By Winona LaDuke
Lorraine Little of the Enbridge Co. keeps telling regulators and the public that 96 percent of the landowners along the proposed route of the Sandpiper Bakken oil pipeline are friendly and supportive. I don’t believe it.
That might be because of comments submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission: Some 459 opposed the pipeline route, while 37 were proponents of the route. Of those opponents, 387 expressed environmental concerns, 131 expressed concerns about the tribal impact and 347 wanted an alternative route, outside of the lakes. (Remember Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., came out opposing the pipeline a couple of weeks ago, and some 20 state representatives expressed deep concerns about the pipeline process at the PUC.)
So, not sure how Enbridge does math, but I learned my math differently. Let’s think about where Enbridge might have gotten its numbers. The support might be somewhat true in North Dakota, or at least almost, because the North Dakota Public Service Commission has approved the route of the pipeline. This is not surprising, for several reasons.
First, preying on elderly farmers is always a good way to get agreements, particularly with the threat of a lawsuit if you don’t let the company onto your land. Second, let’s be honest, North Dakota is a state where oil revenues may have caused policymakers to lose regulatory sanity. After all, they are flaring off around $50 million of natural gas because it’s too complicated to capture it. North Dakota is also where policymakers seem to lack regulation of the millions of gallons of fracking fluid and toxic byproducts spilling out of fracking wells and injection wells onto the land and water, and millions of radioactive filters left at road side.
There may be some support for Enbridge; not sure about that 96 percent figure. Enbridge is suing James and Krista Botsford, who own farmland in Grand Forks County, for not giving Enbridge an easement to put its pipe across their land. Enbridge told Botsford that its rights trump his rights. The Botsfords have hired an attorney to defend their land and all of our water. They’re hoping there are other landowners in North Dakota who will join them. It turns out the Botsfords’ case affects all of our water because property lines are not aquifer borders.
So this is what I’ve got to say to Enbridge: “This is Minnesota, Enbridge, and we value our water more than we value your oil.”
In Minnesota, we are not sure of the route, nor is Enbridge. The Public Utilities Commission has discussed that route, with the PUC looking only at routes proposed by Enbridge, not the routes proposed by citizens groups, and in fact favored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Enbridge claims that everyone likes the route just fine, but actually Enbridge, at every turn, has opposed hearings, extension of public comments or presentations of maps at the hearings by anyone but Enbridge. That’s not the behavior of a company that has 96 percent of landowners welcoming its pipeline.
The Coalition of Lake Associations, all of the northern Minnesota Ojibwe tribes and thousands of citizens have opposed the route suggested by Enbridge. In short, I’m pretty sure that 96 percent figure is pulled out of, well, thin air. It’s time to say something – to the PUC, to your legislators, to your county commissioners and your township commissioners, if you don’t want a company with 800 oil leaks to put one, maybe two or three new pipelines across the lakes.
Today the PUC will hold hearings on the pipeline route proposals. Enbridge had planned starting construction by January, but it turns out not everything works out for the company. And not everything the company says is accurate.
Love water, not oil. I think we actually believe that in Minnesota.
LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Objibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation.