Say that Enbridge one day asked you what to do. After all, things have changed. A global pandemic has drastically stalled out the oil industry. Tar sands oil operations up in Alberta, from where Enbridge wants to flush the planet’s dirtiest oil through a new Line 3, are not going well. The company has cut the amount of oil it’s pumping by around 370,000 barrels a day. That’s just a little less than what the old Line 3 has moving through it now.
So we should just move on, really. That’s what I would do. Rather than dumping more money into this sinkhole of a Line 3 pipeline at the end of the age of oil, I’d move along from it. And I’d be a good neighbor. Enbridge, after all, has six pipelines in northern Minnesota — and six is enough.
Enbridge needs to engage in a just transition from Line 3.
It can start by decommissioning the aging line. There are a lot of jobs in cleaning up after decommissioning. Nationally, there are more than 1 million miles of fossil-fuel pipelines. Those pipes are getting old, and so someone — like Enbridge, the biggest pipeline company in the world — should set a standard and do the right thing. That would be more important than the company’s proposed landowner program. It should simply just remove a line that’s deteriorating. Just take it out. The removal of Line 3 would mean jobs for northern Minnesota, and we would like them — easily 4,000 jobs, and they could all be local.
Enbridge could then clean up its mess. That’s what I tell young kids to do. There’s a lot of legacy oil near its pipes. Also, an entire test site in Pinewood, Minnesota — operated by the U.S. Geological Survey and supported with funding from Enbridge — is researching how oil purposely left in sandy soil behaves over time. That’s dumb.
We need to stop oil from moving, and Enbridge can set the gold standard — and set it with the tribes rather than trying to greenwash a dirty oil pipeline by hiring Indians. It’s still lipstick on a pig. Sort of abusive really. The company can do the right thing instead and do some bioremediation. That'd be real cleanup and would help make our Mother Earth healthy.
Enbridge could also build storage capacity. Climate changes are here, and the grid is going down as surely as the sun comes up. Enbridge is a big chunk of that grid; it’s one of the largest consumers of energy in Minnesota. If the grid goes down, what happens to all its safety stuff and its oil? I think the company should build some solar and some battery power to store it all. That way its safety systems would still work. We all want its safety systems to work.
Utility-scale batteries make it possible to feed in more renewables and create energy security. That's called firming power. This is also insurance for when the grid goes down. Furthermore, particularly when paired with renewable generators, batteries help provide reliable and cheaper electricity in isolated grids and to off-grid communities which otherwise rely on expensive imported diesel fuel for electricity generation.
At present, utility-scale battery-storage systems are mostly being deployed in Australia, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, some areas of the United States, and in other European countries. One of the larger systems in terms of capacity is the Tesla battery-storage project at Hornsdale Wind Farm in Australia. Enbridge could emulate that. Then, when its pipes are gone, we’d still have storage.
One more thing Enbridge could do: put up some more wind turbines and renewables. The Line 3 pipeline cost in the U.S. and Canada is roughly $6.9 billion. If the Canadian part of the line had not been built already, that could buy 580 2-megawatt wind turbines, install 5-kilowatt systems on 716,000 homes, and retrofit another 283,000 homes. That’s energy security. That’s a renewable-energy strategy worth recommending.
We are all going to be here for a while, so why doesn’t Enbridge just do the right things and move forward with the rest of us, not against us?
That’d be a just transition.
Winona LaDuke lives on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. She has written six books on environmental and Native American issues and is executive director of Honor the Earth (honorearth.org), a national Native American environmental foundation. She wrote this for the News Tribune.