Enbridge Updates: Problems in Minnesota, Problems in Michigan

Wikimedia Commons

Tar sands crude oil pipeline company Enbridge repeatedly has shown itself to be an  trustworthy partner. Here are the two latest examples.

Enbridge withheld information from the state of Michigan about problems with Line 5, the portion which passes underwater in the Straits of Mackinack (between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan). According to an Oct. 27 AP report published by WOOD TV, Enbridge says it knew about pipeline damage 3 years ago:

The company that operates twin oil pipelines in a Great Lakes waterway says it knew three years ago that protective coating had been damaged but didn’t inform regulatory agencies.

Enbridge Inc. says a gap was opened in enamel coating on one section of Line 5 in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac as a support anchor was being installed in 2014. The coating gap is one of several that have exposed bare metal on parts of the pipelines.

That led to strong criticism by the Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, released that same day:

“Trust and transparency are critical in any relationship. This latest revelation by Enbridge means that the faith and trust Michigan has placed in Enbridge has reached an even lower level. Enbridge needs to do more than apologize, Enbridge owes the citizens of Michigan a full and complete explanation of why they failed to truthfully report the status of the pipeline.”

In related news, Honor the Earth has criticized the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for its inaction after it found out that Enbridge had made false statements its applications for Minnesota pipeline staging areas. For several years now, Enbridge has been stacking up pipeline around northern Minnesota in anticipation of getting state approvals for Line 3. It had to get storm water construction permits in 2014 and 2015 to create these staging areas. Enbridge indicated on its online form that the project had all necessary environmental reviews — which it did not.

MPCA did not catch the mistake until this March. And it is taking no action against Enbridge. According to Honor the Earth’s post:

These violations have irreparably undermined the state’s ability to conduct an objective process for reviewing the projects and determining if they are in the state’s best interest….

This has also introduced enormous bias into the court of public opinion, as rural communities across Northern Minnesota have now spent years living with pipe for the proposed project transported on their roads and piled in their backyards.

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PUC to Vote Thursday, Dec. 7 on Line 3’s Environmental Impact Statement

Honor the Earth map of Enbridge Line 3.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is scheduled to vote on the Enbridge Line 3 environmental impact statement (EIS) Thursday, Dec. 7, starting at 9:30 a.m. at its regular meeting space in Metro Square, 121 7th Place East, Suite 350, St. Paul.

The public will not have an opportunity to speak, but public presence sends a message to the PUC that people are watching.

To recap: Enbridge’s existing Line 3 is old and failing; Enbridge wants to abandon it in the ground. (Bad idea.) It has proposed a new and larger pipeline along a new route through northern Minnesota. It threatens the Mississippi headwaters, lakes, rivers and wild rice areas. It violates the interests of Ojibwe people who have reserved treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather along lands crossed by the pipeline.

The EIS decision is one of several key  Line 3 votes. Should the PUC find the EIS “inadequate” it would not kill the project, but would likely delay it. The EIS would need further work. (A project delay would also cost Enbridge money.) Even if the PUC approves the EIS, the PUC still needs to vote on Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Plan. Those votes are not expected until April.

The EIS has been criticized by indigenous and environmental groups. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, in cooperation with six Chippewa bands and Honor the Earth, has released its own draft environmental impact statement, called the Tribal Cumulative Impact Statement.

Here is the PUC’s Dec. 7 agenda:

1. Should the Commission find that the Final Environmental Impact Statement is Adequate?
2. Should the Commission adopt the administrative law judge’s Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation?
3. Whether the data identified as Trade Secret in Appendix F and Appendix I of Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership’s Certificate of Need Application for the Proposed Line 3 Replacement Project is public under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

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Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline Storage Yards Appear to Violate Law, MPCA Approved Them with No Scrutiny

Pipeline storage yard near White Earth.

For years, Enbridge has operated large pipeline storage yards around northern Minnesota in anticipation that the Minnesota Pubic Utilities Commission (PUC) would eventually approve its Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline through the state.

However, critics say Enbridge got permits for these storage yards in 2014 and 2015 under false pretenses. It applied online through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for storm water construction permits. It checked the box that said the project had completed all necessary environmental reviews. While that wasn’t true, the permit got electronically approved because all the correct boxes were checked.

