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Thousands of protesters gathered near the headwaters of the Mississippi River from around the country, including actresses Jane Fonda and Patricia Arquette, in an attempt to disrupt the construction of a major pipeline through northern Minnesota, the Duluth Tribune reported. The protesters were peaceful, but at one point, according to the Tribune “a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter flew in very low to try to flush out demonstrators from the site.” quoting an MPR News report. Protesters locked themselves to equipment, locked arms, and actually blocked construction at a pumping station that the company alleged caused some damage. There were dozens of arrests throughout Monday night.
Why This Matters: The Line 3 pipeline, at a cost of $4B, will carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of dirty Canadian tar-sands oil through the U.S. across at least 200 bodies of water and sensitive watersheds. Winona LaDuke, the leader of a Native environmental advocacy organization opposed to the pipeline told The New York Times, “We’ve been at this fight against Enbridge for seven years already. It’s like an invasion.” The Trump Administration approved the construction, but the company’s poor safety record makes it an easy target. Now the protesters are making things uncomfortable for the Biden administration because it’s inconsistent with their climate and environmental justice policies.
Line 3’s Messy History
The pipeline was, like many still in use, constructed in the ’60s, and it’s had a history of corrosion, leaks, and spills that made huge messes, and that forced the company more than a decade ago to cut down the amount of oil it transports in half. Then in 2015, Enbridge decided to reroute Line 3 so that it could restore its original capacity. The current project, which President Trump approved, will span 340-miles and carry 760,000 barrels of tar-sands oil a day from Alberta, Canada, across Minnesota to the tip of Lake Superior in Wisconsin. A Line 3 rupture thirty years ago in Grand Rapids, Minnesota spilled 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the frozen Prairie River. Because it was frozen, response crews were able to keep the oil from flowing downriver 2 miles into the Mississippi, but that spill remains the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
Tribal Rights and Protest Rights
The reason this is even more fraught for the Biden administration are the environmental justice implications — the pipeline passes through tribal lands that are protected by a treaty and even more importantly, that are crucial for food and water security for the local tribe. Watersheds that support wild rice, which is a staple food and important to the cultural heritage of the Ojibwe People, would be devastated by the heavy oil if there were another big spill. The heavy oil could sink to the bottom of rivers and streams, complicating a cleanup and that is what worries the leaders. Protesters are undeterred even though they have faced increasing state and local legislation that if passed would make trespassing on or impeding the operation of pipelines and other infrastructure a felony.
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