The moral issues behind building an oil pipeline

File: Religious leaders walked to the Capitol to deliver a letter opposing Line 3 on moral grounds to Gov. Dayton’s office in 2018.

A front group supporting the construction of Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline is tying itself in knots around the issue of whether or not building a new crude oil pipeline is a moral issue.

Answer: It is.

Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light recently posted on Facebook: “We have a moral responsibility to protect water and climate for future generations, and therefore we must #StopLine3.”

It apparently got under Minnesotans for Line 3’s skin. It responded: “Trying to attach morality to supporting Line 3 ignores … key facts.”

Current Line 3 route (orange) and proposed route (green).

Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light has organized faith communities around the state to oppose Enbridge Line 3, a proposed 355-mile tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. Some 500 religious and spiritual leaders signed a letter opposing the project. A group hand-delivered it to then-Gov. Mark Dayton’s office. The letter has stayed in circulation in efforts to stop Line 3.

The signers based their moral opposition to Line 3 on the fact that it would threaten our state’s clean lakes and rivers, both by its construction and future oil spills. It would threaten Native treaty rights, lifeways, and wild rice. It would add to the already devastating impacts of climate damage. All that, while the project isn’t even needed.

The advisory committee for Minnesotans for Line 3, a group promoting Line 3, consists of Todd Rothe, president of JR Jensen Construction; Matt Gordon, director of operations for Gordon Construction, a Native American-owned business, and Matt Olson and Abby Loucks, two leaders of United Piping, a Duluth-based pipeline construction company. They have a financial interest in Line 3’s approval. (More background here.)

Having their future profits challenged based on a moral argument apparently stings.

File: Gichi-gami Gathering to Stop Line 3.

Mike Schoneberger, a safety consultant working in the oil and gas industry and a member of Minnesotans for Line 3, criticized faith leaders and their letter for arguing Line 3 is a moral issue.

In a Feb. 19 blog he wrote:

The letter and signatures gathered by Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light is another attempt [to] reframe the decision-making process by calling this “a moral issue” to oppose the project and ignore the ongoing need for energy we will continue to have for years to come.

File photo.

Comment: Mr. Schoneberger makes a false distinction, saying Line 3 isn’t a “moral” issue, but an energy issue. Actually, it’s both. How we produce and use energy is a statement of our morals and values.

His blog continues:

I respect and appreciate the dedication and commitment of the people and groups who have signed the letter. Their willingness to be involved in this issue and the important decision about Line 3 matters. They do mean well, and their broader goal is to make Minnesota a better place and so is mine.

At the same time, more than 39,000 people who live in Minnesota have signed comment cards and letters supporting this [Line 3] project because they understand the reality of what a reliable and affordable supply of energy means.

Comment: Saying religious leaders “do mean well” is patronizing. As far as the numbers go, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission received 72,249 public comments about Line 3, according to the Youth Climate Intevenors. Of those comments, 68,244 or 94 percent, were opposed to Line 3.

The blog continues:

Reliable access to cost-effective energy is what makes it possible to live in Minnesota. Taking affordable and reliable energy away from people who can least afford higher costs and the additional stress on their families for any reason is morally wrong.

File photo.

Comment: A bit of whiplash. Now, Line 3 is a moral issue, but only in some cases. Apparently it’s not OK for Line 3 opponents to make a moral argument, but it’s perfectly OK for Line 3 supporters to make a moral argument.

Mr. Schoneberger argues building Line 3 is moral because “cost-effective energy is what makes it possible to live in Minnesota.”

Consider all the things that make it possible to live in Minnesota. We need a stable climate that supports farming and minimizes severe weather events. Line 3 will increase climate damage and severe weather events. We need clean water. Line 3 threatens clean water and wild rice. We also need good education, affordable health care, the list goes on.

I agree that affordable energy is a piece of the puzzle — but only a piece — of what goes into making it possible to live in Minnesota. Let’s make sure the energy we use is both affordable and clean, not tar sands energy that’s among the dirtiest in the world.

Mr. Schoneberger also argues that opposing Line 3 is “morally wrong” because failing to build it would stress low-income families with higher energy costs.

I’m curious: How many times have the people behind Minnesotans for Line 3 gone to bat for low-income people struggling to pay their energy bills? Have they lobbied at the Capitol for lower, safety-net energy rates? If so, I’m open to reprinting their efforts here. It seems that they’re making a disingenuous cameo appearance as if they are champions of the poor, hiding behind a fairness argument to justify their financial interests.

The blog closes with a crescendo:

I strongly resent the attempt to use misplaced “morality” to justify one subjective opinion that also attempts to denigrate anyone who may have a different point-of view. If this “moral” opinion is transformed into an action that results in the denial of the project, it would immediately hurt thousands of struggling families who can least afford it. Again, that is immoral by any definition.

Healing Minnesota Stories’ Jim Bear at the Governor’s Reception Room speaking against Enbridge Line 3 as part of an Interfaith gathering.

Comment: The so-called resentment is a con. Either Mr. Schoneberger didn’t read the faith leader letter or he did and he’s just trying to gin-up outrage. Nowhere does the letter denigrate those who support the pipeline. It simply makes the moral case against it.

Here’s the most relevant section from the faith leader letter:

We acknowledge that some people support the project because of the construction jobs it would create, however Line 3 is a step in the wrong direction. We need new jobs as part of a “just transition” to a new renewable energy economy, with construction projects that make Minnesota a better home for everyone.

Mr. Schoneberger’s blog speculates that thousands of struggling families will be immediately hurt if Enbridge doesn’t build Line 3. He provides no facts to back that up. Under Gov. Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Department of Commerce appealed the approval of Line 3 permits because it concluded Enbridge failed to prove the pipeline was needed based on demand forecasts.

Gov. Tim Walz is on deck to decide whether to renew the appeal.

The answer seems clear: #StopLine3.

3 thoughts on “The moral issues behind building an oil pipeline

  1. Wonderful response to the recent Pro-Enbridge huge ad in the newspaper. Turns out the ad is
    just funded by a group led by the construction companies that want to build and profit from it!


  2. Building Line 3 has felt like a choice to prioritize the personal survival of short-lived jobs at the cost of the long term survival of life on our planet home. And our apparent societal failure to create solar energy jobs. Let’s fix this!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s