Opinion -- Though Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project is far from approved, debate already is stirring: What happens to old Line 3?
Too disruptive, destabilizing to remove old pipeline
"This notion of, 'Why don't you take up the old pipe?' is something that has been assessed in the industry and by regulators for a very long period of time. And maybe the way to answer it is to describe what we actually do and why.
"Let me start with why. The reason we don't take (the out-of-service pipeline) out (of the ground) is to maintain the structural integrity of the subsurface. So, obviously, you've got a pipe in there that has been sitting there since, whenever, a long time ago; and if you take it out, all of a sudden you increase the risk of some structural issues in the ground: cave-ins, that kind of thing. So that's one thing.
"The other thing is to remove the line would require a tremendous of disruption. Think about the population areas that have changed and how residences have cropped up near pipelines. All of a sudden, you've got to tear up streets and that kind of thing. That is a lot of disruption. So that is another factor.
"It's not a question of, 'Hey, we don't want to spend the money to do that. It's a question of what we hear from people around disruption and the desire to ensure the integrity, the structural integrity, of the subsurface.
"Now, let me describe what we actually do. The first thing we do is we purge the line of all the product. There is nothing left in the line when we start the deactivation process. We then clean it through the entire sections of pipe, right from start to finish. We then sectionalize it, which means we actually physically disassociate it from the rest of the system. So think about a piece of pipe here welded on both sides, closed, and that's it; it's shut and done. Then the final thing we do is we continue to monitor it. So, by regulation, whether it's in service or deactivated, we're responsible, so we need to maintain the right of way, which is the surface area: We mow it, and we monitor, and we keep tabs on it.
"(Leaving a pipeline like Line 3 in the ground) is absolutely not precedent-setting. In fact, there is a line that was deactivated here (that had been) feeding the dock when we used to move crude on the Great Lakes. That, of course, doesn't happen anymore, (and) we deactivated it."
— Enbridge CEO Al Monaco in an interview Aug. 23 at the News Tribune with the editorial board
'Irresponsible' to leave mess behind
"This is a national problem. These are not the only old pipelines in the darn country. Minnesota could set a very dangerous precedent if we don't have a corporation clean up its mess. ... This is a really big moment. ...
"We all recognize that Enbridge has been here. Its lines are here. It's a question of, to me, what is a responsible corporate citizen? Those lines aren't just all going to disappear (if left in the ground). We believe it is incredibly irresponsible to start leaving one mess and making a new mess. That's not a good corporate citizen."
— Winona LaDuke of White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota and director of Honor the Earth, a national Native American environmental foundation, in an interview July 8 at the News Tribune with members of the editorial board
Left in ground, pipeline becomes a hazard
"(Enbridge) did property-by-property construction (of Line 3). So why can't they do the same level of property-by-property analysis for how to deal with an abandoned pipeline? ...
"A 34-inch pipe, which is what Line 3 is, is one heck of a drainage pipe. It could drain a creek or a lake or a pond fairly quickly. If it starts to perforate, it could become a drainage pipe and move water through it. Also, it can become a sinkhole, it can cause sinkholes if it starts to corrode away and suck soil down into it. It could become a hazard for people or livestock or heavy construction or farming equipment. ...
"Also, as pipes are emptied of oil, they tend to become more buoyant and they tend to float toward the surface. ... They can emerge from the surface and can start funneling water along the pipes; they can cause erosion problems. They can become an eyesore. ...
"Minnesota has a leaking underground storage tank law for gas stations. ... For other kinds of hazardous materials, there are Superfund laws and other state laws. But for (an abandoned) pipeline, there's virtually nothing. This is basically a 280-mile long tank, and there are no rules about what to do with it. That puts landowners in a horrible position. ...
"Nobody is asking for complete removal of (Line 3). What we're saying is landowners should have the priority say over what happens on their property."
— Paul Blackburn, staff attorney for Honor the Earth, a national Native American environmental foundation, in an interview July 8 at the News Tribune with members of the editorial board.
Enbridge has the power, should listen more to landowners
"Enbridge likes to do whatever is fastest, easiest, and cheapest. It's just the way they operate. ... When I look at this whole abandonment plan, what I see is the same thing I've seen with their operations: the fastest, easiest, and cheapest option for them. And when they analyze it, look at different options, the one thing that really strikes me is they never talk about the landowners. This isn't (Enbridge's) land. It's their pipe. It's not their land. They don't talk about what I want. ...
"There very well may be landowners who say, 'Leave it. Don't touch it. You're going to make a bigger mess. I don't want to deal with it.' There may be landowners like me who, I never wanted it there. It was forced on us. I want it out of the ground, period. Get it out. Clean it up. Remove it. Why aren't our opinions anywhere in their analysis? ...
"I'm this little guy here here. They're big with all the rights. What they want they get. ... They should respect the landowners' rights.
— James Hietala, who owns property in Warba, Minn., crossed by Line 3 and who is a volunteer for the Sierra Club, in an interview July 8 at the News Tribune with members of the editorial board