The biggest pipeline protest since Dakota Access is taking shape in northern Minnesota, where opponents are seeking to mobilize thousands of protesters to disrupt construction on the Alberta-to-Wisconsin project known as Line 3.
Enbridge Energy, the Canadian company that owns the pipeline, ramped up work Tuesday on a critical stretch of the $4 billion pipeline replacement even as dozens of environmental groups, backed by celebrities and progressive Democrats, prepared for a mass show of opposition scheduled to spike next weekend.
The objective is to make enough noise — or create enough chaos — to convince President Biden to revoke the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, a step that Enbridge said had never happened before.
“It never has happened on a project like this, and not just on pipelines, but on any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project,” said Mike Fernandez, Enbridge senior vice president for communications. “To be pulled at this stage would be unprecedented.”
He said the upgrade of the 337-mile Minnesota segment of the 1,097-mile oil pipeline is now 60% complete, with most of the remaining work scheduled for the summer, an enormous undertaking involving a union workforce of up to 5,500 that began in December after six years of regulatory hearings and environmental studies.
Not only is the new pipeline thicker and the alloy stronger, but the pump stations and computerization behind it are “state of the art,” the company spokesman said.
“This is a win-win-win on a number of different levels,” said Mr. Fernandez. “The worst thing that could possibly happen would be that somehow they stop this, and then what happens is the new project stops with some of these holes open, and we’re still running the oil through the old pipeline.”
For opponents, however, the goal is not merely to stop Line 3 but to dismantle the entire fossil fuel-based economy.
“There’s this understanding that it’s just another pipeline, and there are so many pipelines in the ground, and this one is just a replacement, it’s meant for safety,” said Tara Houska, founder of Giniw Collective, on a May 20 organizing call. “No, the issue is that human beings are killing themselves, and that we’re doing the same status quo that we’ve been doing since colonization began.”
She and Honor the Earth founder Winona LaDuke, both Native American activists who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential race, want thousands to “converge on Minnesota and engage in direct resistance” at the June 5-8 Treaty People Gathering, the kickoff to the summer protest season.
Already, about 250 protesters have been arrested over Line 3, for tactics such as chaining themselves to equipment, blocking roads and blockading construction sites. Ms. LaDuke predicted there could be another 1,000 arrests unless Mr. Biden or Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz intervenes.
“There’s over 250 people that have been arrested up north,” said Ms. LaDuke, the 1996 and 2000 Green Party vice presidential candidate. “And there are people like me. I’m a 61-year-old grandmother and I have six charges against me. And so I want to ask: Are you going to shoot me for this pipeline, Gov. Walz?”
A thousand arrests would be double the number from the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline [DAPL] protests in North Dakota, where thousands descended on the sparsely populated region near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, overwhelming law enforcement and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency.
Fighting on multiple fronts
The difference with Line 3 is that everyone sees it coming. Enbridge has contributed $750,000 to a fund set up by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to cover additional policing costs associated with the construction.
Even without Mr. Biden‘s support, pipeline opponents could shut down the project with a win in any of their three lawsuits. A decision is due June 21 in a state lawsuit to force the Minnesota PUC to conduct a revamped environmental impact study with an emphasis on climate change.
Organizers of the Treaty People Gathering have made it easier for outside protesters by planning to provide two meals a day, assist with camping accommodations and child care, helping arrange carpools and “solidarity caravans,” and scheduling buses from Washington, D.C., South Carolina and Washington state.
“There’s 22 rivers that need to be protected. A good showing is important, and probably a prolonged showing because they will try to cross those rivers in July,” Ms. LaDuke told would-be “water protectors.” “So we are out there on the public lands calling people to the public lands to defend our water, and I’m asking you all to come up. That’s how things change.”
Pipeline foes have billed their effort as an indigenous uprising, but Enbridge has secured the backing of the two tribes that matter most: the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
The pipeline runs through the reservations of both tribes. To win their support, Mr. Fernandez said Enbridge conducted a “tribal cultural asset study” along the full length of the project in Minnesota, using tribal groups to conduct the survey, and hired tribal monitors at the construction sites.
The company has spent about $250 million on ensuring that the project would benefit the tribes economically, including training about 500 indigenous workers and bringing on subcontractors, exceeding the original commitment of $150 million.
Still, not all tribal members are on board. Taysha Martineau, a Fond du Lac Band member, raised $30,000 on crowdfunding to buy an acre of land near the 13-mile pipeline route across the reservation to set up Camp Migizi, a way station for protesters, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
In February, chairman Kevin R. DuPuis Sr. asked outside troublemakers to leave after an unidentified package was thrown into a construction site, forcing an evacuation over a potential bomb threat. No bomb was found.
“We have a responsibility to promote public safety and protect the health and welfare of our people,” said Mr. Dupuis in a Feb. 23 letter. “In order to uphold that responsibility, the [Reservation Business Committee] has a simple message to outside protestors instigating violence and violating Band law: Leave now. You are not welcome here.”
Mr. DuPuis emphasized that the tribe had made the decision to enter into an agreement with Enbridge, and that non-members should not presume to speak for the Fond du Lac.
“It is offensive and inappropriate for non-Indians and outsiders to claim they are here to protect the Band and resources,” Mr. Dupuis said. “Nonprofits and environmental organizations cannot and do not speak for federally recognized sovereign Indian tribes.”
The Line 3 protesters have more broad-based indigenous groups in their corner, such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, as well as a cornucopia of environmental and climate groups, including the Sunrise Movement, 350 Minnesota and the Chicago chapter of Climate Reality Project, founded by former Vice President Al Gore.
In April, singer Bonnie Raitt and the Indigo Girls released a song, “No More Pipeline Blues,” to raise money for Honor the Earth’s Stop Line 3 campaign, while “Avengers” actor Mark Ruffalo has been active in fighting Line 3 and the Dakota pipeline as well.
On the congressional front, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat, asked Mr. Biden in February to pull the permit. She and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, led an April 9 letter calling on the president to conduct an analysis of all pipeline projects, including Line 3 and Line 5, Enbridge’s Michigan pipeline.
“We urge you to immediately direct the Army Corps to conduct a thorough [environmental] analysis on existing and proposed oil pipeline projects, including Line 3, DAPL, and Line 5, that include oil spills, climate risks and impacts on Tribes and to ensure that project construction or operation cannot continue while that review is conducted,” said the letter signed by 11 House Democrats.
Meanwhile, Line 3 supporters point to the economic boost to the northern Minnesota economy, which was hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of the pipeline to the region in providing gasoline, propane and petroleum products from plastics to outerwear.
Certainly Mr. Biden is no fan of oil pipelines — he canceled the Keystone XL cross-border permit into Canada immediately after taking office in January — but Mr. Fernandez said the replacement project dovetails with the president’s infrastructure priorities.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.