The Star Tribune wrote about the controversy today’s paper in an article headlined: Pipeline opponents claim Enbridge skirted permit rules for storage yard: Enbridge in a statement said the “permits were issued in compliance with applicable regulations at the time.”  A key passage says:

Under law and MPCA regulations, permits such as those for Enbridge’s pipe yards aren’t supposed to be issued before the completion of an environmental review for an entire project. The MPCA wrote to Enbridge in March that the pipe-yard permits were approved “prior to completion of the required environmental review” of Line 3.

(Note: It was only this month that the Line 3 environmental impact statement was deemed “adequate” by an administrative law judge, and it still needs final PUC approval.)

These storage yards create the impression that this pipeline is a done deal. They show disregard for the ongoing review and approval process. They are an attempt to bias the project.

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Keystone Spills 200,000 Gallons of Tar Sands Crude, Could Affect Keystone XL Vote Monday

The Keystone Pipeline is in dark red, Keystone XL is in green. (Wikimedia Commons)

The current Keystone pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska spilled 5,000 barrels, or more than 200,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil this morning, according to accounts in the Washington Post and other media outlets.

The spill occurred just southeast of the small town of Amherst in northeast South Dakota, affecting either grasslands or agricultural land, the story said.

This gives pipeline opponents one more example to use to try to stop other major projects, such as Keystone XL and Enbridge Line 3 through northern Minnesota.

A story in the Atlantic described the Keystone as a 1,100-mile-long pipeline that links oil fields in Alberta, Canada, to the large crude-trading hubs in Patoka, Illinois, and Cushing, Oklahoma. … It was completed in 2011.”

Keystone is the older sibling to the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which still awaits final approvals. (See map.) TransCanada, a Canadian-based pipeline company, is behind both projects.

During his term, former President Obama rejected Keystone XL. But President Trump quickly reversed that, issuing an executive order to approve it. As the Post reports, the project still needs the approval of the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC). It just so happens the PSC had scheduled a key vote on Keystone XL for Monday.

Activists are citing today’s spill as one more reason to reject Keystone XL.

As a story by CNN summarizes:

The approval [by Trump] followed years of intense debate over the pipeline amid hefty opposition from environmental groups, who argued the pipeline supports the extraction of crude oil from oil sands, which pumps about 17% more greenhouse gases than standard crude oil extraction. Environmentalists also opposed the pipeline because it would cut across the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground deposits of fresh water.

Tar sands oil is much thicker and stickier than traditional oil, significantly complicating cleanup efforts. The fact it’s thicker also means it needs to be combined with other hazardous materials to allow it to be transported in pipelines.

U.S. Bank Pulls Enbridge Line of Credit, Line 3 Opponents Say

U.S. Bank has pulled its portion of a $1.3 billion line of credit from Enbridge, according to a news release from Honor the Earth and MN350. It is a victory in efforts to get banks to divest from tar sands pipelines.

Here is the release in full:

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL — November 2, 2017 — U.S. Bank has ended its credit relationship with Enbridge Inc., the Canadian company seeking to expand tar sands oil transportation through Northern Minnesota with the controversial proposed Line 3 pipeline. U.S. Bank’s move comes amidst a growing local and global movement calling on the banking industry to cut ties to fossil fuel extraction.

A report released today by the Rainforest Action Network, “Funding Tar Sands: Private Banks vs. The Paris Climate Agreement,” cites Bloomberg investor data and criticizes 36 other banks for financing the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge. The report shows that U.S. Bank no longer holds a credit relationship with Enbridge.

As recently as August 2016, U.S. Bank had been a part of extending a multi-bank $1.3 billion line of credit to Enbridge that was not set to expire until late 2019. Last spring, U.S. Bank updated its Environmental Policy to end project-level pipeline construction financing. Continue reading

Disappointment: Conservative Judge Rules Enbridge Line 3 EIS “Adequate”

There has been a lot of news in the past few days about Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline, as debate moves forward on a two-track process. On one track is the question of whether the environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by the Minnesota Department of Commerce is adequate or needs to be rewritten. On the other track is the question of whether the state should issue a “Certificate of Need” and “Route Permit” for Line 3.

This post will focus on the EIS.

Eric Lipman, the administrative law judge tasked with reviewing the Line 3 EIS, has determined it is adequate. That is a big disappointment, as many native and environmental groups and ordinary citizens had found it deeply flawed. Lipmans’ recommendation goes to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which will make the final determination.

