Political Matters: June 2018

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Resisting oil pipelines

Native-led resistance to oil pipeline projects is rising, and the focus is on Minnesota and British Columbia. In the North Star State, there’s growing opposition to the Enbridge Line 3 Replacement Program, as the Calgary-based pipeline company calls its project.

There is an existing Line 3 oil pipeline bringing tar sands crude oil from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge would like to replace that 50-year old pipeline with a new larger pipe, which would run along a different corridor in Minnesota – skirting the present pipeline’s route through the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations. What the company calls the “American component” of the proposed Line 3 project will cost $2.9 billion.
As Winona LaDuke reported in The Circle, Administrative Law Judge Anne O’Reilly recommended, on April 23, that Enbridge be allowed to build a replacement pipeline; however, she said that it should be built in the existing corridor of pipelines running across Minnesota to Superior. The judge also noted that “she could not order sovereign tribes to grant an easement,” LaDuke wrote.

Both Enbridge and the Leech Lake Band objected to the judge’s recommendation that a new pipeline be routed through the old corridor. Enbridge, in a filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in early May, called the judge’s recommendation “fatally flawed,” because the pipeline “cannot be built over the known and express opposition of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, a sovereign nation having jurisdiction over portions of that route,” according to a report by Dan Kraker of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR).

And MPR also reported that the Leech Lake Band called the judge’s recommendation “the worst of all route alternatives because it completely disregards both the Band’s sovereignty and the real safety and environmental issues” posed by building a new line along the current route. The Line 3 route covers some 40 miles of the reservation, including the most bountiful wild rice waters in Minnesota.

In British Columbia resistance is mounting to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, a $7.4 billion scheme to shuttle tar sands sludge through a pipeline to the West Coast. Kinder Morgan, an “energy infrastructure” firm with its headquarters in Houston, Texas, is behind the Trans Mountain project.

“New tar sands pipelines have been met by insurmountable resistance, including the 10-year-long and counting resistance to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline,” Tara Houska and Stewart Phillip recently wrote in the Houston Chronicle. “Indigenous-led movements stopped two other Canadian tar sands pipelines: TransCanada’s Energy East to Canada’s East Coast and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway to its West Coast. Trans Mountain Expansion and [Enbridge’s] Line 3 can expect the same fate.”

Houska is a member of the Couchiching First Nation and national campaign director for Honor the Earth; Phillip is the president of the Union of British Columbia Chiefs.
The authors explained that the Trans Mountain Expansion “would transport an extra 590,000 barrels per day of bitumen, diluted with toxic chemicals, to the western coast of British Columbia, increasing tanker traffic seven-fold. The terminus point is metro-Vancouver where approximately 2.4 million people would be impacted.”

Houska and Phillip wrote that both the Trans Mountain Expansion and Line 3 pipelines “ignited furious opposition. Resistance is particularly fierce in British Columbia and Minnesota, all in defense of the water, the climate and Indigenous rights. A total of 150 Indigenous Nations along the proposed pipeline routes and beyond signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion and pledged to ensure tar sands oil remains in the ground.”

The authors add that opposition to these two pipeline projects has been “spearheaded by Indigenous women” and has gained “widespread and diverse support.”

My first foray into activism that involved environmental protection and defense of treaty rights was with the Black Hills Alliance, which in the late-1970s and early ’80s beat back the grand plans of energy companies to turn the Black Hills into a “national sacrifice area” for the energy needs of the United States. Coal and uranium mining and processing, and a nuclear energy center with up to 12 reactors in one site were on the drawing board.

In the aftermath of Wounded Knee II and a regime of federal counter-insurgency warfare on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, the American Indian Movement and traditional Lakota were adept at resistance to corporate land grabs. The Black Hills Alliance created a coalition of Indians, ranchers and environmentalists to defeat the energy companies.

Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and their ilk have huge financial resources and can bide their time in pursuit of their projects. Stopping these companies will require an organized, creative and committed corps of activists. Of course, the stakes – the survival of our planet – are great.