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Environmentalists, Indigenous rights activists continue to protest as Line 3 pipeline project nears completion

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 8:41 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a state water quality permit for Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 crude oil pipeline this week, furthering the company’s goal of completing the replacement project by the end of this year. It’s the latest setback for opponents hoping to halt construction on the line.

Enbridge is replacing existing infrastructure on the pipeline, which carries crude oil from Alberta through Wisconsin. Enbridge says it needs to replace the current pipeline to ensure reliable oil deliveries. The company is also adjusting the current route in Northern Minnesota.

Line 3 pipeline
Line 3 pipeline(Gray Graphics)

Opponents cite concerns over the environmental impact, some alleging the project is violating Native American treaty rights.

“The people are rising,” Indigenous rights activist Dawn Goodwin emotionally addressed a crowd near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. On a dry Saturday morning in late August, dozens of protestors held a camp near Bemidji Minn., advocating for treaty rights, as construction crews worked on the pipeline in the distance.

“We are standing against fossil fuel usage and what it has done to our environment,” she added, as protestors prepared to break down the camp and march hundreds of miles to the state capitol. “We don’t want our land poisoned. We want that guarantee in the treaty.”

The tribal and environmental groups fighting the project argue that the Canadian tar sands oil will worsen climate change and risk spills into waters where Native Americans harvest wild rice. 

At the nearby river crossing, Enbridge Senior Vice President Mike Fernandez said crews were using a horizontal drilling technique, digging a tunnel 40 feet below the water to pull the pipeline through. Fernandez said the process temporarily disturbs the land and water bodies.

“There is mud that is actually used as a lubricant for the drill bit and sometimes that mud comes back on land. It’s part of the drilling process,” said Fernandez. “The drilling mud is safe. It’s non-toxic toxic.”

Fernandez said the company received location approval from tribal leaders and is using third-party environmental monitors while following state law and regulation.

While Fernandez acknowledged the right to protest, he said many recent demonstrations have gotten out of hand.

“We’ve had bomb threats; we’ve had people throwing things at workers; we’ve had them destroy equipment,” said Fernandez.

Police confirm hundreds have been arrested in protest this year. Nancy Beaulieu of the Leech Lake Reservation said she was apprehended while praying at a construction site, but she denied any wrongdoing.

“We did not trespass we only exercised our inherent rights, and those rights are to hunt fish gather, and travel; the right to occupy,” said Beaulieu.

Congressional and state Democrats signed a letter to President Biden earlier this week, asking for urgent intervention.

The latest reports indicate the pipeline is now 90 percent complete.

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