BEMIDJI -- A U.S. Department of State meeting in Bemidji meant to allow public comment on a proposed oil pipeline expansion may draw activists from as far as the Twin Cities and has prompted the creation of local opposition events.
The meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, March 7, is the only one in the country, and will allow the public to submit formal comments on an energy company’s plans to pump more oil through a segment of an existing oil pipeline known as Line 67.
Also known as the Alberta Clipper pipeline, Line 67 is owned by Canadian energy company Enbridge and runs from Hardisty, Alta., in Canada, to Superior, Wis. The pipeline passes through North Dakota and Minnesota on its way to Superior.
Most of Line 67 already transports 800,000 barrels per day of crude oil. But because a segment of the line crosses the U.S.-Canada border, the company needs a presidential permit before a certain three-mile portion can be allowed to also transport the 800,000 barrels. According to Shannon Gustafson, a communications supervisor for Enbridge, the company is currently able to bypass the three-mile portion through “interconnects.” The oil from Line 67 enters another pipeline called Line 3, stays in that line for three miles, and then is put back into Line 67.
Gustafson said Enbridge needs the presidential permit in order to provide customers with the amount of oil they have requested.
The meeting at Bemidji’s Sanford Center will take the form of an open house, according to a State Department official. Attendees will be able to submit their comments via writing or speak to a stenographer. No speeches or presentations will be allowed, the official said.
Those who cannot attend the meeting can also submit comments via mail, online or by phone during the department’s 45-day comment period, which began Feb. 10 after a draft of a supplemental environmental impact statement was concluded, and will end March 27.
Gustafson said the company had no say in the State Department’s decision to hold just one meeting and did not choose the location. Bemidji was chosen because of its central location relative to the pipeline’s route, according to the State Department.From near and far
Because Tuesday’s meeting is the only one, environmental activism group MN350 has organized a bus that will travel from the Twin Cities to Bemidji on Tuesday to allow people from other parts of the state to attend. Fellow activist group Northwoods 350 will run a bus from Duluth.
“This State Department public meeting is of statewide importance, you know. It’s incredible that there’s only one meeting,” said Andy Pearson, the Midwest tar sands coordinator for MN350. “A lot of folks have a lot of concerns, so we put a bus together so they can go up there and take part in this public process.”
Those who ride the bus will pay what they can, Pearson said.
MN350 has also organized events that will take place before the State Department meeting. Jordan Morgan, an MN350 project coordinator stationed in Bemidji, said the opposition events will begin at 1 p.m. at the Rail River Folk School with what he called a “solutions summit.” Environmental activists, including Honor the Earth founder Winona LaDuke, BSU’s Sustainability Director Erika Bailey-Johnson and others, will speak to attendees.
“The summit’s really going to focus on...envisioning a world that has a sustainable energy grid,” Morgan said. “So talking about renewables and whatnot, and really just try to focus on the positive transition that we want to make from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”
A jingle dress dance will follow the summit.
Because of the expected large number of participants, the city of Bemidji released a statement Thursday encouraging those attending the meeting to remain lawful and respectful.
“The City of Bemidji strongly supports every individual’s right to the freedom of speech and ability to participate at this event,” the statement, attributed to Mayor Rita Albrecht, reads. “We ask that those who share our support of this Constitutional right encourage others to remain respectful of everyone’s free speech rights. Limiting the rights of others or violating the law detracts from the legitimacy of all participants’ efforts.”
Morgan said he hopes even people unfamiliar with MN350s environmental concerns attend the events and meeting.
“I think that it’s our civic duty as American citizens to go to events like this and really give our testimonies and share our thoughts and beliefs,” he said. “Come out, learn more about what’s going on in our community and get civically involved.”
If you go:
What: U.S. State Department meeting allowing public comment on the proposed Line 67 expansion.
When: 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7.
Where: The Sanford Center, 1111 Event Center Drive NE, Bemidji