Line 3 Abandonment and Expansion

Line 3 is an existing pipeline that begins in Hardisty, Alberta, crossing Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North Dakota, and Minnesota before ending in Superior, Wisconsin. The pipeline has been in operation since 1968 and in 1991 was responsible for the largest ever inland oil spill in the US, which occurred in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

The line is operated by Enbridge, a Canadian multinational corporation which controls the longest network of pipelines in the world. Enbridge plans to build a new “Line 3”, and refers to this pipeline as a “ replacement project” because it is intended to replace the old and severely corroded existing Line 3 pipeline. However, Enbridge plans to abandon many segments of the original Line 3, leaving the pipe in the ground to rust and instead constructing a larger pipeline along a new route. The “new” Line 3 is not a replacement, but an abandonment and expansion.

The Alberta Tar Sands

An open-pit tar sands mind in Alberta, Canada. Photo copyrighted by Dru Oja Jay, Dominion.

Line 3 is a tar sands pipeline, carrying diluted bitumen from the tar sands or “oil sands” in Alberta. This form of extraction is the dirtiest and most ecologically destructive form of oil production. To access the tar sands, enormous tracts of boreal forest are clear cut, and the topsoil is scraped off to access the bitumen below. This is destroying North America’s largest existing carbon sink, the Canadian boreal forest, and the scar on the land can be seen from space.

The mined bitumen is so viscous that it must be mixed with huge quantities of fresh water and partially refined before being shipped. This treatment pollutes the water it uses so much that more than 95% of it is never able to be returned to the natural water cycle. The process is disastrous for both the local ecology and for the global climate, releasing more greenhouse gasses than any other form of oil production.

Extracting tar sands is expensive, and the industry is struggling to find markets for the low-quality oil that the tar sands produce. In early 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tar sands producers faced negative prices – they had to pay people to take away the oil they produced. The tar sands industry relies on cheap transportation to turn a profit, and Line 3 is the lynchpin of Enbridge’s transportation network. Transporting oil through the new Line 3 could reduce the cost of tar sands oil by as much as 30%, prolonging the life of this fundamentally unjust and unsustainable industry.

Indigenous Sovereignty and Stopping Line 3

An Indigenous-led protest against Line 3, marching along the shore of Gichi-gami (Lake Superior). Photo copyrighted by Fibonacci Blue.

Stopping Line 3 is essential to defending the water, climate, and rights of Indigenous peoples. Tar sands extraction poisons the water of the Athabasca river, causing unprecedented rates of cancer and birth defects in Indigenous communities downstream. The proposed Line 3 pipeline corridor in Minnesota cuts through forests and under lakes in treaty territories in which the Anishinaabe have rights to hunt, fish, and harvest wild rice. Line 3 would directly threaten the cultural and material resources of these peoples.

Construction on this new line is already complete in Canada, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, but legal and grassroots resistance in Minnesota has delayed the start of construction for years. Stopping Line 3 in Minnesota would have impacts far beyond the state’s borders: it could be a final nail in the coffin to the destruction caused by tar sands extraction.