Here are stories in the StarTribune and MPR on Lipman’s decision. The StarTribune story  notes:

Among criticisms of the EIS, the environmental group Friends of the Headwaters maintained that the EIS did not assess a possible large oil spill into the headwaters of the Mississippi River or other “high consequence areas” in Itasca and Hubbard counties. Specifically, the group wanted an analysis of a potential leak on par with Enbridge’s massive 2010 pipeline spill in Michigan, which cost the company over $1 billion to clean up.

Lipman disagreed, writing that such specific spill modeling wasn’t necessary.

Lipman’s decision on the Line 3 EIS wasn’t a surprise. He had been assigned to the Sandpiper project earlier. (Sandpiper would have carried fracked oil from North Dakota east into Minnesota, joining up with the proposed new Line 3. Click here for map of the two projects.) In the Sandpiper case, Lipman ruled in favor of the company, recommending approval of Sandpiper’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit.

Ultimately, Enbrdige dropped the Sandpiper proposal. According to a Sept. 2, 2016 article in the Star Tribune, Enbridge made the decision after deciding to buy into the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The White Earth Nation attempted unsuccessfully to get Lipman recused as the judge for reviewing the Line 3 EIS, saying he was prejudiced. (Its motion was in support of a request by Friends of the Headwaters.)

White Earth attorney Joseph Plummer’s court filing noted that in the Sandpiper case, Lipman had concluded that “lifecycle issues related to crude oil,  greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change are outside the scope of what the PUC may consider.” Lipman would not come into the Line 3 debate with an open mind. As Plummer wrote, he was unlikely to reverse himself on previous decisions.

Another strong argument against Line 3 was that it violated the Treaty of 1855 which guaranteed the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) the right to hunt, fish, and gather along the pipeline’s route. Lipman also had ruled on that issue in the Sandpiper case, saying did not think the treaty forbid the issuance of a pipeline permit.

So Lipman’s Sandpiper ruling suggested that serious criticism of the Line 3 project’s impact on climate change and treaty rights would be off the table before the debate even started.

Plummer also noted that Lipman was the most political of the administrative law judges the PUC could have chosen. (Plummer came to that conclusion after reading all the judge biographies  on the Office of Administrative Hearings website.) “In addition to being a state Republican legislator,  he [Lipman] also was General Acting Counsel to Governor Pawlenty, a Deputy Secretary of State under Republican Mary Kiffmeyer, and the Political Director for Rod Grams for U.S. Senate,” he said. None of the other administrative law judges had that kind of political resume.

You can read Plummer’s full affidavit, here.

Lipman’s recommendation on the EIS will carry weight with the Public Utilities Commission. Line 3 opponents could chose to challenge his decision in court. And there still is the separate opportunity to press the PUC to reject the Certificate of Need and Route Plan.

When Does Video Game Violence Cross the Line? Apparently When it is Violence Against Pipelines

There is a new video game called “Thunderbird Strike,” which, according to an MPR story, allows “players to symbolically destroy oil pipelines and other infrastructure.”

On queue, industry groups are warning that the game will lead to eco-terrorism. And since a Minnesota state arts grant helped fund some of the game’s development, a Minnesota state legislator already has promised to introduce legislation to limit similar funding in the future.

According to the MPR story:

The game [Thunderbird Strike] depicts a mythical Native American figure called a “thunderbird” that gathers lightning that can be used to either revive creatures or destroy trucks and oil infrastructure, including a pipeline that’s also depicted as a snake, using hand-drawn images and stop-motion animations.

Creative Commons License: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7572/16035778385_498ba76bb8_b.jpg

OK, I haven’t played video games since Donkey Kong, but I do know there are some pretty violent games out there, like the Mortal Combat and Grand Theft Auto series. Those seem a lot more violent than Thunderbird Strike.

According to Wikipedia, in Grand Theft Auto III, ” players could pay for the services of prostitutes to restore their health, and if they wished, kill them to get some of their money back.” Grand Theft Auto IV introduced a new drink-and-drive feature. The list of blood, gore, and violent images in video games is extensive.

If someone can point me to examples of the energy industry’s outrage about these violent video games, I’d be glad to republish them here.

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