ELY – Kathryn Hoffman, interim director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), discussed oil pipelines and the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel project during a recent …
ELY – Kathryn Hoffman, interim director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), discussed oil pipelines and the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel project during a recent presentation before the Tuesday Group.
The two subjects don’t have too much in common except that they are both infrastructure projects proposed in the state of Minnesota with potential environmental impacts, she said.
“Pipelines, once they go in the ground, go mostly unnoticed,” Hoffman said. “People with easements across their property soon forget about them. It’s not like a mine where you have a large change in the landscape.”
She said the main reason people care about pipelines is because of climate change and emissions of carbon dioxide. “A massive rise (of CO2 emissions) over the last few decades is projected to continue and get worse,” she said. “A big portion of this is coal, but also a big portion of this is crude oil.”
Crude oil is transported by pipelines, as well as by trains and ships. “Pipelines are a big part of how crude oil gets from the place where it is excavated or fracked and to the place where it is refined,” Hoffman said.
In addition to concerns about the slow but significant rise in global temperatures through the increased use of crude oil in heating and transportation, the increased use of pipelines also impacts local water resources, according to Hoffman. “Pipelines that travel across the landscape have the potential of breaking, which can lead to a massive (oil) spill that can potentially be quite devastating,” she said.
She described the recent pipeline catastrophe involving Enbridge and the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. “Millions of gallons of oil traveled some 40 miles downstream, and the safeguards put in place were largely ignored,” she said.
There are many crude oil pipelines, and proposals for more, across the United States, including two proposals for the state of Minnesota.
The Sandpiper and the Dakota Access (which actually skirts along the edge of Minnesota) are Bakken pipelines that carry oil from that portion of North Dakota, she said. The third oil pipeline is an existing line that is proposed to be replaced, and upgraded, to a larger capacity. “When completed, it will carry tar sands oil,” she said.
The MCEA represented a group of environmental advocates who were against the Sandpiper line going through the headwaters region of the Mississippi River. “The Public Utilities Commission decided that the Sandpiper line didn’t need to go through an environmental review,” she said.
She said many people accuse environmentalists of using the environmental review process as a delaying tactic or as a way of killing projects. From her perspective, Hoffman said the process is designed “to study the projects so that we understand the impacts before we embark on the project and ensure that we design the projects in such a way as to minimize impacts.”
“Environmental review is not designed to approve or disapprove a project, it is to help understand it,” she said.
“One federal judge put it this way,” she said, ‘Environmental review is not designed to stop a government from making bad decisions. It is designed to stop the government from making uninformed bad decisions.’”
MCEA took their challenge over the Sandpiper project to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which required an environmental review. “A few months later, the key investors in the project pulled out because they didn’t want to go through that review,” she said. “And now the Sandpiper project is dead for the foreseeable future.”
She said the ‘line three” project is still alive as proposed in the same corridor, as well as the Dakota Access line that goes through Illinois. “Protests were held all along the line, but the North Dakota protest received the most attention,” Hoffman said. “It was the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years, and the response to the protests resulted in some pretty disturbing imagery with dogs and pepper spray.”
After the protest, the Standing Rock tribe went to court and argued that the construction be halted because of the proximity to their reservation, according to Hoffman. “The D.C. Circuit Court disagreed, she said, “but the very same day the Army Corps of Engineers said they were going to halt construction around the reservation area and called for reform to better incorporate tribal views on large infrastructure projects,” she said.
This is still under review, and the Army Corps of Engineers has not indicated when or if they will move forward on that portion of the pipeline, she said.
Hoffman described the difference between excavating and transporting crude oil from the Bakken Fields of North Dakota, and tar sands. She also talked about the potential reduction of oil reserves in the region and the need for pipelines to transport oil across the U.S. and drew some conclusions:
‰Any and all future pipeline expansions will be controversial, time-consuming and expensive;
‰The government is likely to side with environmental activists. She gave as an example the veto of the Keystone project by President Obama;
‰Trains remain in use for oil transport as driven by supply and demand considerations. “Train traffic involving oil is actually way down in Minnesota,” she said, and “we will likely see that continue.”
Tuesday Group meets every Tuesday noon at the Grand Ely Lodge in Ely. The public is invited to engage in the varied forum.
Coming next week: Kathryn Hoffman’s update on the PolyMet mining project.