Native communities and environmental advocates slammed the approval of a controversial oil pipeline on Thursday, threatening protests in the style of Standing Rock and pledging civil unrest in response to the project.
In a unanimous vote Thursday, all five members of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved a certificate allowing Canadian energy company Enbridge to proceed with rebuilding the deteriorating Line 3 oil pipeline. The project would see the pipeline likely restored to its full capacity of 760,000 barrels of crude oil per day — this would bring a boost to the total 2.5 million barrels of tar sands crude oil that is currently exported into the United States from Canada each day.
At present, the state of Line 3 has kept capacity to half that amount (around 380,000 barrels), with only light crude transported in compliance with safety concerns; once restored, the pipeline could theoretically even expand its production beyond current full capacity.
Commissioners voting in favor of the approval argued the aging 1,031 mile pipeline requires an upgrade in order to prevent major accidents in the future. But Native communities angrily objected.
Line 3 would mostly avoid reservations in the region but the pipeline would pass through rice-harvesting areas, something opponents say will threaten wetlands and wild rice lakes. One crossing on Chippewa land was still included in the final approved route.
Winona LaDuke, executive director of indigenous environmental justice group Honor the Earth, told reporters that the moment recalled the landmark protests over the Dakota Access pipeline, which stretched from 2016 to 2017. During that time, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe mounted a multi-month protest against the pipeline, which the tribe considers a threat to its sovereignty and water. (Enbridge notably owns a stake in the Dakota Access pipeline.) While the Dakota Access pipeline was ultimately approved under the Trump administration, Native activists invoked the famed movement following the Line 3 vote.
“They have gotten their Standing Rock,” LaDuke said. “We will do everything that is needed to stop this pipeline.”
In a later statement doubling down on the comments, the activist called the approval “a vast overstep” of authority that will have enduring ramifications for Native communities.
“This project threatens our waters, rice and Anishinaabe way of life,” said LaDuke. “This also induces more tar sands projects in Canada. This is the dirtiest fuel on the planet and puts our children’s generation at risk. This is an act of aggression by the Minnesota government and we will do what we need to legally protect our land.”
Other environmental advocates expressed similar sentiments.
“Neither the Enbridge proposal nor in-trench replacement is either desirable or positive for the water we cherish,” said the Northern Water Alliance’s James Reents in a statement.
Line 3 currently runs from the Canadian province of Alberta to Wisconsin, passing through North Dakota and Minnesota along the way. Minnesota’s Department of Commerce is among the pipeline’s opponents; the agency has argued that the state does not need the additional oil, especially with interest in renewable energy alternatives on the rise. The project is set to cost some $7.5 billion overall.
Enbridge CEO Al Monaco welcomed the PUC decision.
“Replacing Line 3 is first and foremost about the safety and integrity of this critical energy infrastructure,” he said in a statement sent Thursday night. “This project will also help ensure Minnesota and area refineries reliably receive the crude oil supply they need for the benefit of all Minnesotans and the surrounding region.”
Monaco said that the company anticipates Line 3 will begin full service in mid-to-late 2019.
In expressing concerns about the pipeline, at least one commissioner, PUC Chair Nancy Lange, voiced that Line 3’s approval could stir unrest.
“One of the things that concern me is permitting something that could cause civic disruption,” she said prior to the vote, according to the Star Tribune.
That reaction appeared to be taking shape prior to the vote. In anticipation of the result, at least two camps had already formed near the Line 3 route, according to Inside Climate News. Tara Houska, an Honor the Earth member, told the publication that indigenous communities and their allies will “stand and engage in civil disobedience to protect their homelands and protect their treaty territory.”
Joe Plumer, an attorney for the White Earth Nation Ojibwe Tribe, said that Line 3 opponents will likely seek to have the commission re-evaluate the pipeline’s approval, according to Reuters. They have 20 days from the date a written order is ultimately issued to do so. The publication noted that nearly 30 approvals on levels ranging from local to federal will be needed in order for Line 3 to advance.
Numerous states have eyed criminalizing pipeline protests in the wake of the Standing Rock movement. Oklahoma and North Dakota, states largely dependent on energy industries, have already passed similar bills. But newer efforts have sprung up in recent months that have seen anti-protest efforts extend to a number of other states, including Louisiana, Pennsylvania — and Minnesota.