Enbridge Line 3: The Renewed Battle Over Pipeline Expansion in Minnesota

Malcolm Jacob, Scarlet Staff

In northern Minnesota, a pipeline project is the source of a new conflict that CNN is referring to as “the next Keystone XL fight.” The pipeline project, known as Enbridge Line 3, will replace and expand upon an already existing pipeline that carries crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada through several American states, ultimately ending in Superior, Wisconsin. Protestors are currently gathered at various spots along the route, looking to stop the project and to raise awareness about the dangers of crude oil spilling into lakes and rivers.

The current pipeline passes through the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations, though this has not been without its own controversy. When the Canadian company began pushing its new line forward, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa faced two options: allow the line to be built on their land and risk environmental damage, or forbid the construction. However, choosing the latter meant that the line would immediately be built next to the reservation, and the people would no longer have any say in the project. As a result, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reluctantly made a deal with Enbridge. 

Nearby, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe faces a different matter – the new line will not fall within their reservation at all. Thus, the project is viewed as an opportunity to remove the old line from the reservation. Other Ojibwe bands are the primary activists in the protest, and although Line 3 does not pass directly through their reservations, it will be constructed on land that has traditionally been used by these tribes for a variety of reasons. 

Roughly in between Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations, the expansion is expected to pass under the Mississippi River, though the drilling required for this cannot be done until the ice on the river melts. For this reason, protestors are concerned about the spring thaw which will allow Enbridge to begin the drilling process. 

There are a number of consequences on the protestors’ minds. For one, perhaps the most obvious of risks, there is the possibility of a spill, which would endanger both nearby communities and the environment. This includes the ecosystems along the Mississippi River. Second, the completion of this project would allow the continued burning of fossil fuels, the most impactful way humans are contributing to global climate change. Finally, the project brings up the issue of indigenous rights. Some of the land being built upon has been used by generations of local tribes for hunting, fishing, and the harvesting of wild rice; any serious construction would threaten this way of life. 

The protests have become heated even before the ice on the Mississippi fully melted. According to a live NBC interview, over 200 people were arrested in the winter. In February a work site was evacuated after a suspicious package was thrown onto the location; the package turned out to be harmless, but Enbridge intends to prosecute those responsible for the scare. The protestors responded by saying this was nothing but the company’s attempt at driving a wedge between them. More is likely to come as spring arrives in Minnesota. 

In defense of the project, Enbridge has reassured the public that it has ensured safety for everyone by putting together extensive environmental impact statements, relying on tribal consultants during planning, and following all the necessary state and federal regulations. Additionally, Enbridge says Line 3 will offer many benefits by providing jobs and improving local economies while fossil fuels are gradually phased out. They  argue that this form of energy, which has become an integral part of our lives, cannot simply be rejected overnight. 

This all takes place in a pivotal time for environmental activism in the United States. Within his first day of taking office, President Joe Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, effectively putting a stop to the controversial project. 

So far it is unknown if Enbridge Line 3 will see a similar fate as Keystone XL. For the time being, people across the nation will be following the news out of Minnesota, to see if the protestors’ efforts will have an impact on the final route of the pipeline.