December 3, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Tia Vierling | Illustration by Kira Schulist

Line 3 oil pipeline faces challenges as Enbridge Inc. searches for success[1] .

Headquartered in Canada, Enbridge Inc. runs several oil pipelines through Minnesota as part of its mainline pipeline system for crude oil and liquids. One pipeline in particular, Line 3, has garnered significant attention over the past seven years. But there isn’t just one Line 3: there are two.

The original Line 3 made headlines in March of 1991, when a pipeline failure led to a 1.7-million-gallon crude oil spill. The spill, sending oil flooding onto the frozen surface of the Prairie River, is still, according to MPRNews, the largest inland oil spill in United States history.

As the old Line 3 aged, Enbridge announced a project: a new, “replacement” Line 3, built along a slightly different path. The name of the project is slightly confusing at first glance—the new Line 3 is not, in fact, a project to fix the original pipeline, but rather a new project altogether.

While some supporters (and Enbridge itself) pointed out that the project would create an influx of employment over an anticipated two-year period, Enbridge’s announcement in 2014 sparked a negative response from other established communities in Minnesota, including environmental activists and indigenous people.

One issue in particular highlighted by the Stop Line 3 movement was the threat to wild rice posed by the replacement pipeline. The Anishinaabe nations maintain rights to wild rice as a cornerstone of cultural heritage; the pipeline’s planned path cut through watersheds important to the rice itself.[2] 

Indigenous people protesting and working against the installment of Line 3 call themselves water protectors, with the goal of protecting waterways from environmental damage. Despite a failure to prevent the installation of the replacement pipeline, indigenous activists are still invested in ensuring that if the new Line 3 presents problems to the environment, they can provide proof that the pipeline caused the issues.

The pipeline was completed in late September of 2021, according to an Associated Press release. Yet, well after its completion, activists like Jaike Spotted-Wolf, still living near to the new Line 3, are still engaged.

As quoted in MinnPost, Spotted-Wolf explained that the activists are “monitoring” the pipeline to identify “how much damage has been caused and how much that will impact communities” if issues arise.

Also highlighted by the same Associated Press release, a case against Line 3 is still pending in the White Earth Ojibwe trial court where Manoomin is presented as one of the plaintiffs.

Manoomin is the word for wild rice in Ojibwe; bringing it as a plaintiff in a case foregrounds the importance of the wild rice and presents the potential for a part of nature to be granted some form of rights in court.

While the replacement Line 3 is a topical issue, equally important to consider is what will become of the old Line 3. While the old line has been decommissioned, it is also primarily being left in the ground. The long-term environmental ramifications of the decision to leave any of the pipeline in place are currently uncertain.

Enbridge agreed to a Landowner Choice Program to allow landowners to decide between a one-time payout to leave the pipeline in their land or request pipe removal.

While complete removal of the pipeline would cost Enbridge an estimated $1.28 billion, according to the Minnesota Reformer, paydays for landowners would total about $85 million. The Fond du Lac and the Leech Lake band of Ojibwe have both chosen removal of the pipeline.

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