Student Voice


May 23, 2024



Proposed regional oil pipeline to have lasting negative effects

February 11, 2015

In the fall of 2013, Enbridge Energy came to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), requesting a certificate of need to build a 610 mile oil pipeline.

If granted, the pipeline would pump an average of 375,000 barrels of oil down the line every day, starting in the Bakken fracking fields of North Dakota and ending near Duluth, Minnesota.

The first of five hearings was held on Jan. 5, where those both for and against the pipeline voiced opinions to the PUC. The hearings became necessary after advocacy groups learned of the environmental carelessness being taken in regards to degradation of the land. Regulatory processes only require an "environmental assessment," studying only major negative impacts.

Environmentalists argue that an environmental impact statement, which is a more comprehensive assessment that considers large and small, positive and negative consequences of such a project on the environment should be done on a project of this magnitude. The full environmental impact statement still hasn't happened, which was one of many major issues environmental justice groups addressed during the PUC hearings.

Administrative law Judge Eric Lipman oversaw all five of the hearings that took place from Jan. 5-9. Testimonies were addressed to him; he will eventually write a recommendation to the PUC, whose advice they usually follow. He also oversaw the approval of the Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion in the spring of 2014. Historically, when considering approval of such projects, he has dismissed climate change concerns. In his statement to the PUC on the Alberta Clipper expansion, there was only one page devoted to climate concerns, none of which were referenced in his final list of reasons for approval.

Those who spoke in favor of the pipeline all had similar remarks. Claims were made about the professionalism of Enbridge Energy, and how the pipeline wouldn't harm the ecosystems it would pass through. A pipeline construction worker stated, about the possibility of an oil spill, simply: “Enbridge will not let any catastrophic events happen."

A few speakers cited the need to lessen oil transport by rail as reason enough to build the pipeline, though much more oil is already transported by pipeline than rail. Others believed that the 1,500 construction jobs that would be created if the pipeline were to be approved are jobs Minnesotans desperately need.

Statements from those in opposition to the pipeline refuted all of these claims. A woman from MN350, a climate justice and sustainability organization, spoke about how regardless of whether the pipeline is built, oil will still travel by train. Another conceded the fact that Minnesotans need and deserve jobs, but discussed how much more sense it would make to create sustainable jobs in green energy, rather than construction jobs that will last only six months.

A man from the indigenous environmental justice organization Honor the Earth gave an emotional testimony. This pipeline would violate the sovereign nation status of the White Earth reservation of the Ojibwe people. The tribe is over 9,000 years old, and has a federal right to hunt, fish, and gather from these lands they were displaced to. These rituals would become impractical if the pipeline company spilled oil into the land and tainted the resources they must use. Enbridge Energy had more than 800 reported oil spills between 1999 and 2009, and also the largest tar sands oil spill ever in 2010, so this is almost inevitable.

A medical doctor speaking in opposition to the pipeline questioned everyone at the hearing: "Why not take all this talent and energy and start discussing solutions to pollution and green energy, instead of debating reality?”

In a perfect follow-up, a man from Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light organization addressed supporters of the project, asking how realistic continuing fossil fuel investment is for the future of humanity. He said to those in favor, wondering why we are still debating the construction of a pipeline when overwhelming evidence says we need to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions: "please reconsider your definition of reality.”

Rendering everyone speechless, University of Minnesota student Paige Carlson addressed all members of the PUC, saying: "I'm appealing to you now as another justly angry citizen, but also as a person who loves the place we live. When you grow up, you realize that not even adults have all the answers, but this is worse, because we have the answers and still aren't doing what's right. When children in future generations ask what the heck everyone was doing when we knew about climate change and did nothing, you're going got have to say, 'sorry kid, I cared about money more than I cared about the health and well-being of everyone on the planet.'"

We learned of the sandpiper hearing in mid-December of 2014, when UW-River Falls Environmental Corps of Sustainability (ECOS) members attended a dinner gathering at the home of MN350 member Kathy Hollander. We talked with many people about one of the causes that ECOS is working towards: divesting UWRF from fossil fuels.

In the opening statement of her dissent to the PUC, Hollander stated how we gathered in her living room to chat, and she pulled up a chair, curious to hear what music or house party or classes we were discussing. To her dismay, we were not talking about any of these things college students normally discuss, but a cloud of the greenhouse gas methane, which had been discovered over New Mexico and is as big as the state of Delaware.

Most students at this university have only spent a couple decades on earth. Resenting those who’ve shown complacence, when the science is already conclusive, would be a predictable response. However, resentment is simply a waste of time when thinking about the direction of our globalized planet.

This is exactly why ECOS is so fervently pushing our campus to divest from fossil fuels. This is quite a huge undertaking, and there is a lot of work to be done. We want our university to switch to renewable energy rather than invest and use the petroleum that is putting our species, and millions of others, in jeopardy.

It's accepted by 97 percent of the world’s climatologists that using these fuels is warming the planet faster than ever before. If we continue as we have been, the earth's average global temperature will increase 3 degrees Celsius by 2050. The overwhelming consensus from reports written by NASA and released by the International Panel on Climate Change is that we cannot increase the earth's global average temperature even 2 degrees Celsius if we want life to sustain as we know it. For us to avert this, an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions must happen by 2050.

Consider the fact that during the last world-encompassing ice age, the average global temperature was just six degrees cooler than it is currently, and three degrees will seem much more impactful. The temperature has already risen 1.6 degrees Celsius. Continuing to support the industry that is literally lessening the time humans have left to exist on earth is simply not ethical.

Unfortunately, it's very likely that the PUC will give Enbridge Energy the certificate it needs to build yet another oil pipeline. Therefore, our professional institutions must show strategic signs of support for action on climate change. Campus fossil fuel divestment campaigns are one way to achieve this. From Stanford University to Harvard University to small state schools like ours, over 500 colleges and universities across the world have started such campaigns, and over 20 have already committed to completely divesting.

Elite entities such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Council of Canadians, and the British Medical Association have divested funds from fossil fuels, and many other organizations are beginning to follow suit.

In fact, the fossil free campaign is the fastest growing divestment initiative in history. The first annual Global Divestment Day, scheduled for Feb. 13-14, will hopefully prompt even more institutions to freeze and divest its money from these industries. ECOS is taking part in this action at the end of the week, as are thousands of other organizations across the world. This is a much more important event than Valentine's Day will ever be.

Grassroots action taken by 400,000 last September at the People’s Climate March showed world leaders that we want them to start taking significant action on climate change. I hope that anyone who wants an at least habitable, if not beautiful, world for children of future generations, will join ECOS in urging our campus to divest from fossil fuels. We must make it visible for policymakers, such as those on the PUC, that we want them to start taking bigger steps towards climate justice.

Jack Haren and Daniel Saunders contributed to this article.

Molly Kinney is a journalism student with a political science minor. She enjoys reading, camping, music, art and exploring new cities in her free time. In the future, she would love to travel the world and cover politics for NPR.