As we wrap up 2022, we’d like to share that the archives from the @MNSnarkDept twitter account can be found in this google drive folder. Our YouTube and Facebook pages will continue to host content. We wouldn’t want anyone to forget about all these great moments like our State Fair Exhibit!
Let’s clear the air on how the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline really impacts Minnesota:
|The ongoing Line 3 construction is a simple replacement project.||The new Line 3 takes a new route through previously undisturbed waterways, and would more than double its current capacity.|
|We need to double the capacity of Line 3 to meet demand for oil.||Enbridge tried to use a supply forecast instead of a demand forecast. Their mainline volume has actually decreased in the past year (S&P).|
|Line 3 is necessary because we will keep using oil for a long time.||Even conservative projections from the IEA forecast oil demand growth to end sometime this decade.|
|If this pipeline isn’t built, there will be thousands of dangerous oil trains going through Minnesota.||There’s no evidence that it’s possible to transport 915 kbpd of oil by rail thru MN’s rail network. Overall tar sands oil transport by rail was much lower than that in recent years.|
|Building a new pipeline would protect the environment and the economy long-term.||A newly built Line 3 would transport tar sands oil long past the time of economic unviability. This infrastructure lock-in would lead to increased costs and emissions for Minnesota.|
|The new Line 3 would be much safer than the old Line 3.||There is no evidence for this claim. Safety is not related to age as much as it is to operator commitment to safety, which Enbridge lacks.|
|The permitting process for Line 3 was scientific and robust.||The Line 3 permitting process was flawed on many levels, and the Walz Administration failed to take responsibility for it.|
|Line 3 creates many local jobs for hardworking Minnesotans.||Enbridge promised over 75% local jobs, but has only delivered on 23% of them. The vast majority of these jobs are temporary and dangerous.|
|Line 3 is boosting local economies in Northern Minnesota.||Enbridge went to court to avoid paying taxes in Minnesota, leading to a ‘worst case scenario’ for 13 Northern Minnesota counties.|
|The influx of pipeline workers is good for local communities.||Enbridge workers were caught in child sex trafficking rings in Northern MN. Pipeline construction causes the MMIWR epidemic.|
Unprecedented drops in oil prices have provided even more proof that Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline is unnecessary, and would be detrimental to Minnesota’s economy, environment, and public health.
Gov. Walz has taken some pragmatic leadership steps to protect Minnesota’s public health against the coronavirus. He recently stated that social distancing practices will likely disrupt business for up to 18 months. These disruptions have resulted in dramatically reduced demand for gasoline in Minnesota. Gasoline is very inelastic, meaning that even very low prices won’t induce much increased demand, especially since it’s clear that these social distancing practices are the new normal.
The pandemic caused U.S. gasoline demand to plummet by nearly 50%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Furthermore, the unmitigated Saudi-Russian production war continues to flood the market with cheap crude oil. The combined supply and demand shock resulted in very low, and sometimes negative oil prices for the first time in U.S. history. This means that extractors had to pay up to $37.63 per barrel to consumers for taking the oil off their hands. These extremely low prices cast doubt on the need for Line 3.
Oil from Western Canada’s tar sands also continued to experience very low and negative prices. Canadian oil storage capacity is even more limited than in the U.S., so massive supply cuts will be continuing across the continent. This was already occurring in the tar sands, as plans for new extraction projects have been cancelled, and existing large extraction sites as young as two years old are being considered for closure. Additionally, Canadian oil transport companies like Enbridge are also financially hurting; their stock recently dropped 44% in a 5-week span.
Enbridge wants to transport Western Canadian tar sands oil through the proposed Line 3 pipeline to midwestern refineries. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there will not be enough long-term tar sands oil production, nor will there be enough American gasoline demand to warrant a new pipeline being built to export oil to the U.S. Enbridge’s mainline system is currently running significantly below capacity according to S&P, and Rystad predicts that production cuts will continue to exceed Line 3’s planned capacity. Furthermore, Minnesota’s refineries have been forced to cut production by ~50%, so they have no need to import extra oil from Canada.
These are some of the main reasons why the MN Department of Commerce ruled that Enbridge did not demonstrate sufficient need for Line 3. However, the Walz administration has quietly taken steps to clear obstacles for Enbridge to move forward with the pipeline. Walz has appointed new Public Utility Commissioners who have publicly supported Line 3. Furthermore, the MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) decided to indefinitely halt the MN Clean Cars rulemaking process due to the coronavirus, yet only delayed the Line 3 permitting process by one week.
