In a groundbreaking move, the city of Grand Rapids, Minnesota is the first to ask the state of Minnesota to require Enbridge to remove its existing Line 3 pipeline.
This comes as Michigan's attorney general called for shutting down Enbridge’s line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac between the Great Lakes Huron and Michigan.
On June 26, The Grand Rapids city council submitted a letter to the Minnesota Department of Commerce demanding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Line 3 project address the serious threats pipeline abandonment poses for rural northern communities. The city requested the “total removal of Line 3” and contaminated soils from areas surrounding their municipal water source and any urban developed areas.
Though many may not remember, Line 3 has already had a catastrophe in Grand Rapids: in 1991, Line 3 ruptured causing the largest inland oil spill in US history, spilling more than 1.7 million gallons of crude oil. But this happened in the winter time, before social media and certainly before there was a general awareness of pipelines. Line 3 has had a constant flow of major maintenance work even as recently as last week near the Itasca Community College (see photo below).
The existing Line 3 runs through Grand Rapids’ Wellhead Protection Area (WHPA) which is the sole source of municipal water for two cities (Grand Rapids and LaPrairie). The DEIS clearly states that “Soils and waters near the abandoned Line 3 could be adversely affected where undiscovered contamination along the existing pipeline (from lubricants, process chemicals, and oil spills) are left behind.”
Chapter 8 of the DEIS identifies “Potential Impacts and Mitigation Measures”, and briefly mentions how leaving the existing Line 3 in place could have potentially significant effects, including: “...soil and water contamination, the ability of the pipeline to serve as a water conduit, subsidence due to the failure over time of the pipeline, and loss of buoyancy control for the pipeline.
The DEIS’s coverage of abandonment is grossly inadequate. Enbridge’s proposed “abandonment plan” (comprising merely 14 out of 5000+ pages) is to literally leave this mess in the ground and walk away, passing the liability on to the city and landowners. As the Grand Rapids letter states, “It remains unclear as to how a deteriorated Line 3 would handle the removal of the oil, cleaning, disconnecting, and segmenting of the pipeline, as proposed. There is no specific plan within the [DEIS] that states how Enbridge will manage a contaminated site other than " Enbridge has indicated that it would...." (8. 12).” But who will hold Enbridge accountable?
Grand Rapids Mayor Dale Adams and city council members wrote, “The resource in question for our community is our public water supply and we cannot support the abandonment of Line 3 knowing that the impact" could be significant in the long-term."
As it stands now, Enbridge receives powers of eminent domain to build its pipelines, but is not required to assume responsibility for them when they die. They are allowed to leave behind what is likely a superfund site. The State of Minnesota, including the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), has the power and responsibility to regulate pipeline abandonment, but there is currently no process in place. Because Line 3 is the first major crude oil pipeline to be abandoned in the state, there is a risk that the PUC will avoid their responsibility.
The State of Minnesota should conduct a detailed independent scientific analysis of potential impacts of abandoning pipelines and the inevitable contamination around them.
Michigan’s attorney general has asked that “a specific and definite timetable” to shut down their Enbridge line. Now Grand Rapids and Minnesotans across the north are leading the way to demand protections for our land and water. Who will be the next to stand up for our future generations?