Enbridge: Corporate Social Responsibility or Greenwashing?

Tar sands mining in Alberta, 2008 (Wikimedia Commons)

Energy transportation giant Enbridge is pursuing a 1,097 mile crude oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, through northern Minnesota, ending in Superior, Wisc., raising concerns among Native American and those concerned with the environment. The proposal is currently before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for review.

At the same time, Enbridge has a Corporate Social Responsibility statement outlining its commitments to “sustainability.” In the introduction, it defines Corporate Social Responsibility as “conducting business in a socially responsible and ethical manner; protecting the environment and the safety of people; supporting human rights; and engaging, learning from, respecting and supporting the communities and cultures with which we work.”

Enbridge Line 3 carries tar sands crude, a particularly dirty form of fossil fuel. The tar sands mining, processing  and pipelines have negatively affected the First Nations Peoples of Canada. Enbridge’s plan calls for replacing an old and failing pipeline with a larger one along a new route. This includes a 337-mile stretch across Minnesota, passing through the Mississippi headwaters region and prime wild rice waters, affecting Anishinaabe people. A major spill here would be devastating.

Some could applaud Enbridge for having a sustainability plan. Others might refer to it as greenwashing, which, Wikipedia explains, is “a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.”

Let’s take a look at Enbridge’s sustainability statements and how they apply to the Line 3 proposal.

It’s a 182-page report, so let’s focus on two key sections.

Indigenous Engagement

Enbridge’s report has a nine-age section on Indigenous Engagement. It states:

We recognize the history, uniqueness and diversity of Indigenous peoples and strive to build trust and lasting relationships with them. … In both [the United State and Canada], legal requirements and good business practice mandate consultation and engagement with Indigenous communities on energy infrastructure projects and operations. (page 74)

Later in the section, it states:

In 2016, we inaugurated a new Indigenous Peoples Policy to replace our former Aboriginal & Native American Policy, which had been in place since 2009. Our new policy outlines the key principles that guide our engagement with Indigenous communities in proximity to our projects and operations, which include:

  • recognition of the importance of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of existing law;
  • respect for legal and constitutional rights;
  • respect for the relationship between Indigenous peoples and their traditional lands and resources, and commitment to carry out our projects and operations in an environmentally responsible manner;
  • forthright and sincere consultation regarding our projects and operations;
  • commitment to achieve benefits for communities arising from our projects and operations; and
  • fostering understanding of Indigenous history and culture such that we can create mutally-beneficial relationships with Indigenous communities. (Page 81)

    Map of current and proposed Line 3 routes across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisc. (Honor the Earth)

That’s good-sounding language. But what happens if the Native peoples simply say: “We don’t want your project?” More details will emerge in the PUC’s public hearing process, but this much we already know. Many Native nations, including White Earth and Red Lake in Minnesota, have signed onto the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion. It states their collective opposition to the expansion of Canadian tar sands development, including pipelines and transportation in any form.

The proposed Line 3 passes within miles of the White Earth and Fond du Lac Indian reservations. The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s recently released draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that says “Disproportionate and adverse impacts would occur to American Indian populations in the vicinity of the proposed [Line 3] Project.”

Consider that Enbridge says it will respect Native legal rights and their relationship with the land. How does that square with how the pipeline will affect the Anishinaabe people’s off reservation treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice through much of northern Minnesota, guaranteed in the Treaty of 1855?

Enbridge states that it recognizes “the importance of” the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But that is different from saying it will live up to the Declaration. This might be splitting hairs, but it seems Enbridge is giving itself some legal wiggleroom here.

Lastly, Enbridge invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project strongly opposed by Native American communities, both locally and  around the country. Enbridge gives itself a pass on this one, noting it was latecomer to the project: “When we announced our intention to invest, processes for regulatory approval and construction were both well advanced and the project was scheduled for completion by year end. A segment of the North Dakota portion of the pipeline subsequently became the focus of on-the-ground protests and litigation led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe…” (Page 76) You can read more of this section to see if you are convinced by Enbridge’s reasoning.

Climate and Energy Solutions

Enbridge’s Corporate Social Responsibility Statement also has an 18-page section on Climate and Energy Solutions. It starts out:

We recognize that climate change is a global issue and that we all have a role to play in addressing it, including industry. Our strategy to address the climate impacts resulting from our businesses and to support the transition to a lower-carbon economy includes publicly tracking and reporting on our efforts to reduce our energy use and GHG [green house gas] emissions, setting targets for our energy use and GHG emissions, building out our portfolio of investments in renewable energy and natural gas projects, working with governments, businesses, environmental organizations and communities on new solutions to climate challenges, [etc.] …. [Page 84]

Again, the language sounds good. But if Enbridge truly believes that “climate change is a global issue” and is interested in transitioning into a low-carbon economy, why does it propose expanding the tar sands oil pipeline, essentially doubling their current capacity?

To repeat from an earlier blog, approving Enbridge Line 3 is not about U.S. energy security, it is about giving Canadian tar sands oil greater access to global markets. Consider this Canadian report: CURRENT AND FUTURE STATE OF OIL AND GAS PIPELINES AND REFINING CAPACITY IN CANADA, which says:

The overall gasoline and diesel demand in North America and other [developed] countries is expected to decline over the next two to three decades. On the other hand, the global demand for crude oil, especially in emerging economies, is projected to continue to increase ‘for the next 25 years and beyond’, which presents attractive export opportunities, considering Canada’s sizeable oil reserves.

To put a fine point on it, Line 3 is about boosting corporate profits by importing foreign oil, processing it here, and selling it abroad.

While Enbridge is trying to diversify its energy supply and help customers become more energy efficient, its primary business is in moving oil and natural gas. Yes, Enbridge is taking the steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.  But is still expanding tar sands oil carrying capacity, a model that is not sustainable.

Renewable and Alternative Energy Investments

In its Corporate Responsibility Report Enbridge outlines its investments in renewable and alternative energy. It says:

In 2016, we invested about $600 million in our renewable energy portfolio. Since 2002, we have invested more than $5 billion in renewable and alternative energy projects globally and, since mid 2015, we have committed to investing another $2.7 billion in offshore wind projects in Europe. (Page 104)

Enbridge’s alternative energy investments are obviously a source of pride.

We are contributing to a global shift toward a lower-impact energy production mix by investing in green power projects that complement our core business while limiting GHG emissions. Each of our renewable and alternative energy projects provides environmental benefits. (Page 107)

Comment: Enbridge is moving in the right direction, the question is, is it quick enough? According to Enbridge’s website, the Line 3 Replacement Program will cost $7.5 billion. That one investment is equivalent to all of Enbridge’s investments in renewable and alternative energy since 2002. What would happen if Enbridge invested the Line 3 money into renewable and alternative energy? That would show that it was taking climate change seriously.

For more information and past blogs on Line 3, see our Enbridge Line 3 Page.

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