The Line 3 Replacement:
Last Gasp of the Polluters

Line 3 replacement under construction near Floodwood, MN, July 2021 (Photo: MS)

The Line 3 replacement is completed.
Now help us make it the last new oil pipeline in the Midwest.

Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement — Line 93 — is the last gasp of a dying industry, an expansion meant to replace an aging pipeline that was operating at reduced capacity. The construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure runs directly counter to the urgent need to shift to renewable energy. Worse, Line 93 carries tar sands oil, which contributes more to climate change than conventional oil. Halting pipelines like Line 93 is necessary to quickly curb carbon emissions by curtailing the transport of fossil fuels to markets. Enbridge has shown itself to be indifferent to the environment countless times, including the July 2010 rupture of their Line 6b, which dumped around a million gallons of toxic oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. In 2021, it came out that Enbridge has been unable or unwilling to secure adequate “environmental impairment liability” insurance, making the aftermath of a potential major spill even more worrying.

Despite this, the Canadian company won the bitterly contested battle over whether the construction of the Line 3 replacement would take place at all, and the pipeline is now finished and transporting tar sands oil. This is a big blow to the tribes, landowners, environmentalists, and climate activists who so tenaciously fought the pipeline. For more than eight years, water protectors resisted in the courts, the streets, and the pipeline’s construction zone.

Enbridge Energy’s route runs from Canada through Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin, crossing land where Indigenous peoples have hunting, fishing, and gathering rights granted by the 1854 Treaty between the U.S. and Chippewa Tribes. Foreseeing the environmental destruction the pipeline would cause, Indigenous water protectors resisted and protested at every turn. In response, Enbridge deputized Minnesota police forces, leading to arrests and criminal charges against more than one thousand water protectors.

Throughout construction, Enbridge demonstrated how irresponsible the company can be, as it neglected its obligation to protect water, wetlands, and other natural resources. Winona La Duke, then–executive director of Honor the Earth, wrote an excellent summary of the construction, including the multiple frac-outs. (This is a term for when toxic drilling fluids and suffocating clay break out of the tunnel being bored under a waterway and get into surface waters and groundwater.)

LaDuke wrote,

“During the hottest summer since the Dust Bowl, Enbridge burned our rivers and wetlands with 28 separate known frac-outs of toxic chemicals, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency stood by and pretty much watched it all. Then it took water from municipal water supplies. No one has any idea when those deep aquifers will be replenished, or when Park Rapids might just run out of water.”

One of the most egregious examples of Enbridge’s carelessness was the incident in which the company willfully violated its permit to dig 8–10 feet deep. Instead, the company dug a trench 18 feet deep and then drove pilings 28 feet down, punching into an artesian aquifer in a wetland that relies on that groundwater. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fined Enbridge $32 million for the violation, but most of that was to pay for the aquifer repair. Only $40,000 was a punitive fine. Unfortunately, this indifference by Enbridge isn’t new; it’s similar to the landowner stories we have heard about their work here in Wisconsin.

Enbridge construction site near Floodwood, MN, July 2021 (Photo: MS)

There is no way to sugarcoat how harmful this will be for the climate, wild rice, and waters. It requires us to double our efforts to stop Enbridge’s other proposals to build more pipeline infrastructure.

Enbridge’s success in getting construction on Line 93 off the ground was a discouraging development, but the campaign against it has had some notable victories:

  • Fossil fuels are on the way out, and the tar sands industry is dying. Finance for tar sands extraction and transportation has begun to dry up, thanks in part to the costly opposition that pipelines like Line 93 have faced. The tar sands industry looks more and more financially unrewarding to investors, as well as the source of plenty of bad press. Water protectors have helped to make tar sands a risky bet as renewables have become increasingly attractive.
  • Line 93 replacement was originally meant to be operational by 2017. The work of activists and water protectors forced major delays that cost Enbridge money and bought time for the planet. Forcing Enbridge to rely on the older pipeline meant they had to operate at reduced capacity, costing them millions.
  • The bitter fight over Line 93 has been a boon for ongoing divestment campaigns, which has resulted in more than $14 billion withdrawn from fossil fuel projects! In some cases, major investors like Harvard University have promised to divest from fossil fuels entirely. The current value of divesting institutions now exceeds $40 trillion. This is partly attributable to the high profile of environmental campaigns like the one against Line 93.

All in all, the resistance campaign has led to millions of barrels of oil staying in the ground. Line 93 may be the last of its kind, and we have water protectors to thank for that. We now need to work to make sure Enbridge is not allowed to build any new pipelines in Wisconsin. We know that Enbridge has considered building a twin to Line 61 (see, e.g., this 2016 investor report), which cuts diagonally through Wisconsin, from Superior to Delevan. We depend on supporters to inform us if they learn of any preliminary activities, such as seeking new easements or moving pipes into the area.

We also need to help the people of northern Wisconsin solidify resistance, as Enbridge seeks permits for their proposed expansion of their Line 5 pipeline. This area, rich with water, wetlands, and wild rice, is very much akin to northern Minnesota. The ecological devastation that Enbridge has caused there is a warning and a challenge to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and to our movement.

Photo: Bri Crowley