As Enbridge fights for Line 5, Indigenous activists block Line 3 construction in Minnesota

By: and - December 7, 2020 11:32 am

Jessica Garraway sings a version of “Wade in the Water” as people protest against the Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline project outside the Governor’s Mansion on November 14, 2020 in St Paul, Minnesota. The project took a step forward this week after receiving permitting approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. | Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month ordered Canadian oil company Enbridge’s easement with the state to be revoked, giving Enbridge until May to shut down its controversial Line 5 pipeline in the Mackinac Straits. Enbridge responded in full force with a lawsuit against the state.

The outcome of that lawsuit, which will likely end up in the Michigan Supreme Court, could have far-reaching implications for states’ authority to regulate the oil pipelines within their borders.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, a parallel battle rages on. Like Line 5, Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline has long been at the center of controversy and criticism — particularly by Indigenous peoples whose treaty-protected land and rights could be threatened by a pipeline rupture.

Fervent activism and protest from tribal members and other “water protectors” came to a head Friday, when Anishinaabe people physically blocked construction of the replacement Line 3 pipeline at the shores of the Mississippi River.

Enbridge files federal challenge to Whitmer’s Line 5 shutdown order

Enbridge received permitting approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) last week and immediately started construction then. Opponents of the project filed a lawsuit challenging the action that same day.

Line 3 snakes across Minnesota and converges with Line 5 in Northeast Wisconsin as part of Enbridge’s U.S. Mainline System. Both paths of the original pipeline and the replacement pipeline cross numerous tribal lands.

Continuing efforts to block Enbridge machines in the area include tribal members performing Anishinaabe cultural practices like praying, smudging and making tobacco ties to demonstrate their treaty rights in the area.  

The lawsuit against the new Line 3, filed with the Court of Appeals Monday evening, raises concerns over MPCA’s consideration of climate and tribal impacts, as well as risks to the state’s wetlands and water quality. 

Petitioners of the suit included the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Headwaters and Honor the Earth.

“Some big questions need to be asked: What if the Appeals Court sides against Enbridge in the legal cases before it? What if the new Biden administration squashes this pipeline? What is Enbridge’s plan if its workforce gets coronavirus?” said Winona LaDuke, co-founder and Executive Director of Honor the Earth. 

LaDuke was among 12 of the 17 MPCA environmental advisory group members who resigned last month in response to the pipeline’s approval.

According to a press release from Honor the Earth, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission also denied a legal motion for a stay of the Line 3 permit on Friday. 

Opponents point out that the pipeline’s construction could pose health risks to nearby communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic by bringing in additional workers. Minnesota is already nearing hospital capacities and is reporting the fifth-highest number of new cases per capita.

Enbridge says the new Line 3 pipeline will be safer than either rail or the aging pipeline it is replacing. Likewise, Enbridge claims that although the nearly 70-year-old dual Line 5 pipeline is safe as-is, the project to replace it with an underground tunnel-enclosed pipeline will be even safer.

Michigan and Minnesota are both home to the three largest inland oil spills in history. All three stem from Enbridge pipelines.

Line 3 spilled 1.7 million gallons of oil in Minnesota in 1991; the same pipeline had spilled 1.3 million gallons in 1973. A rupture in Enbridge’s Line 6B was responsible for spilling 840,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Part of this story originally ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Minnesota Reformer, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: [email protected] Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.

Dylan Miettinen
Dylan Miettinen

Dylan Miettinen is a Minnesota Reformer intern. A fourth-year student at the University of Minnesota, he was born and raised in Omaha, Neb. He currently serves as the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. He's also worked for CNN, the Minnesota Media and Publishing Association and the Fiction/Non/Fiction podcast.