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Political Matters: Pipelines on the rez
Saturday, November 01 2014
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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mordecai_specktor_some.jpgPipelines on the rez

This is separate from the column topic this month (oil pipelines running on and near reservations in Minnesota), but it’s a positive sign. Venerable rocker Bob Seger has a new album out titled “Ride Out.” One of his songs, “It’s Your World,” surveys various environmental threats and includes the lyrics: “Let’s talk about mining in Wisconsin, let’s talk about breathing in Beijing. / Let’s talk about chemicals in rivers, let’s talk about cash as king.”

The front man for the Silver Bullet Band seems to have weighed in with the environmental movement, including a nod to the Bad River band and others opposing the proposed Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) iron ore mine in Wisconsin.

Regarding pipelines in Minnesota, an Oct. 28 story in the Star Tribune caught my eye. The headline read: “Enbridge files to replace problem pipeline in Minnesota.” The story is about the decaying Line 3 pipeline, which runs from Joliette, N.D., to Superior, Wis. It’s part of what is called the Lakehead System.

Now, I’m not against all pipelines; as Enbridge, which has its headquarters in Calgary, Canada, points out on its Web site: “Petroleum products are part of our everyday lives – from how we fuel our cars and heat our homes, to the clothes we wear, the household products we buy, and how our food is grown. But before those products materialize, crude oil must be refined into petroleum.”

And then made into an attractive polyester suit.

 

As it turns out, the Fond du Lac reservation, for example, has a bunch of pipelines running through it, including Line 3. Also, Lines 1, 2, 4, 13 and 67 run through the rez, according to Rick Gitar, water regulatory specialist with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The announcement of the Line 3 replacement project comes on the heels of Enbridge being rebuffed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. In September, the PUC delayed a final review and permitting of the Sandpiper Pipeline. This new pipeline would carry light crude oil from the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota to Clearbrook, Minn. and to an existing terminal in Superior, Wis. It would run south of the existing Line 3.

By a 3-2 vote, the PUC found that six alternative pipeline routes should be considered for Sandpiper. This was a victory for environmentalists and for the Indian bands seeking to protect wild rice beds. Although the Sandpiper route purposely skirted reservation land, it would still run through the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory, where members of Ojibwe bands have retained their rights to hunt, fish and gather.

Getting back to Fond du Lac, Gitar explained that the pipelines come from different starting points and carry different materials. “Lines 1, 2, 3 and 4 start at Edmonton [Alberta] and go to Superior,” Gitar said, during a phone chat. “Line 13… is a weird one, because it’s not even on their inventory. It’s a 20-inch, reverse flow and it contains a product they call diluent. It’s essentially a solvent that is pumped, reverse flow, from Superior up to the tar sand fields in Alberta.”

This is something I haven’t really looked into: diluent. The oil from the Alberta tar sands is too thick to be pumped through a pipeline; at cold temperatures is has the consistency of molasses. The raw product, bitumen, must be diluted with solvent so it can be pumped through pipelines, refined and sold.

And Line 67 runs from Alberta to Superior. “That’s a 36-inch pipeline that carries the tar sands oil, that’s a heavy crude,” Gitar told me.

I’ll have to go into more depth on the pipelines in future columns; but it should be pointed out that environmental officials with Fond du Lac, and other bands in Minnesota, are not enamored of Enbridge as a good environmental steward. Pipelines are safer than oil transport by railroad, Gitar stated; but Enbridge monitors were asleep at the controls when a pipeline ruptured in Michigan and 800,000 gallons of oil leaked into surface waters in 2010. The Kalamazoo River oil spill was one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

Gitar pointed out that the EPA estimated the amount of spilled oil at more than a million gallons. The spill was going on for 18 hours, before a Michigan utilities employee alerted Enbridge about the environmental disaster.

Enbridge has pipelines that run under a lake on the Leech Lake reservation, according to Gitar. He said that an emergency drill was held to practice containing an oil spill in the lake. “Enbridge just totally failed that exercise,” Gitar recalled.



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