Native and Environmental Activists Scuttle One Oil Pipeline Project through Northern Minnesota, Another Proposal Remains

Native American and environmental activists appear to have scored a major victory in blocking Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline that would have carried crude oil from the North Dakota fracking fields to Duluth/Superior.

Activists succeeded in raising concerns and delaying the project. The project’s financial backers now are seeking a different route. Enbridge Inc. and Marathon Petroleum are now investing in the Bakken Pipeline System that will route oil through North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa to get to Illinois.

Honor the Earth, a Native-led group started by Winona LaDuke, played a key role in stopping the Sandpiper project. LaDuke issued a statement on the group’s website about the latest news.

As the people who would be most impacted by these projects, we are of course very happy to hear this news. For four years our community has said Gaawiin, NO – from the wild rice harvesters to the tribal governments. For four years we have had ceremonies to stop this pipeline. We’ve also fought in the courts, in regulatory hearings, in the media, in the streets, and on the land. It is important to acknowledge and celebrate this victory. When we stand up we are so powerful. But it is a bittersweet victory, for while we have won the battle, the war remains. The black snake is a hydra – cut off one head and 2 more will emerge.

That said, this is a complicated project, and environmental battles are not over.

Understanding Sandpiper/Line 3

The term “Sandpiper Pipeline” really refers to two separate projects. It includes the new Sandpiper line coming east from North Dakota that would eventually merge with a rerouting of Enbridge Line 3.

Here is a map of the Sandpiper/Line 3 Project. The new Sandpiper Line was going to run from Williston, ND to Clearbrook, MN. Enbridge then proposed rerouting its aging “Line 3” down to Clearbrook to connect with Sandpiper. Line 3 currently runs from Canada through Northern Minnesota, (crossing reservation lands). By rerouting Line 3 south to Clearbrook, Sandpiper and Line 3 could merge into one pipeline that would run from Clearbrook to Duluth.

Here is a Minnesota map with better details of how the two projects work together.

Line 3 Challenges Remain

The decision to drop Sandpiper leaves open the question: What happens with Line 3 now?

Line 3 is aging, has structural problems, and cannot operate at capacity. The Sandpiper Project would have allowed Enbridge in upgrade Line 3 along the new route, expanding its carrying capacity. (Enbridge would have discontinued and abandoned the unused part of the current Line 3, everything east of Clearbrook.)

Line 3 was installed in the 1960s, according to Enbridge’s materials, which discusses structural problems in terms of needing “integrity digs.” (That means they are worried about leaks and cracks in a particular spot so they go dig and check.) According to Enbridge, Line 3 is in need of “a substantial number of integrity digs and repairs.” It said:

Approximately 4,000 integrity digs in the U.S. alone are currently forecasted for Line 3 over the next 15 years to maintain its current level of operation. This would result in year-after-year impacts to landowners and the environment. On average, 10-15 digs are forecasted per mile on Line 3 if it is not replaced. …

Additionally, since 2008, Enbridge has voluntarily restricted pressure, reducing the average annual capacity of deliveries from 760,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 390,000 bpd.

If the line has 10-15 “integrity”problems per mile, that is the equivalent of at least one problem per city block for the line’s 337 mile-run through Minnesota. That’s a lot. Further, for the past eight years, Enbridge has voluntarily operated the line at barely half of its operating capacity because the line cannot take the pressure.
Enbridge will still need to do something about Line 3. Stay tuned for the next round of proposals.
The Financial Press Says Sandpiper is Off the Table … for Now

Bloomberg News ran a story Aug. 2 outlining the implications of Enbridge and Marathon partnering on the new Bakken Pipeline System. It cites Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Michael Kay saying Sandpiper probably won’t move ahead because the Bakken Pipeline System is expected to start operating by the end of 2016. That will provide Enbridge with needed capacity.

The door might not be completely closed on Sandpiper, however. The Bloomberg story said: “Graham White, an Enbridge spokesman, said in a phone interview that there may be demand for Sandpiper in the future, as production grows.”

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