MINNEAPOLIS – Battles over climate change and oil pipelines come to a head on three fronts in Minnesota this week.
Environmental groups have high hopes for a “Tar Sands Resistance March” to the state capitol on Saturday with the aim of keeping Canadian crude in the ground instead of piping it across the state via an expanded Alberta Clipper pipeline. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will decide whether the separate Sandpiper pipeline from the North Dakota oilfields is needed. Meanwhile, American Indian tribes that feel shut out of the discussions will hold their own pipeline hearings.
The Sierra Club, 350.org and other groups say they expect thousands of people Saturday for a march from the St. Paul riverfront to the Capitol against oil from the tar sands of Alberta. One of several projects they oppose is Enbridge Energy’s proposal to boost the capacity of its Alberta Clipper pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. While their fight against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries has gotten most of the attention nationally, Bill McKibben, a founder of 350.org, said Tuesday that the only difference between the two projects is that Keystone got caught up in Washington politics both pipelines would carry the same tar sands oil.
Climate change activists including Andy Pearson of the Minnesota affiliate of 350.org, MN350, call tar sands crude “the world’s dirtiest oil” because more fuel must be burned to extract it than other forms of oil, so more carbon dioxide is produced in the process. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said cutting carbon pollution that contributes to climate change requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and switching to clean energy such as solar, instead of building more pipelines to take tar sands oil to market. Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said that the $200 million Alberta Clipper expansion isn’t a new pipeline, it just adds more pumping stations to the existing line. And she said the Canadian oil sands represent a supply that’s second only to Saudi Arabia’s, boosting North America’s energy independence.
Enbridge’s proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline would carry light crude from North Dakota across northern Minnesota to its terminal in Superior. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will hear oral arguments Wednesday, then debate and vote Friday, on whether to grant a certificate of need for the project. Environmental groups have fought hard against Sandpiper too, citing the potential for pipeline leaks. If the PUC grants the certificate of need, it would decide later through a separate set of proceedings whether Sandpiper should follow Enbridge’s preferred route or a longer alternative that would avoid environmentally sensitive lakes, streams and wetlands. Little said Sandpiper is needed to move the growing supply of Bakken crude safely and efficiently to market. It would carry about as much oil per day as 1,700 railroad tank cars, easing congestion on the rail networks, she said.
Enbridge’s preferred Sandpiper route crosses watersheds where Ojibwe bands hold treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice. Tribal governments complain that they haven’t been properly consulted, and that none of the public hearings were held on their reservations. So the White Earth and Mille Lacs bands will hold their own hearings Thursday and Friday. Organizers including Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth say they expect a protracted legal and regulatory struggle. The tribes and their allies also object to another Enbridge proposal, one to replace the company’s aging Line 3 pipeline from Alberta to Superior. Enbridge wants to route the last leg of the $7.5 billion replacement along the new corridor it has proposed for Sandpiper. Little said Enbridge recognizes that the tribes are important stakeholders and plans to engage with them.