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Winona LaDuke: Certificate of greed: PUC should not grant Enbridge permit

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The Enbridge pipeline company is asking for a "certificate of need" on July 17 at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. This certificate would enable the company to double the capacity of the present Alberta Clipper pipeline carrying tar sands dilbit (diluted bitumen) to the Superior refinery.

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The pipeline passes through hundreds of miles of Minnesota, and the Red Lake, Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations. The current flow is 440,000 barrels per day. Enbridge is submitting permits to increase the barrel flow to 570,000 barrels per day and then eventually to 800,000 barrels per day. I believe it is a certificate of greed. The Minnesota PUC should not grant this permit.

Here’s my thinking: I just returned from the Cree and Dene communities in the Athabascan River basin, today the home of the tar sands. This is the origin of Enbridge’s product. Walking through their territory, what I saw was immense devastation; I spoke to families who had experienced losses from bile duct cancers, and a multitude of diseases which should have never existed in these communities. And I know that expansion of the tar sands (only 3 percent has been exploited) means certain destruction of the entire region, and a huge impact on climate change. The pipeline is their way to expand, and the pipeline endangers us.

At the same time, I am fully aware that the Lac-Megantic, Quebec oil train disaster will be used by Enbridge to say that pipelines are a better way to transport oil. I think that the way to go is with safety, and not with greed. We need more caution, and not more pipelines and tankers. We need infrastructure dictated by needs and public policy makers, not free market economics of corporations.

A recap of recent pipeline spills: On April 24, there was an oil spill in Viking, Minn.; 600 gallons of oil was spilled from the Enbridge Clipper Line 67. In late March, the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark., gushed 800,000 gallons of oil into a suburb. Cleanup is not complete, and a set of "absorbent pads" — essentially paper towels — was at the center of the cleanup strategy.

The problem is that both Pegasus and the Alberta Clipper transport tar sands oil-diluted bitumen. Tar sands oil is 15-20 times more acidic than conventional oil and up to seven times as viscous (thicker). Tar sands oil is 16 times more likely to breach a pipeline than regular crude oil; yet Enbridge is determined to expand their capacity and their chances of risking more oil spills. Now consider our ecosystem: Wetlands are like sponges, they soak up everything.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) is in charge of safety. They cover 2.5 million miles of present pipelines, with a scant 110 inspectors. In turn, pipelines are getting exemptions for areas not categorized as "high consequence". These are structural exemptions in the integrity of the pipeline operation. In the Keystone pipeline case, the PHMSA granted a special permit to TransCanada. The waiver allows the proposed pipeline to operate at 80 percent of the minimum yield strength of the pipe, rather than the maximum of 72 percent required by federal regulations.

PHMSA approved an exemption for areas not considered "high consequence areas." "High consequence areas" in PHMSA’s evaluation include shallow aquifers, prime farmland, wetlands and wildlife habitats, according to testimony submitted to the State Department on this pipeline. This is northern Minnesota.

Enbridge is responsible for 804 pipeline spills since 1999 (according to the Polaris Institute), including the Kalamazoo spill, where 800,000 barrels of oil gushed for 17 days. Kalamazoo cleanup: $800 million thus far, and it’s not done. Total spills value: 6.8 million gallons of oil. The ecological impact, health impact, and the insurance economic impact — in terms of lost property values and rising insurance costs have never been calculated.

If I was a northern landowner, I’d be contacting the Public Utilities Commission this week and asking for caution, not approving a certificate of need — which will likely serve Enbridge more than any of us. There is no need for a pipeline to expand. There is a need for safety, planning and infrastructure for efficiency- not profit. Tell the PUC what you care about.

WINONA LADUKE is an American Indian activist, environmentalist, economist and writer. She is executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

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