Indigenous nations and environmental groups are worried that the Line 3 oil pipeline could scar the land and the climate for generations to come, if it is completed.
But the pipeline, which carries oil from Canadian tar sands through the upper Midwest, is already having an impact before it’s even finished: the effects of the weapons used against protesters who oppose the project.
Tara Houska, an Ojibwe activist and attorney from the Couchiching First Nation, shared photos on Monday of welts and bruising all over her body which she said came from rubber-coated bullets police fired at water protectors.
Rubber bullets bought and paid for by Enbridge. Fuck Line 3.
For the land, for the water, for the rice, for love of those to come, we stand ✊🏽❤️ @GiniwCollective #StopLine3 cc: @POTUS @ginamccarthy46 @USACEHQ pic.twitter.com/peULg2zBEu
— tara houska ᔖᐳᐌᑴ (@zhaabowekwe) August 3, 2021
“Rubber bullets bought and paid for by Enbridge. F*** Line 3,” she wrote, referring to Enbridge, Inc, the company which owns the pipeline. “For the land, for the water, for the rice, for love of those to come, we stand.”
Over the weekend, at least 20 people were arrested, and state and local police allegedly used tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, and pepper balls against demonstrators, some of whom have reportedly been held in solitary confinement.
“As a company, we recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views about the energy we all use, legally and peacefully; however, we will not tolerate illegal and unsafe acts,” an Enbridge spokesperson told The Independent.
“These endanger the protesters themselves, first responders and our workers.”
The company also added that its security officers are unarmed, and that they are required under law to reimburse local governments for public safety costs. Demonstrators insist they’re taking a stand against a harmful project and the larger climate crisis.
“As the holders of the last remaining biodiversity on planet Earth, the need to centre and uphold tribal sovereignty and Indigenous rights, specifically Indigenous land rights, is absolutely critical towards any sort of solution there could be involving climate," Ms Houska, a longtime activist involved in the battles over the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, told The Hill.
“It’s also about a larger understanding of stopping it at the source and forcing the industry and, on a broader scale, society, into recognising that we cannot continue to expand the fossil fuel industry in the face of the climate crisis.”
Native nations and environmental groups have opposed Line 3, a replacement of an existing pipeline with the same name, for years, arguing it will open the potential of oil spills, and threaten lakes, rivers, wild rice waters, and lands where tribes have treaty rights to hunt and fish.
The pipeline could cause $287 billion dollars in social costs over the next 30 years, an environmental review of the project that factored in the climate crisis found. The route of the new pipeline runs past Native lands belonging to the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, White Earth Nation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and passes through territory of the Fond du Lac Ban of Lake Superior Chippewa.
The nation’s largest inland oil spill occurred in 1991 on the old Line 3 pipeline near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and the Canada-based Enbridge has argued that the new pipeline, along a new route, is needed to replace 1960s-era infrastructure and would be much safer than other transport methods like trains or boats. The project would also generate 4,200 jobs for the region, according to the firm.
Protest Demands Biden Revoke Line 3 Pipeline Permits https://t.co/N2uJ6C8n5u
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) January 29, 2021
“Line 3 has passed every test through six years of regulatory and permitting review including 70 public comment meetings, appellate review and reaffirmation of a 13,500-page [Environmental Impact Statement], four separate reviews by administrative law judges, 320 route modifications in response to stakeholder input, and multiple reviews and approvals on the state, federal and tribal levels,” Enbridge added in its statement.
Minnesota authorities approved the project, which includes a 337-mile segment in the state, finding that it wouldn’t have a large bearing on demand for Canadian oil, but rather what method is used to transport it. The project’s Minnesota leg is over 80 per cent complete.
Environmental groups and tribal nations including the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Minnesota Sierra Club appealed to the state Supreme Court in mid-July, challenging a lower court decision that affirmed Minnesota’s approval for the project.
"We will continue to make our case in court that the permits for this dirty tar sands pipeline should never have been approved, but with construction underway, there is no time to waste,” a Sierra Club spokesperson told Reuters.
Hundreds of people have been arrested so far during protests against the project, and Enbridge reportedly has paid local police nearly $750,000 for security.
The demonstrations have picked up high-profile support.
“The thing about climate change, it’s a timed test,” environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben said before a recent Line 3 march in northern Minnesota. “If we don’t get it right soon we will never get it right.”
Minnesota officials are split over the project, with governor Tim Walz arguing he would violate the separation of powers by interceding to stop the project, while lieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation, opposes Line 3.
“Support for Line 3 is inconsistent with my family’s values,” she told The Minnesota Reformer in July. “While I cannot stop Line 3, I will continue to do what is within my power to make sure our people are seen, heard, valued and protected,” adding, “I stand with my people in opposition.”