Pipelines, migrating geese and really bad math

A Water Protector in the pipeline yard. (Photo courtesy of Honor The Earth.)

By Winona LaDuke

As I watch the geese fly south, I pray that they will come home, giiwedinong to the north, and our lakes and waters will welcome them.

In the meantime, there are some dumb decisions made. In Minnesota, we were able to have the highest voter turn-out of any state. We will hope for enlightenment. Actually, while nationally leaders talk about a New Green Deal, in Minnesota Honor the Earth has just about completed construction for our solar thermal panel manufacturing facility, and hopes to put up 200 kw of solar on the White Earth reservation.

This project, similar to proposals by the Little Earth community for a green space and light industry for tribal people, illustrate what some of the newly elected politicians call the New Green Deal – a plan for the future. Leadership, it appears, must come from our communities.

On the other side, a renaissance of thinking has not yet come. I mean the politicians who exhibit the Corporate Stockholm Syndrome and bow to Canadian corporations. In that vein, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) offered a Thanksgiving present to all of us – affirming a unanimous approval for Enbridge Line 3 terms and conditions in a November 19 hearing.

In a hearing room filled with paid Enbridge seat fillers (many of whom looked like they had no idea why they were there) the PUC once again seems to have sold themselves to the Devil. Tribes and organizations now prepare for legal appeals, and Water Protectors are being arrested as they move into pipe yards – which appear to be unpermitted yet grow quickly, as our people witness train loads of pipes moving into the north country.

Insurance issues
Not only did the PUC reaffirm the June 28 decision to grant permits to Enbridge, but they also cut an amazingly risky insurance deal – letting a company proceed with a pipeline with a fraction of the insurance needed to cover a possible catastrophic spill, let alone a set of spills anywhere on the 17,000 miles of pipeline Enbridge controls. Then a couple of PUC Commissioners went to the Theatre of Public Policy at Lake Bryant Bowl and tried to get funny, until they were shut down. (See: https://healingmnstories.wordpress.com/2018/11/20/after-line-3-vote-two-puc-commissioners-appear-at-comedy-improv-theater-curtain-falls-early.)

Enbridge currently has an umbrella $940 million in insurance coverage – which covers dozens of North American pipelines and tank farms, including the six pipelines it owns in Minnesota. Let’s be clear, there’s over l7,000 miles of Enbridge pipes. If two of these pipelines ruptured anywhere on the continent and released large amounts of crude oil in a single year, Enbridge’s cleanup liability could amount to billions of dollars – far more than its existing insurance.

Its estimated cost of cleaning up a worst-case discharge from the proposed Line 3 Pipeline is $1.4 billion. This estimate is essentially the cost of the Kalamazoo spill adjusted for inflation. An oil spill from proposed Line 3 could be larger (potentially three times larger) and impact much more environmentally sensitive and economically important waters, including Duluth-Superior Harbor and Lake Superior itself.  Really bad math all around. What about a clusterf#ck situation, where maybe that tunnel they want to put through the Straits of Mackinac goes south – that’s a potentially $6 billion spill problem. Bad math means bad decisions.

And while Minnesota regulators myopically look only at this state, the Anishinaabe reservations are throughout the Great Lakes, and most of our territories are covered by Enbridge lines. It’s really Anishinaabeg liability.

Does Enbridge Really Have the Money?
Although the PUC would not buy their argument, Minnesota’s own Department of Commerce (DOC) has challenged Enbridge on the adequacy of their insurance coverage, for good reason. It’s astonishing, but Enbridge is not the most financially robust organization. The corporation, although the third largest in Canada, was downgraded by Moody’s financial analysts last December to just above junk bond status. Let’s be clear, the PUC just put all of the White Earth treaty territory on that very small insurance policy.

Then there are the very real problems that come with adding more carbon to the atmosphere. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Its prognosis for the planet is grim: We may have as little as 12 years to act on climate change – to slash global emissions 45 percent – to reach this target.

“How much pollution would this pipeline carry?” asked Professor John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas in The Guardian this summer: “…The emissions are equal to approximately 50 coal power plants.” Building Line 3 – and adding more oil infrastructure – is exactly the opposite direction the world needs to go. Honor the Earth’s math team estimated Line 3 carbon removal would cost over $170 billion annually. Think of it this way: As of 2017, we had $306 billion worth of climate change disaster costs, with that figure to be much higher at the end of 2018. These costs are not predictable, only that they will increase.

It’s tragic when the system does not work and good people have to go to Court. However, of the three remaining pipeline tar sands pipeline projects ( Trans Mountain/Trudeau Pipeline and Keystone) – two are stuck in a legal abyss. That’s where Enbridge’s Line 3 will go as Honor the Earth, and hopefully tribal governments, continue to oppose the pipeline.

In the meantime, to protect Minnesota and Anishinaabe Akiing, the arrests mount and we will likely face military repression financed by Enbridge. It’s time for the tribes to stand with our people and protect our water. I hope that when the geese return in the spring, their watersheds and territory remain ready to welcome them home.