Enbridge’s “Safety” Argument to Build a New Line 3 is as Flawed as its Pipeline

Close-up of the corrosion on a section of Line 3’s exposed pipeline. (Photo by John Ratzloff)

One of the main arguments Canadian corporate giant Enbridge uses for building a new Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota is safety. The old Line 3 is pretty much a disaster waiting to happen.

Line 3 is weak Enbridge is only able to operate it at half capacity. Yet just because the old pipeline is unsafe doesn’t mean we need a new pipeline. (We don’t. See the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s media release saying Enbidge failed to make the case a new pipeline is needed.)

And just because Enbridge is making a safety argument doesn’t mean that Enbridge has made safety a top priority. (Based on past performance, it hasn’t.) Enbridge was forced into a federal Consent Decree because of its poor safety record. (More on the Consent Decree in a later post.)

Safety seems to be a useful rhetorical argument for Enbridge more than a corporate commitment.

If Enbridge was truly concerned about Line 3’s safety, it would shut it down regardless of what happens with the new Line 3 permits. It has not. It’s effectively playing a game of chicken with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC): “Allow us to build a new and larger pipeline where we want … or else we’ll keep running this dangerous one.”

This is an attempt to shift the burden of Line 3 safety onto the PUC instead of putting the responsibility where it belongs: On Enbridge itself.

The Anishinaabe of northern Minnesota are at particular risk. They have treaty protected rights to hunt, fish and gather on lands along the pipeline’s route. A major rupture would affect their sacred wild rice as well as pollute waters that all Minnesotans care about.

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Tar Sands Pipeline Opponents Rally, March, and Pack the Hearing; Line 3 Backers Offer Easily Refuted Arguments

Those seeking to stop Line 3 greatly outnumbered its supporters at a Sept. 28 public hearing in downtown St. Paul. Instead of applause, Line 3 opponents waved blue hankies to signal support for speakers.

Efforts to Stop the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline are in the home stretch. Those seeking to stop the pipeline had a great showing Thursday, rallying at the Capitol, marching down Cedar, and packing a public hearing held at the Intercontinental Hotel.

It was a standing room only crowd, with testimony against the pipeline far outweighing supporters. Still, let’s take a minute to address and respond to the pro-pipeline testimony. Here are the main arguments Enbridge and allies put forward, and quick responses:

Argument 1: Job Creation: Enbridge touts that this project will create 4,200 full-time but temporary construction jobs in Minnesota (yet only half of those jobs are expected to be filled by Minnesotans). This project is not supposed to be approved based on the number of jobs it creates. The question is “Do we need this pipeline or not?” and the answer is “no,” according to testimony from the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The United States already is a net exporter of refined petroleum products and our exports are growing. Further, Line 3 job creation is massively expensive if you factor in the environmental and public health costs from tar sands mining and transportation. (More below.)

Argument 2: The Old Line 3 is Falling Apart, a New One Would Be Safer: There is no dispute that the current pipeline is in bad shape. Building a new one is not the safest option. Approving the pipeline would be repeating a mistake. We don’t need this pipeline; if we approve it, in another 30-50 years we will have another old and decrepit pipeline rotting in the ground.

Argument 3: Pipelines are Safer than Rail: On one hand, Enbridge argues if the permits for the new Line 3 are denied, it would keep using the old and failing Line 3. On the other hand, it raises the specter of more crude oil moving by rail and truck. That ignores the safest choice: no pipeline, no rail.

More on all three of these arguments below.

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