Commentary

When the water is gone, oil cannot replace it — Opinion

People opposed to Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline trekked through a marsh to a site where the pipeline will cross the Mississippi River on June 7, 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

In the same week of August that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a dire report on our climate future, the U.S. Senate passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. The IPCC report screams for governments to take action to prevent climate change, while the infrastructure bill allots a small amount of money to cope with the effects of climate change. While the effects need to be addressed, it is largely futile until we address the causes. 

According to the IPCC report, to even limit human-induced global warming to a specific level, we need to reduce CO2 emissions to the point of net zero and do so now. 

Yet elected leaders continue to greenlight projects that do the exact opposite. In Minnesota, Enbridge is “replacing” a pipeline that will carry the dirtiest of oil — tar sands — from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. The replacement is actually a new and larger Line 3 pipeline being built along a new route

Construction of the massive pipeline requires billions of gallons of water. Right now, most of Minnesota is experiencing severe drought. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has rightly suspended some of the sources of water Enbridge is permitted to use during the drought. But Enbridge may continue with construction. They simply have to use water from other “appropriate” sources. 

An August City Council meeting in Park Rapids revealed that Enbridge has been filling 4,000-gallon trucks with water from city hydrants. The city is selling its water to Enbridge while placing its own residents under water restrictions, a dictionary level example of hypocrisy, and hardly “appropriate.” 

Water is at the heart of the fight against the pipeline. The route crosses waterways numerous times including crossing the Mississippi River twice. It also snakes mostly through land upon which the Anishinaabe people (also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa) have treaty rights that allow them to hunt, fish, and gather. They gather wild rice in watersheds close to the pipeline’s path. The pipeline construction endangers the wild rice and therefore the Anishinaabe way of life. 

The infrastructure bill does include money for Indigenous communities. Alarmingly, it includes millions of dollars to relocate Indigenous communities that have been affected by climate change — yes, relocate Indigenous people — again. While this is very necessary for some communities, it is not a solution. The solution is clearly laid out by the IPCC — reduce emissions.

That is an impossible task with a new Line 3 in operation. The emissions associated with the pipeline will be equal to firing up 50 new coal-fired power plants — an amount greater than the current annual emissions of the entire state. 

There is no reason to trust that the completed pipeline won’t do even greater damage than this. The original Line 3 was the site of the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history. This summer alone, there have been 28 releases of drilling fluid at 12 river crossings, violating Enbridge’s state water permit. Enbridge has not been forthcoming about these releases either. A July 6 event was reported not by Enbridge but by water protectors who have been fighting Line 3. 

The efforts of water protectors were key in getting President Joe Biden to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline. They are hoping to have the same effect on Line 3. A group of water protectors set out from Line 3’s upstream river crossing on the Mississippi River to travel 256 miles on foot to the state Capitol in St. Paul. They arrived on Aug. 25 and held a rally filled with culture, song, dance, and indigenous speakers to ask Biden to cancel the pipeline’s permits. So far, requests for Gov. Tim Walz to intervene have fallen on deaf ears. 

Our voices stand with theirs in calling for the cancellation of Line 3. If we are to combat climate change and create a world that is fair and just for all, we must stop climate change at its source. We cannot spend billions of dollars to mitigate the effects of climate change while simultaneously causing it. The IPCC report says that disruptions in the water cycle will continue to intensify with global warming, impacting the world’s water supply. Water is our most precious resource without which life on Earth cannot exist. When the water is gone, oil cannot replace it.  

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Nancy Beaulieu
Nancy Beaulieu

Nancy Beaulieu is an enrolled member of the Leech Lake reservation who lives near Bemidji. She is the northern organizer for MN350, where she works toward moving the energy economy from fossil fuels to renewables.

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Imam Mohamed Omar
Imam Mohamed Omar

Imam Mohamed Omar is the director of Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington and cofounded the Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH, which represents over 20 mosques working for racial and economic justice in Minnesota.

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