While the nation debates whether TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline is “in our national interest,” another Canadian oil company is quietly making plans to expand its pipeline network through northern Minnesota’s forests, wetlands, private lands and indigenous communities. Running from Hardisty, Alberta through Clearbrook, MN, and on to Superior, WI, Enbridge’s “Alberta Clipper” (line 67) is being considered for expansion from 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 570,000 and then a potential 880,000 bpd—more than the Keystone XL’s 800,000 bpd.
Enbridge claims that no new right-of-way or pipeline construction is required to handle this doubled load of corrosive tar sands—even though the proposed volume will double—a dangerous error of fact and safety, as this increase will undoubtedly force leaks and ruptures.
Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has the power to approve this pipeline proposal–unless the expansion produces “adverse impact” for Minnesotans. It does. Weighing the costs of safety, climate change, water quality, human health, and indigenous rights, Minnesotans of today and tomorrow are adversely impacted, and at the PUC’s public hearing on July 17, we need some answers.
Safety. Though Enbridge claims it is an industry leader in pipeline safety and integrity, the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board has already rebuked the company for its “culture of deviance” on pipeline safety after the 2010 pipeline rupture in Michigan resulted in the largest onshore spill in U.S. history. That 20,000-barrel “spill” of diluted bitumen contaminated the Kalamazoo River, and the cleanup has yet to be completed. Worse yet, the company failed to recognize the pipeline rupture during multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline, through 17 hours and three work shifts.
But Enbridge pipelines have ruptured numerous times, whether due to seam welds, cracked pipes, external corrosion, or explosion. According to Watershed Sentinel, in the ten years between 2000 and 2010, Enbridge reported 439 pipeline ruptures amounting to 132,715 barrels of oil “spilled.” Except for the Nemadji River “spill” (452 barrels of oil) in 2003, the public rarely hears about these: i.e., line 67 leaked 600 gallons (15 barrels) on April 24, 2013 near Viking, MN.
Climate Change. Already, increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are causing destructive impacts worldwide. Drought and flooding are putting crops and animals at risk. Natural ecosystems are being disrupted, involving losses of biodiversity and shifts in species locations and migrations. Enbridge’s first proposed upgrade alone would add 120,000 barrels per day, releasing a potential 26 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses annually—the equivalent of 5.5 million more cars. Earth’s ecosystems are becoming stressed to the breaking point, and climate scientists report that the predicted changes are occurring even faster than they expected. We are running out of time to make a difference.
Water Quality. Spills along the pipeline route in northern Minnesota can and will affect pristine lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Clean-up–if it occurs–will not easily return these waters to a quality that can support fish, wildlife, and humans. For four years, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy fought Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper, citing its corporate Environmental Assessment as “grossly deficient” in its failure to conform to the Wetland Conservation Act, Minnesota’s public waters laws, and other obligations set forth in the Clean Water Act.
Human Health. Increased exposures to the volatile organic compounds needed to dilute the bitumen—given Enbridge’s defiance of safety rules in Canada, and their continued resistance to cleaning up the Kalamazoo River spill—means that small town residents, indigenous communities, and outdoorspeople alike may be breathing the “dilbit” contaminated air. In 2010, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences report showed climate change has increased rates of asthma, respiratory allergies, and airway diseases, as well as risks of cardiovascular disease, foodborne illnesses, heat mortalities, neurological disorders, and rates of infectious diseases such as malaria and typhus.
Indigenous Rights. On February 28, a group of Red Lake nation activists set up camp atop four older pipelines running near Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper, in protest of Enbridge’s 64-year trespass on native land. Enbridge’s pipeline runs through Red Lake waterways and even Cass Lake; beyond the town, exposed pipelines lie in swamp wetlands.
Who benefits from these increased risks to human and environmental health?
And why should Minnesotans accept this expanded Canadian pipeline, when even British Columbia has refused—due to environmental shortcomings?
When the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission holds its July 17 hearing on Enbridge’s proposed expansions, we need to show up.