MPR’s Public Insight Network is asking for listener feedback on the proposed expansion and rerouting of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota.
The way MPR frames the issue is one more example for our recent critique: MPR Continues to Disappoint in its Enbridge Line 3 Coverage.
Here’s the link to the feedback page, which frames the debate as follows:
Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 pipeline is forcing state regulators to weigh the potential economic benefits to Minnesota against the environmental risks. But how to decide? Enbridge says the new Line 3 will be stronger and safer than what’s in the ground now. Environmentalists and Ojibwe tribes warn that Minnesota would invite disaster by backing another high-volume oil pipeline. It’s a complex decision that will test the state’s ability to balance the demands of industry and the environment. Minnesotans will live with it for generations. The decision will likely come in June. Now, MPR News wants to know what you’re thinking.
The Insight Network’s short blurb says a lot about how MPR sees the issue. It frames the Line 3 debate very poorly.
The Insight Network omits the question of need, thereby giving the impression that the new Line 3 is necessary. It is not: MPR’s framing makes no mention of whether or not Minnesota needs this pipeline. It doesn’t challenge the need for a so-called “stronger and safer” pipeline. Instead, it poses the debate as a balancing act between the demands of industry and the environment. Why does MPR make the “demands of industry” central to the discussion? This should not not be about what industry needs, the question should be whether the environmental risks are offset by other benefits to residents taking the risk. (More on this later.)
The Insight Network uses the vague term “environmental risks” instead of being explicit: The risks include crude oil spills in or near our cleanest lakes, rivers, and wild rice areas. These spills would never be fully cleaned up because of the nature of tar sands crude: It’s heaving and sinks. Further, the environmental risks include a $287 billion climate change impact. The Insight Network’s set-up fails to mention the term “climate change.”
The Insight Network’s framing fails to mention treaty rights issues: Treaty rights are central to this debate. The Ojibwe have protected treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather on lands the proposed pipeline would cross. Treaty rights are the supreme law of the land. Why did the Insight Network narrative not mention treaty rights?
Our earlier blog, MPR Continues to Disappoint in its Enbridge Line 3 Coverage, will give you some ideas to share with MPR. With the rest of this blog, I will focus on why Line 3 isn’t necessary or prudent.
The Public Insight Network was created to be a: “platform for people to share their knowledge and insights about timely issues with journalists.” Here’s some ideas to share.
Three Clear Signs Building Line 3 is a Bad Idea
No. 1: Even Leaders in Oil-Rich Saudi Arabia are Panicking about Oil’s Future
I was just reading an April 9 New Yorker piece titled: A Saudi Prince’s Quest to Remake the Middle East, a fascinating dive into geopolitics. And in the middle of it, out popped this nugget:
But the [Saudi] economy relies overwhelmingly on oil; the country exports almost nothing else, and imports almost everything else, from food to freshwater. The welfare state was built on the expectation that the price of oil would remain at historic levels of at least a hundred dollars a barrel. It is now about sixty-two dollars, and is widely predicted to keep falling. “If you are the guy driving the Saudi bus, my advice would be to get off it as soon as you can,” Jan Stuart, an energy economist in New York, told me. The former defense official put it even more starkly: “In five to seven years, at current trends, they’re broke.”
The article discusses how Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — known by his initials: M.B.S — is trying to diversity Saudi Arabia’s economy.
At a gathering of prominent venture capitalists at the Fairmont Hotel, in San Francisco, M.B.S. spoke bluntly about Saudi Arabia’s prospects. According to one attendee, he said, “In twenty years, oil goes to zero, and then renewables take over. I have twenty years to reorient my country and launch it into the future.”
Comment: If Saudi Arabia is looking at a 20-year horizon for oil, why are we supporting more pipelines?
No. 2: What Oil Demand Exists Will be Coming from Emerging Economies, Not the United States
A May 2012 Canadian government report titled: “CURRENT AND FUTURE STATE OF OIL AND GAS PIPELINES AND REFINING CAPACITY IN CANADA” gives this clear-eyed assessment:
Global and domestic energy markets are undergoing changes that give rise to opportunities and challenges for Canada’s oil and gas and refining sectors. The overall gasoline and diesel demand in North America and other OECD [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.
Comment: Canada might not be as panicked as Saudi Arabia about oil demand because it has a diverse economy. But it’s clear from this assessment that developed countries, not the United States, are the beneficiaries of Line 3. Minnesota is being asked to shoulder an unnecessary environmental burden for few if any benefits. Canada is struggling to approve pipelines of its own to either coast. If Canadian residents don’t want the pipelines, why should we take them?
No. 3: In the Testimony Over Line 3, Minnesota State Experts Said Line 3 Isn’t Needed.
Last but not least, Gov. Mark Dayton’s Department of Commerce issued a statement September 11 stating Minnesota did not need Line 3:
Oil market analysis indicates that Enbridge has not established a need for the proposed project; the pipeline would primarily benefit areas outside Minnesota; and serious environmental and socioeconomic risks and effects outweigh limited benefits.
The System is Screwed Up in Favor of Industry, But that Doesn’t Change the Fact that Line 3 Isn’t Needed
There is a caveat to this debate which has to do with state rules that put industry’s needs on the same level with citizen needs, which seems messed up.
Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly brought this issue to light in her April 23 recommendations to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. On page 194, O’Reilly wrote:
It is a bitter pill to swallow, however, that the “need” for this Project is to primarily assist foreign oil producers in transporting their products through (and mostly out of) Minnesota. However, the rule does not prioritize the needs of Applicant’s customers, the people of Minnesota, or the people of neighboring states. Each of these categories has equal priority under Minnesota Administrative Rule 7853.0130(A)
A certificate of need shall be granted to the applicant if it is determined that:
A. the probable result of denial would adversely affect the future adequacy, reliability, or efficiency of energy supply to the applicant [the pipeline company], to the applicant’s customers, or to the people of Minnesota and neighboring states …
Comment: So apparently the rule gives equal weight to the needs of the pipeline company as the people of Minnesota. I wonder who wrote the rules? Still, even the Judge seemed to cringe at swallowing such a “bitter pill.” That said, the only way O’Reilly saw fit to recommend approving Line 3’s Certificate of Need is for Enbridge to rebuild on the same trench as the old Line 3. That’s a political nonstarter and an apparent effort to stop the project in a sideways fashion.