Riding the Pipelines
Friday, December 06 2013
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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winona laduke riding pipelines.pngThere’s a beauty in the breath of horses, fall mornings a bit of breath seen in the air and the smell and sound of horses. One hoof at a time. Bebezhigogonzhiig … one at a time, a one hoofed being. On Nov. 14, Michael Dahl and I, both Mississippi Band members rode horses from the headwaters of the Mississippi along a proposed route of a new oil pipeline, which would cross the reservation.

We were joined by local people on horseback, in the third of a series of rides on oil pipelines sponsored by a national organization, Honor the Earth. Those rides took us on the Alberta Clipper proposed expansion route and to the proposed Keystone XL route in the Dakotas, where riders from White Earth joined with the Lakota to ride between Wanblee and Takini or Bridger on the Cheyenne River Reservation. “We are not protesters, we’re protectors,” Michael Dahl told me. That is true.

We called this the triple crown of pipeline rides. What’s at stake is a lot of water and a lot of risk. In the Dakotas it is a land without a single pipeline across it and one large aquifer, the Ogalalla. “We can buy bottled water and drink it,” Percy White Plume told me, “The buffalo and horses cannot.” This is a good point. So it was that l5 riders braved some harrowing terrain, a land littered with l00,000 dead cattle from a freak September blizzard, (lying dead on the sides of roads, gullies and the like) and rode a proposed pipeline route.

In Minnesota it is wild rice, water and oil. The Enbridge pipeline corporation is proposing to both expand a present tar sands pipeline – the Alberta Clipper, doubling it’s capacity and making it the largest tar sands pipeline in the U.S. That has it’s own risks, like those of carrying dilbit – a highly corrosive substance – in a pipeline which is monitored from Edmonton, Alberta. The Enbridge company also wants to construct a 610-mile pipeline from near Tioga, N.D. to Superior, Wis. This is the same oil as the 800,000 gallons that devastated a Tioga farm field in North Dakota in early October (that pipeline was six inches, the proposed pipeline is 30). The proposed Sandpiper pipeline would carry 375,000 barrels of oil and cross through White Earth’s four townships near Big Rice Lake and Itasca Park. Enbridge needs 2,000 rights-of-way and tribal support … Enbridge is facing some obstacles.

“This is land that has been in my family for decades. It is prime Red River valley agriculture land. It was handed down to me by my mother and father when they passed away and I’m intending to hand it down to my children when I pass away … My wife and I have … told our children that we will pass this on. Of course if 225,000 barrels of oil bursts through this thing, that certainly is the end of this family legacy.”
James Botsford, North Dakota landowner in Enbridge Sandpiper right of way

The Enbridge North Dakota company asked James Botsford if they could survey his land. He did not want them to. “I told Enbridge … I am not going to give you permission.” Botsford said. “You are going to have to take it.” So Enbridge filed a restraining order against Botsford, “denying me the private use of my own land.” It is not clear that the Enbridge North Dakota Corporation has the same rights in Minnesota.

Enbridge told Botsford that the company’s rights trumped his rights. Enbridge seems pretty comfortable with that position, particularly since the Canadian corporation became a North Dakota utility, which allows the corporation to have eminent domain rights within the state. That occurred less than two decades ago and has served Enbridge well.

They haven’t been so lucky everywhere. In June of 2013, the British Columbia government denied Enbridge permits for a very large pipeline – called the Gateway pipeline – citing environmental, safety and economic concerns about the corporation. Enbridge does not – it seems – get all that it requests.


“ … Farmer Steven Jensen said the smell of sweet light crude oil wafted on his (rural Tioga) farm for four days before he discovered the leak, leading to questions about why the spill wasn’t detected sooner … ”

– Reuters News Service said of the 865,000 gallon spill in North Dakota October of 2013.

Right now most of the oil moving in this country, from the Bakken fields – that is, basically the Ft. Berthold reservation, moves on railway – that’s up to 380,000 rail cars projected to move this year.

That is perhaps why Warren Buffett purchased the Burlington Northern Railroad; because he saw the money was on the land locked oil. The problem is that the oil is moving faster than regulation and this past summer four square blocks of the town of Lac Megantic. Quebec blew up from this Bakken oil. Forty-three people were “vaporized” in an explosion that baffled Canadian authorities, who had never seen anything like it. Bakken oil, the stuff they want to put in the Sandpiper line, seems to be very volatile, like a bomb in a pipeline; which, seems a bit worrisome. It’s even more worrisome since the North Dakota accident (835,000 gallon accident) was caused by lightening, maybe. Now I’m not sure, but I think that lightning and a very volatile substance may be a very bad idea in a pipeline.

