A pro-pipeline group in Minnesota is a top spender on Facebook advertisements.
Minnesotans for Line 3 spent $245,000 on Facebook digital ads from Nov. 11, 2018, to April 20, 2019, making it the 10th-largest digital ad spender among interest groups on the social media platform since the 2018 midterm elections. The report came from data analyzed by Axios, an online news organization, and Tech for Campaigns, a group of volunteers - mostly workers in the technology industry - who help Democratic candidates with digital campaigns.
Minnesotans for Line 3 supports Enbridge's controversial Line 3 replacement project, which would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, replacing an older, less-efficient Line 3. State regulators granted the Line 3 project key approvals in 2018, but final permitting before construction can begin is still underway.
Tech for Campaigns's study released last month analyzed publicly available digital political advertisement data from Google and Facebook data of political ads, looking at largest spenders and trends in digital political advertising.
The "interest group" data category was assembled specifically for Axios' article, Greg Dale, Tech for Campaign's director of campaign relations, said in an email to the News Tribune.
The study used Facebook's Ad Library, which tracks "ads related to politics or issues of national importance that were created on or after May 7, 2018, and target the U.S.," according to Facebook. The Ad Library allows users to search Facebook Pages for totals of money spent on ads and searchable archive of current and past political ads bought on the site since May 7, 2018.
Although construction has not yet started, large sums of money have already been spent on Line 3.
In March, a state report showed Calgary-based Enbridge spent more than $11 million on lobbying activities in Minnesota in 2018, almost entirely on its push for regulatory approval of Line 3.
Meanwhile, several groups opposed to the pipeline's construction - Sierra Club North Star Chapter, MN 350 Action, Friends of the Headwaters, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee - reported a total of $475,405 spent on PUC lobbying activities in 2018
Of those Line 3 opponents, a search on Facebook's Ad Library Report showed only the Sierra Club North Star Chapter as having spent over $3,000 on political ads from May 7, 2018, to May 11, 2019, with $4,130 spent on 29 ads.
Facebook's Ad Library Report online "includes only advertisers who have spent $3,000 or more during the selected time period."
A separate Facebook page run by Enbridge called "Enbridge Line 3" spent nearly $144,000 on Facebook ads during that time period.
While the company and project supporters argue the new pipeline is needed to replace the existing and aging Line 3, opponents argue the line contributes to climate change, violates indigenous rights and is ultimately unnecessary.
"No amount of money spent by industry groups is going to change that," Margaret Levin, director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, said in a statement to the News Tribune.
Asked to respond to criticism of Minnesotans for Line 3's spending on Facebook advertisements, spokesperson Mike Zipko said the group's late founder, Bob Schoneberger, "understood how important pipelines are and why it is important to bring voices together to advocate for them."
Schoneberger also founded Duluth-based pipeline contracting company United Piping, Inc.
"Our organization is supported by people, businesses organizations who are committed to working together to make sure Line 3 moves forward," Zipko said. "We are proud to support a project that protects our environment and benefits Minnesota."