The MPCA draft permit states that water quality impacts from Line 3 are “necessary to accommodate important economic or social changes.” This is an insufficient and short-sighted rationale. Recent economic changes have rendered Line 3 completely unnecessary. Let’s also discuss these important “social changes.” Line 3 would cause: more greenhouse gas emissions than our entire state currently produces; significant damage to Northern Minnesota’s pristine waterways; and unhealthy particulate air pollution that compounds the inequitable impacts of the coronavirus on those with vulnerable health and respiratory conditions. The heaviest burden will fall on Indigenous communities and people of color who already bear the brunt of pollution and pandemics.
Concerningly, the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) made a special exemption to allow oil pipeline companies to force their employees to continue working while most of Minnesota is under a stay at home order. This dangerous policy allows travelling ‘man camps’ to work along the pipeline route. These crews traditionally increase crime in local communities, but now there is increased concern about them spreading the coronavirus among themselves, and to these communities.
The Walz Administration must show pragmatic leadership by denying all permits for Line 3, and restricting dangerous construction activities during this public health crisis to protect the future of our state, our country, and the planet.
We are in a moment where Minnesota’s government has an outsized influence on the fate of hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. This crisis calls for special attention to the public health consequences of pollution. Coronavirus is especially harmful for people with compromised respiratory systems. The State Government should be doing everything in its capacity to protect the respiratory health of Minnesotans. Instead, Governor Walz and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) are using the pandemic as political cover to weaken environmental regulation and to allow increased pollution across Minnesota.
MPCA’s fulfillment of its stated mission “to protect and improve the environment and human health” is already in question. An ongoing case investigated by the Legislative Auditor, a Minnesota court and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleges that MPCA suppressed serious concerns from EPA scientists about dangers the PolyMet mining project poses to waterways in Northeast Minnesota.
More recently, the Trump Administration’s EPA suspended enforcement of all environmental regulations due to the coronavirus. Commissioner Bishop’s MPCA appears to be following their lead by issuing a broad emergency ‘flexibility’ policy allowing Minnesota companies to increase pollution. If these companies cannot operate without emitting dangerous pollutants into Minnesota’s air and water, beyond legal limits set by science and fixed in State law, then they shouldn’t operate at all.
MPCA is currently reviewing the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline, proposed by the Canadian energy transport company Enbridge. Line 3 would cause: significant damage to Northern Minnesota’s pristine waterways; unhealthy particulate air pollution that compounds the inequitable respiratory impacts of the coronavirus; and more greenhouse gas emissions than our entire state currently produces. Enbridge is one of the companies that would profit from “flexibility” under the new EPA and MPCA policies. The heaviest environmental burden will fall on Indigenous communities and people of color who already bear the first and worst impacts of climate change and pollution. By loosening existing permit standards, MPCA is admitting that it doesn’t have capacity to enforce the permit commitments it’s already bound by law to enforce.
After cancelling all in-person opportunities for comment on Line 3, MPCA has given a paltry seven day extension to accept written comments. They have also failed to provide meaningful alternatives to public comment for communities that will be negatively impacted by the project. Environmental justice requires agencies like MPCA to take comment from Indigenous and low-income communities on those communities’ terms, and make sufficient time to hear from people that oppose the project. MPCA’s effort to silence these communities is a blatant failure to thoroughly vet the project and to meaningfully involve Minnesotans in the process.
MPCA’s draft permit states that water quality impacts from Line 3 are “necessary to accommodate important economic or social changes.” This is an insufficient, short-sighted, and essentially untrue framing of the issue. Furthermore, Governor Walz has said: “If Washington doesn’t lead on climate, Minnesota will.” Yet Walz and MPCA claim their hands are tied and they have no choice but to poison our air and water by rolling back environmental protections and rushing approval of a climate catastrophe during a public health crisis. Commissioner Bishop can and must deny Enbridge’s permits for Line 3 based on the pandemic, the agency’s resulting inability to take public comment, and in recognition that no waterway should be permanently polluted and left for future generations to clean up.
Additionally, Governor Walz has acted to advance the pipeline by appointing new Commissioners to the Public Utilities Commission who have shown public support for Line 3. Recently, the Department of Employment and Economic Development has made a special exemption to allow oil pipeline employees to continue working while most of Minnesota is under a stay at home order. Instead of giving the industry a green light, Enbridge’s pre-construction and logging should be halted immediately to protect workers and local communities from the coronavirus.
Governor Walz and Commissioner Bishop must show progressive leadership by denying all permits for Line 3, enforcing existing regulations to their fullest, and prohibiting any additional pollution in Minnesota to protect the future of our state, our country, and the planet.
Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni, MD, MPH is an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Minnesota.
Tim Schaefer, State Director of Environment Minnesota, is an advocate for protecting Minnesota’s air, water, and special places.