred southern route is proposed to travel through Clearwater, Hubbard, Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin, and Carlton counties in addition to White Earth Ojibwe Indian Reservation. The Pilot Independent reports that the Enbridge Pipeline (North Dakota) company has applied for the certificate of need along the southern route quote, ‘because it offers fewer environmental challenges.’ However, Marty Cobenais, formerly of the Indigenous Environmental Network, reports that the Alberta Clipper (Line 67) pipeline was initially proposed to travel along the southern route, but had its certificate need rejected by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

According to Cobenais, “There have been concerns about the new pipeline route. The Alberta Clipper 36 inch pipeline built in 2010 was proposed to go in the same area south of the reservation, but it was denied by the Minnesota PUC for fears of more contamination risks to wild rice beds. This alternate route for the Sandpiper would impact several hunting and gathering rights from the 1854 and 1855 treaty.

Accidents and Liability: Who would be Liable if there is an Accident?

In general, the corporation would be liable for a pipeline failure, however, there may be some other risks, as Becky Haase, of Enbridge explained in Park Rapids this August : “All of those contribute to what the picture is for liability, exactly. Usually, the possible players in a liability scenario are the company, the contractor, a sub-contractor, an insurance company usually has an obligation to get involved. Sometimes there’s an oil liability fund that’s brought in. And so depending on the facts and the circumstances under which the incident happened and what kind of damage resulted that’s how you kind of pick out who might be pointed at for a liability and to contribute to restoration, damage control.”

What is Bakken Crude?

Now this is really the million dollar question. The Sandpiper line would carry Bakken Crude oil, from western North Dakota. One of the challenges of Bakken crude is that we don’t actually know what is in this. In short, it’s not your mother’s crude.

A 2011 study published in the Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: International Journal documented 632 chemicals used in fracking fluid, with only 353 of the chemicals reviewed in academic literature.

Of additional concern to most people living in a fracked region ,each well-pad requires 4 million gallons of water .Many wells are fracked multiple times. While natural gas , for instance is considered to be a relatively clean fossil fuel, and the carbon impact of fracked oil from Bakken may be considered less significant than that from the tar sands region, fracking is considered an extreme extraction method, with widespread environmental contamination issues. These issues may continue down the pipeline.

There is essentially a problem of contents. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing or fracking from protections under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and CIRCLA. The exemption, also known as the Halliburton Amendment, exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals involved in fracking. However, according to a 2011 Congressional report over 600 chemicals are used in this process.. Chemicals include methanol, benzene, toluene, xylene, ethyl benzene – all known carcinogens.

North Dakota Bakken Crude is unconventional oil and very volatile in nature. On July 6, 2013, a 74-car train transporting Bakken oil derailed and four cars exploded in Lac Megantic, Quebec. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 47 people were either missing or dead, actually the term used by local police authorities and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was “ vaporized” from the explosion, and about 40 buildings, half of the downtown area, were destroyed.

Stephen Goiubelt, deputy director of the Montreal environmental group Ecuaterra, commented: ‘It’s not the oil people are used to. Depending on the type of crude oil, the environmental impacts, safety issues, decontamination issues are very different because of what’s in this oil. There’s a risk of fire and explosions, but when this stuff burns it releases a lot of toxic chemicals, which have a big impact on the short term, and quite possibly on the long term, “ Goibelt explained.

The area along the proposed Sandpiper pipeline southern route from Clearbrook, Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin is mostly northwoods forest that currently has no pipelines running through it. Due to the lack of any full knowledge of the chemical composition of North Dakota fracked oil from the Bakken, little is known about what the effects a spill would have on Northern Minnesota’s environment.

Where is it Proposed?

According to Enbridge, the Sandpiper’s preferred southern route will cross into White Earth Ojibwe Indian Reservation south of Bagley and run along the eastern boundary of Upper Rice Lake, an important ricing lake for White Earth tribal members. The Sandpiper pipeline will continue south passing through a portion of the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest, meanwhile passing along the eastern boundary of White Earth Reservation as it travels south along Route 71 before passing within several miles of Park Rapids, where the pipeline will turn east at Straight River township. It will also cross the Mississippi River south of Palisade before passing by the town of McGregor on its passage to Superior, Wisconsin. In total, the Sandpiper preferred southern route will travel within a five mile proximity of at least 10 state forests, parks, and wildlife management areas, including Itasca State Park, White Earth State Forest, Two Inlets State Forest, and the Fond du Lac State Forest.

In 2011 the counties along the preferred southern route for the Sandpiper earned approximately 400 million dollars that year for Leisure & Hospitality, popularly known as the tourism industry. Hubbard County alone earned 29 million dollars and employed 700 people in Leisure & Hospitality during 2011. The Great Lakes region has over 49,000 jobs in fishing, and a $ 7 billion fishing industry. This economy is also a consideration in the debate on pipelines and the future.

A spill could have a potentially major, detrimental impact on the economies of Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, and Hubbard counties, not to mention sending this oil into a pipeline system, which both the US and Canadian governments are concerned about, as far as the present maintenance and safety records. There are many unanswered questions. One thing is for sure, proponents and opponents will continue this discussion over the upcoming months.

What is certain, is that some important decisions need to be made, hopefully with good information, and the Enbridge Sandpiper proposal has a very long way to go down what may be a bumpy road. There are no guarnatees for the corporation, as the British Columbian government has told them.

For our region, more Bakken oil is moving by rail than ever- an estimated 380,000 cars per year will come out of North Dakota in 2013, according to a Star Tribune article, up from 9500 cars in 2008, and there a numerous concerns about the safety and rate of extraction, transport and rail lines. Difficult questions need to be asked , answered, and policies, and infrastructure put in place, by thoughtful people. While the Enbridge North Dakota pipeline company which proposes this line, has been in existence for less than a decade, and its parent corporation has been around a scant 60 years, many northern Minnesotan’s have longer residence on the lad. Aside from that, the$2.5 billion of the pipeline, not to mention the additional expansions, constitute a huge investment. This is a lot of money which could go to different choices, from infrastructure repair, to environmental protection, and efficiency. One question which hasn’t been asked at all, is how much is enough from western North Dakota, and by when…., if we don’t tackle that question , sixty years from now, our grandchildren will

be facing even more difficult questions and, perhaps consequences.

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