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“Nations should follow their own laws”, Joe Plumer, General Counsel for the White Earth Anishinaabe nation

Tar Sands Oil Pipelines

On November 12, Honor the Earth joined with the White Earth Nation, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Indigenous Environmental Network in a lawsuit against the US State Department. The suit challenges the State Department’s intent to issue a permit to the Enbridge Company to bring tar sands oil into the US prior to completion of an Environmental Impact Statement. The pipeline proposal--a switch of line between the new Alberta Clipper pipeline the 60-year-old Line Three--causes what plaintiffs call a “mockery of federal law,” by allowing the company to bypass regulation and use an older line to move the oil. The lawsuit filed in federal district court is Honor the Earth v. Kerry.

While most national attention has been on the proposed Keystone Pipeline, the Alberta Clipper Line is the largest tar sands pipeline crossing into the US border, and is not able to be at full capacity because the State Department announced in 2012 that it would prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. No EIS has been completed.

The Alberta tar sands are what is termed “extreme oil” derived from a very complex and ecologically destructive process impacting health and human rights of the First Nations of the Athabascan Chipewayan, Cree, and Dene people of the north. There, dramatic increases in cancer and major health problems have been limked to tar sands extractions.

Tar sands oil uses 3.1 barrels of fresh water for every barrel of oil produced and has created the largest lake of toxic water in the world. The oil is considered the most damaging oil in climate change.

With Keystone XL still delayed, Alberta Clipper is widely seen as the most important and immediate pipeline battle, and thus much of the U.S. tar sands campaign has been shifting its focus to this project.

Because of the highly controversial expansion of tar sands oil, the campaign to oppose the Alberta Clipper expansion has grown significantly the Great Lakes Region. In fact, with Keystone XL still delayed, Alberta Clipper is widely seen as the most important and immediate pipeline battle, and thus much of the U.S. tar sands campaign has been shifting its focus to this project. With the midterm elections done, it is likely that both pipelines will be on the front burner.

The expansion of the Alberta Clipper pipeline would allow land-locked oil to get to Superior, Wisconsin, the furthest inland port in the US, and to refineries and markets. Lack of pipelines has delayed some of the largest mining expansions in the tar sands, and in late September, the second major proposed tar sands mine in Alberta was cancelled due, in part, to the lack of export pipelines.

Here in the north country, the Anishinaabeg have opposed primarily the newly proposed Sandpiper (Bakken) oil line, but in this case, the White Earth Band has joined with Honor the Earth noting that the Clipper impacts the 1855 area of the Anishinaabe and the Great Lakes region, home to a fifth of the world’s fresh water. In addition, since this pipeline crosses an international border, the US State Department is required to have nation-to-nation consultations with Native First Nations on the impact of their decisions, as has been the case in the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, but no consultation has taken place.

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Instead, on June 16, 2014, Enbridge informed the State Department that due to “the unforeseen Line 67 Project permitting delay at the Department of over a year,” it had a proposal to immediately increase the capacity of Alberta Clipper before the State Department finished its NEPA review. Enbridge proposed to build interconnections between Line 67 and the adjacent Line 3 pipeline on both sides of the border; transferring Alberta Clipper’s flow to Line 3 just before the U.S.-Canada border where it would cross the border; and then back to Alberta Clipper once inside the U.S.

Tar Sands Oil Pipelines

Line 3 is an aging pipeline built in 1968, which never underwent any NEPA review, and which Enbridge claims does not have a capacity limitation in its permit as Alberta Clipper and most other pipelines do. The Enbridge company has suggested that because the State Department only has jurisdiction over the actual border crossing, it can execute this plan without the Department’s permission. The State Department has refused to provide the public with the key document that would show whether Line 3 does have a capacity limitation.

Safety Remains a Concern for the Ojibwe

“There have already been 804 Enbridge spills. Tar sands oil is 15-20 times more acidic than conventional oil and up to seven times as viscous (thicker). Tar sands oil is 16 times more likely to breach a pipeline than regular crude oil. A spill in the Alberta Clipper Line , if operating at capacity could result in 25, 667 gallons per minute of oil spilling into Anishinaabe Akiing- whether the land of the Red Lake, Leech Lake or Fond du Lac reservations (all crossed by the Clipper), or the l855 treaty area,” Michael Dahl of Honor the Earth explained.

A letter released in early October by Minnesota State Senators Steve Dribble, John Marty and Representatives Frank Hornstein and Jean Wagenius to the Environmental Quality Board, pointed out that …

“ Enbridge and the pipeline industry were unwilling to agree to:

  • Provide a qualified company employee to advise public sector incident commander by telephone within one hour of a major pipeline oil discharge;
  • Provide monitoring equipment within three hours of a discharge, or to develop an annual plan to deliver monitoring equipment to a discharge site to comply with the provision;
  • Provide qualified personnel to advise incident commanders at the discharge site within three hours of a major spill;
  • Provide containment booms from land across sewer outfalls, creeks, ditches and other places where oil and other hazardous substances may drain in order to contain leaked material before it reaches those resources;
  • To have capability to deliver containment booms, boats, oil recovery equipment and trained staff within eight hours of a confirmed discharge to recover 10% of a worst case discharge, including protection of listed sensitive areas and potable water intakes within one mile of a discharge site
  • Deliver equipment to protect sensitive environmental areas and drinking water intakes, within 60 hours of a major spill;
  • Provide updated disaster prevention and response plans to the Pollution Control Agency every three years …”

Now just to explain the math. In a catastrophic problem on the Sandpiper, the Bakken Crude oil, would spill out approximately at a rate of 20,000 gallons a minute. In the 60 hours before Enbridge would deliver equipment to protect sensitive environmental areas, up to 1.2 million gallons of oil would have gushed out. .

Canada’s National Energy Board has stated that Enbridge is not complying with safety standards at 117 of its pumping stations . In their recent letter to Enbridge they requested compliance. The lawsuit points to these concerns, and the need for a full Environmental Impact Statement before issuance of any permit. “Nations should follow their own laws,” Joe Plumer of the White Earth General Counsel explained to the press.

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Winona LaDuke

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