What Happened Enbridge. An alternative route to Illinois....?

By Winona LaDuke
News From Indian Country/HONOR

I was just home from two weeks on a horse, riding and praying. The fourth annual Love Water not Oil ride against the proposed Enbridge Sandpiper and Line 3 corridor was over.  The day after we finished, Enbridge came out with an amazing announcement. We have puzzled gratefully since.


Enbridge announced it’s of purchase of the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL); a North Dakota line. That came as a surprise to most of us. For the past four years, Enbridge has told the tribal governments, the state and citizens of Minnesota that the proposed Sandpiper route (Clearbrook to Superior) was the only way the company would be able to serve its interests.   It turns out that was not true.  While Enbridge was telling Minnesotans that it had no choice but to slice through our pristine lakes and wild rice beds, it was secretly buying into DAPL, which bypasses Minnesota completely.  

Let me try and translate why Enbridge appears to be abandoning Sandpiper.

Tribal and Citizen Opposition
At every step in Minnesota, the company was faced with huge opposition from citizens and tribal governments.  In 2015, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Friends of the Headwaters, ordering a full Environmental Impact Statement for Sandpiper, triggering a much more thorough review than the state or company wanted. Tribal governments also play a key role in this process. Recent comments by the US EPA on the proposed route called for a rigorous review of environmental impacts, and noted that over l80 culturally important sites for Anishinaabe people were directly on the proposed route. That is going to take time…

In contrast, regulators in North and South Dakota barely regulate. There are more lawsuits about oil drilling than active rigs in the Bakken (last year brought a record-setting 9,305 civil cases on oil according to the Star Tribune).  Not surprisingly, the Dakota Access Pipeline receive quick approvals in the Dakotas, and is only just now being challenged by tribal governments , with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filing a request for a preliminary injunction on August 4. If the injunction is signed, the Army Corps of Engineers would  withdraw  issued permits

And, the Sandpiper pipeline faces a challenge in North Dakota’s Supreme Court on eminent domain, in a case against farmer James Botsford. He challenged the Canadian corporation’s rights to condemn his property for private gain. His appeal could be heard this fall, and  may set a bad precedent for the company.

And, to be honest, the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline is just beginning, and looks to be very strong.

Riders on the “Love Water, Not Oil” HONOR ride examine pipes stacked ready now for a couple of years for Enbridge’s new pipeline and for the day when the foreign owned corporation is granted a license and environmental permits to build the Sandpiper Oil line in North Dakota and Minnesota.   HONOR Photo by Keri Pickett

Trouble in Canada
Enbridge just lost on a big pipeline in Canada.  On June 30th, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals overturned approvals for Enbridge’s $7.9 billion proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, finding the government fell short in its obligations to consult with First Nations groups.  Somehow the company, even with an intact Aboriginal People’s Policy, missed the memo.  That had to hurt.  

The July 6 announcement in the Canadian media that Enbridge  purchased faulty pipes and valves from a bankrupt Thailand based company (Canadoil Asia) has caused more problems. The National Energy Board, gave Enbridge six months to fix what industry insiders have described as a series of “ticking time bombs.”  Issuing an emergency safety order in February, the NEB is deeply concerned, because at least one Canadian pipeline with defective materials blew up.

“Newly-released federal documents show that ……Kinder Morgan and Alberta-based Enbridge are both looking into the use of defective parts purchased from Thailand-based, Canadoil Asia, that recently went bankrupt. But the companies were not immediately able to say where they installed the dodgy parts,” the National Observer reported. Enbridge attorneys  have asked for an extension to find those parts.

Those pipes may be in the ground- on any of the six lines crossing Northern Minnesota; or in a pile by Lake George.  That would seem like something tribal governments, and state and federal regulators would want to know before any more pipes are laid.

Marathon’s Problems
Marathon, the Sandpiper (and /DAPL) partner is also having problems.  Residents living next to the Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit filed a class action lawsuit seeking in excess of $5 million, requesting a court order that Marathon cease the release of all contaminants into what it calls the “class area” — residential neighborhoods within blocks of the refinery.  Boynton-Oakwood Heights, is known as Michigan’s most polluted zip code. “We are a sick community. They keep poisoning us. And we cannot get them to buy our houses.  I can’t hardly breathe here,” Emma Lockridge community resident testified .“  I have kidney failure. Neighbor died on dialysis, Neighbor next door with dialysis. Neighbor across the street has kidney failure. We have cancer, we have autoimmune illnesses, we have MS, we have chemicals that have come up into our homes through the sewer.  Those are from the companies, they end up in the public water and sewer system… they are poisoning us.”

In mid-April, Marathon had a catastrophic spill of 50,000 gallons of diesel into the Wabash River, in Illinois. Despite attempts to mitigate, the company was unable to recover any of the oil.   It is not known what fines were paid by the corporation.

Finally, contracts with Marathon for gas stations are being canceled. The Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe had three Marathon gas stations. It canceled all three contracts.    Tribal Chairwoman Melanie Benjamin told the press:  “The Mille Lacs Band is strongly opposed to the routing of the Marathon-sponsored Sandpiper pipeline throughout our watersheds,….  As a result Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures,… ended its affiliation with… Marathon   …we could not in good conscience continue an affiliation with a brand that would disregard our concerns for the environment.”

This spring, Marathon heard from not only the Mille Lacs Ojibwe, but also, for the first time, a large group of Ojibwe and African Americans from Detroit went to the Marathon Shareholders meeting in Lindsay Ohio.  Tara Houska, National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth told the media, “ We have traveled 900 miles to ask Marathon not to poison our people. We are joined by our relatives from the Boynton neighborhood in Detroit near the Marathon refinery, who we are asking Marathon to buy out and relocate. We must hold these companies accountable for the damage they cause in our communities.  The Sandpiper pipeline would be too destructive to our water, our wild rice, our climate, and our way of life as Anishinaabe.  We are asking Marathon to divest its’ interest in the Sandpiper.  We have enough fossil fuel infrastructure, and it is time to transition to a new economy.”

Trouble in the Pocketbook
World oil markets are likely to remain poor for expensive Bakken and tar sands oil because Saudi Arabia it intends to continue dumping oil to keep oil prices low. The kingdom wants to diversify the country’s economy beyond oil in the next few years, and it needs a lot of money to do this.  In fact, it has even proposed to sell shares in its national oil company on global stock exchanges. Simply stated, low oil prices will continue to take a lot of money from Bakken oil drillers and the oil industry as a whole.

Bakken drillers are going bankrupt and the active rig count there is down over 85% from a few years ago.  Marathon no longer has any active rigs in the Bakken and its oil wells are in rapid decline, hammering its cash flow.

 As a result, Marathon Oil Corporation’s stock has crashed by about two-thirds of its value since 2014 highs, and Enbridge Energy Partners’ stock value has dropped by about 40% from 2015 highs.  Things are not looking sunshiny for the oil industry.

And finally, last week the EPA and Justice Department proposed settlement with Enbridge on the Kalamazoo Spill is around $l77 million . That may sound like a bunch of money to most of us, but it’s a somewhat paltry settlement. Still, it’s another loss.

Some people think that Enbridge is like Enron: Too big to fail. If grassroots and tribal opposition continues.  

I think it will. 

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