PARK SPEEDS, MINN. – The protesters who gathered in the boreal forests of northern Minnesota came from across the country – Indian tribes and their supporters, environmentalists and religious leaders – all to fight the expansion of Line 3, a $ 9 billion pipeline of the Canadian company Enbridge, which would move hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil through Minnesota’s fragile watersheds and tribal areas.
Some said they were willing to risk arrest by lying on the construction path. Others said they are here to support tribes that have battled oil and gas pipelines for years, including the very controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
Arrests began late Monday after dozens of activists used an old fishing boat, bamboo, and steel cables to block the road to a construction site on Highway 71 north of Park Rapids. Several hundred others climb the wall of a nearby pumping station and occupy the site, some climbed on excavators and transformer boxes or chained themselves to construction machinery before setting off.
“Law enforcement officers broke through the steel fences and just started arresting everyone,” said Tara Houska, a tribal attorney and member of Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe along the Canadian border. Riot police came by bus and appeared to have arrested about 50 people, she said. “This is an act of violence on tribal land.”
The local police had previously dispatched a helicopter to disperse the crowd at the pumping station, raising clouds of dust. .
John Elder, a spokesman for the Northern Lights Task Force, a team of local police officers, said it would be a few hours before he could provide more details about the arrests. The Northern Lights Task Force is funded by Enbridge under government approval of the project.
Over the weekend until Monday, around 2,000 people took part in drum circles and prayer meetings and examined the network of construction sites in the forest. Near La Salle Lake, late in the day, a small group of protesters began pitching about half a dozen tents and said they would camp there indefinitely to prevent Enbridge from digging into the nearby Mississippi headwaters.
“Providing water is our responsibility, and we take that responsibility seriously,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director and co-founder of Honor the Earth, an indigenous environmental organization that is a leading anti-pipeline group. “We’ve been in this fight against Enbridge for seven years. It’s like an invasion. “
Behind the scenes, local lawyers urged the Biden government to intervene. They are trying to exert a newfound political influence among tribal nations – Native Americans now hold important positions within the Biden administration – and say they intend to keep Mr. Biden on his campaign promises on racial justice, especially for their communities.
The project, which received final approvals under President Trump, is a 340-mile diversion of a wider pipeline network. When completed, it would transport 760,000 barrels of tar sand oil daily from Alberta, Canada, across northern Minnesota and into Wisconsin to the tip of Lake Superior.
In April, Al Monaco’s CEO of Enbridge said Line 3 was scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Indian tribes see the construction as a violation of their tribal sovereignty, an issue that President Biden promised to prioritize during his election campaign.
The pipeline would pass through treaty tribal areas, they emphasize, including watersheds that support wild rice, a staple food and important cultural heritage of the Ojibwe people. And in the event of a leak, the heavy oil flowing through the pipeline could sink to the bottom of rivers and streams, making cleaning difficult, environmental groups warn.
In recent years, protesters in Minnesota and across the country have faced a growing number of local bills supported by the oil and gas industry, which in many cases would make entering or making it difficult to operate pipelines and other infrastructure a crime . Minnesota has not yet passed such a law, but since construction began on Line 3 in December, the Enbridge-funded Northern Lights Task Force has arrested more than 70 protesters since construction began on December 1, according to a task force tally.
The expansion of line 3 is also testing the Biden government’s commitment to climate policy.
In his first week as president, Mr Biden signed an executive order pledging to combat climate change, rejoined the Paris Agreement between the nations of the world, and announced another pipeline, the Keystone XL, which would also have brought tar sand oil, one of the dirtiest forms of energy, from Canada. He also recently suspended the oil drilling leases at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
At the same time, the Biden administration has defended a huge Trump-era drilling project and taken other measures that could guarantee the drilling and burning of oil and gas for decades. And the president has so far been silent about Line 3, which would carry enough oil that if burned would release nearly 200 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year over the life of the pipeline, according to the project’s final environmental impact statement. That corresponds to the annual emissions of 45 coal-fired power plants or 38 million cars.
“From a climatic point of view in particular, the arguments for a brand new, massive tar sand pipeline are extremely thin and frankly nonexistent,” said Moneen Nasmith, a lawyer at the environmental rights organization EarthJustice, which is questioning the pipeline.
“We recognize that people have a strong sense of the energy we all use and they have the right to express their opinions legally and peacefully,” Michael Barnes, a spokesman for Enbridge, said in an email . “We hoped that all parties would accept the result of the thorough, science-based review and multiple approvals of the project. Line 3 passed every test for six years of regulatory and approval review, ”he said.
So far, the protests have had little impact on construction, which began in December and is 60 percent complete, he said.
The current crude oil pipeline was built in the 1960s and was ravaged by corrosion, leaks and leaks, forcing Enbridge to reduce its capacity by half to 390,000 barrels per day in 2008. In 2015, Enbridge cited corrosive pipes and future oil needs to say that Line 3 would be diverted, a move that would allow it to restore its original capacity.
Opponents have tried a number of legal challenges. One case is expected to be ruled this month, filed by tribes and environmental groups in the Minnesota state court, focusing on whether Enbridge has conducted an appropriate environmental review.
Two other cases challenge the project’s permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Air Act. Opponents argue that the Army Corps failed to fully consider how an oil spill would affect the Lake Superior drainage basin.
Local lawyers and lobbyists are also working on their Washington connections. Late last month, Ms. Houska, the tribal attorney, urged high-ranking Biden officials on what they believe to be a political hypocrisy: How could the government allow Line 3 to continue after Keystone XL was canceled?
“This is a huge project with a huge impact on the climate,” Ms. Houska told Gina McCarthy, the White House’s national climate adviser, and David Hayes, who advises Mr. Biden on land and water policy issues. “You can’t demolish Keystone and then build an almost identical tar sands pipeline,” she said.
A White House spokesman refused to comment on the meeting.
Tribal leaders hope that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who became the first Native American cabinet member to write history, will also influence Mr Biden’s decision on the Enbridge pipeline.
Ms. Haaland’s public views on oil pipelines are well known: In 2016, Ms. Haaland joined the Standing Rock Sioux protesters in North Dakota who camped for months against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment on the role Ms. Haaland could play in determining the fate of Line 3.
Meanwhile, one of the most senior officials who can determine whether pipeline permits could be reviewed or revoked is Jaime Pinkham, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Assistant Secretary of Construction, who is a member of the Nez Perce tribe in the Pacific Northwest. In 2016, Mr. Pinkham wrote an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
An Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said Mr. Pinkham would meet with tribal members at their request later this month.
“It has long been the point where we at least had the ear of those who were making important decisions about tribal sovereignty,” said Julian Brave to NoiseCat, a Native American activist who played a key role in the campaign that nominated Mr Biden Secretary Haaland. “Hopefully that means more of these decisions will be made for the benefit and respect of tribal sovereignty.”