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Enbridge oil pipelines in Minnesota among five targeted by environmental activists

Activists are seen attempting to cut chains after trespassing into a valve station for Enbridge pipelines carrying crude oil from Canada into the U.S. near Clearbrook, Minn., in this image released on October 11, 2016. Courtesy Climate Direct Action/Handout via REUTERS1 / 2
A group calling itself "Climate Direct Action" claimed online Tuesday that activists have shut down pipelines carrying tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. The action included Enbridge lines 4 and 67 near Leonard, Minn. (Screen shot from / 2

Activists protesting the movement of tar-sands oil from Canada into the U.S. took action early Tuesday against five different pipelines, including two Enbridge Energy lines in northern Minnesota.

Shannon Gustafson, a spokeswoman for Enbridge, said two pipeline valves near Clearbrook in northwestern Minnesota had been tampered with.

Gustafson said the company’s Line 4 and Line 67 were hit and that no oil was spilled. The activists said they simply turned emergency valves to stop the flow of oil without causing any damage.

The lines, which bring Canadian crude into northwestern Minnesota and on to Enbridge's  terminal in Superior, were later shut down by the company as a precaution “to protect communities, first responders and the protestors.”

“We don't anticipate any customer impacts to deliveries,” Gustafson said. “We are taking as much time as we need to ensure a safe start-up and do a proper and complete assessment of any damage to facilities.”

A group calling itself “Climate Direct Action” reported online that the actions were taken early Tuesday against the Enbridge lines and also TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline in Walhalla, N.D.; Spectra Energy’s Express pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Mont.; and Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain pipeline at Anacortes, Wash.

Combined, the five lines carry about 2.8 million barrels — nearly 118 million gallons — of oil daily, about 15 percent of U.S. crude consumption.

The activists used bolt cutters to gain access to the locked stations and then remained at the valve stations to be arrested after sticking symbolic flowers into valves, said Afrin Sopariwala, a spokeswoman for the group.

“They did the research to make sure this wouldn't cause any environmental harm. They used the emergency valves because this is a climate emergency,” she said.

Sopariwala said the activists involved have spent several years signing petitions, talking to political representatives and pursuing other legal avenues to fight climate change, but said the efforts hadn’t made a difference.

“We felt compelled to take an escalated action,” she said.

The group’s website said the actions also were in solidarity with the ongoing protest in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Reservation, where Native Americans from dozens of tribes are standing against the proposed Dakota Access pipeline route through what they say is sacred ground.

Environmental activists say Canadian tar sands oil is among the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive oil refined, adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributing to global climate change. They claimed the actions, at least briefly, entirely stopped the flow of tar sands oil across the border.

The protest group reported online that the action was “in support of the call for International Days of Prayer and Action for Standing Rock. Activists employed manual safety valves, calling on President Obama to use emergency powers to keep the pipelines closed and mobilize for the extraordinary shift away from fossil fuels now required to avert catastrophe.”

The group named five activists from Washington and Oregon as those who undertook the pipeline actions, and reported that they had been arrested by local authorities. Some members of video crews recording the action for social media also were taken into custody.

Protesters Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein, who took part in the action against the Enbridge pipelines near Clearbrook, were being held in the Clearwater County Jail on Tuesday, according to jail staff there. An arraignment date had not been set.

“One of our activists is still waiting by the Montana valve site to be arrested,” Sopariwala told the News Tribune on Tuesday morning; that activist was later taken into custody.

Spectra Energy, one of other pipeline companies said to be affected, confirmed trespassers had tampered with a valve on its Express pipeline in Montana and it had shut the line down as a precaution. It later said it was taking steps to restart it.

TransCanada said its Keystone pipeline in North Dakota was shut down temporarily as a precaution after protesters tried to disrupt it.

Kinder Morgan confirmed trespassers broke into a location along one of its two Trans Mountain feeder lines in Washington state, but said it was not operating that part of the pipeline at the time.

Enbridge said the actions were dangerous.

“We respect the rights of others to discuss our business in a safe, respectful and lawful manner, but this morning’s activities at our valve site in Leonard, Minn., are unacceptable. The actions taken to unlawfully trespass on our facility, use bolt cutters to cut chains off our valves and then attempt to turn the valves to stop the flow of oil were dangerous and reckless,” Gustafson said in a written comment.

“The groups involved in this morning’s activities claim to be protecting the environment, but their actions alone are inviting an environmental incident and put the safety of people, including themselves and potentially first responders and our employees, at risk. These are criminal acts that endanger the public and the environment. We take this very seriously and will support prosecution of all those involved.”

The Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota, union workers who help build and maintain pipelines, also denounced the actions.

“The attacks that were mounted today against pipelines carrying Canadian oil set a terrible precedent, and represent a dangerous escalation in a misguided war on pipelines,’’ the union said in a written statement. “When self-styled environmental activists interfere with the operation of live pipelines, they not only jeopardize shipments of fuel and chemicals that are essential to the lives of millions, but also risk damaging the safeguards that are put in place to prevent spills.”

The Bemidji Pioneer and Reuters contributed to this story.