Enter the Pig

Enbridge’s pipelines are largely monitored by the company. There’s a piece of technology called a “pig,” which goes through the lines to check them for structural problems. This pig hasn’t worked out too well, it seems. According to Enbridge’s company data, between 1999 and 2010, across all of the company’s operations there were 804 oil spills that released 161,475 barrels (approximately 6.8 million gallons) of hydrocarbons into the environment. This amounts to approximately half of the oil that spilled from the oil tanker Exxon Valdez after it struck a rock in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1988. The single largest pipeline oil spill in US history was the Kalamazoo spill, which was an Enbridge line. According to testimony by Michigan lawmakers, “Federal regulators are investigating the 2010 rupture of Line 6B, part of the Enbridge-operated Lakehead pipeline system. The National Transportation Safety Board found Enbridge knew of a defect on the pipeline five years before it burst open and spilled around 20,000 barrels of oil into southern Michigan waters.” So maybe the pig was mute, I don’t know.

More Bad News

And in 2010 Enbridge Energy Partners (one of several subsidiary corporations) was fined $2.4 million for a Clearbrook 2007 explosion that killed two people. Regulators, according to the Minnesota Post, found that Enbridge, “ … failed to safely and adequately perform maintenance and repair activities, clear the designated work area from possible source of ignition and hire properly trained and qualified workers.”

In 2012, the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA) ordered Enbridge to submit plans to improve the safety of the entire Lakeland System. In addition, Canada’s National Energy Board stated that Enbridge is not complying with safety standards at 117 of its pumping stations and is analyzing the concerns and solutions.

New Project/New Plan

In an August interview, Greg Shelen of Enbridge was asked if there were a spill between Park Rapids and Hubbard, could it get closed down anywhere. Sheline replied, “It can. There are block valves placed on the mainline, as well as the pump stations that can be used to close off the flow. The block valves are positioned according to a program that takes into consideration the geography of the land, any navigable water ways, wetlands and areas of high consequence. And that’s how the valves are positioned strategically along the line.”

The pipeline safety system itself, however, is not local, “This line – the Sandpiper line – the plan is that it will be operated from the control center in Estevan, Saskatchewan … northwest of Minot, across the Canadian border,” Sheline said. “They monitor pump stations and other technology that’s on the line. That information gets reported back to the control center, so that the operators can monitor the operation.”

“We don’t know if any of those lines will hold and Enbridge has not proven itself to be a safe part of our environment. Our lakes and wild rice beds will be here forever, but if there’s an oil spill, they will be destroyed and Enbridge will not be here. They are a 50 year-old Canadian corporation and we are a people who have lived here for 10,000 years,” White Earth Tribal member and Enbridge line researcher Michael Dahl said.

What is Bakken Crude?

Now this is really the million dollar question. The Sandpiper line would carry Bakken Crude oil, from western North Dakota, much of it from the Ft. Berthold reservation, where there is a huge controversy about this oil. One of the challenges of Bakken crude is that we don’t actually know what is in it; in short, it’s not your mother’s crude.

A 2011 study published in the Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: International Journal documented 632 chemicals used in fracking fluid, including methanol, benzene, toluene, xylene, ethyl benzene – all known carcinogens. Because of a federal law (2005 and an amendment called the Haliburton loophole) fracking companies are not required to disclose the contents.

Where is it Proposed?

According to Enbridge, the Sandpiper’s preferred southern route will cross into White Earth Reservation south of Bagley and run along the eastern boundary of Upper Rice Lake. The Sandpiper pipeline will continue south passing through a portion of the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest, meanwhile passing along the eastern boundary of White Earth Reservation then, snaking in between the Fond du Lac and Mille Lacs reservations, well within the 1837 and 1855 treaty areas.

We live in the north. This is the only land that the Anishinaabe know and we know that this land is good land, and this water is our life blood. One-fifth of the world's fresh surface water supply lies here, oil and water don’t mix.

I'm done riding for the winter, I think. But I’m not done talking about pipelines and think that we should all know about them. If they are underfoot, under water or if they are proposed. The Leech Lake and Fond du Lac Bands could easily intervene in the hearing process on Enbridge’s expansion of the Alberta Clipper. Despite making agreements, those tribal governments were not fully apprised of the risks of the pipeline expansion and all Ojibwe may have some questions about the whole 1855 treaty area which is traversed by this pipeline. The White Earth tribal government has the opportunity to intervene early in Enbridge’s right-of-way requests and the regulatory process. This would probably be a good idea.

In the meantime, our horses are going to hope there’s water to drink and rice which will always be there. And, from what I can tell, although the tribal constitution views me as a White Earth Tribal member, I am from the Mississippi Band and I would like to protect it.

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