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Environmental group leads tour to area oil sites

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER About 24 members of the environmental group MN350 visited the encampment site where Red Lake residents are protesting Enbridge expansion. Shown left, MN350 members from the Twin Cities Terry Hokenson, Lois Norrgard and Terry Houlle view the section of pipeline that crosses into the Red Lake Reservation.

BEMIDJI — The protest over the handful of acres of Red Lake Indian Reservation land is catching environmental activists’ eyes across the state.

On Wednesday, about 30 people, who ranged from concerned citizens to nonprofit representatives, arrived in a coach bus at a campsite in rural Clearwater County. There, protesters have stayed for months in opposition to the four Enbridge Energy pipelines underground they say are there illegally.

The visiting group, organized by the Twin Cities-based climate change awareness organization MN350, visited several other locations including an Enbridge pumping station and the site of a 1979 oil spill nearby.

Lois Norrgard of MN350 said the purpose of the trip was to raise awareness and also educate themselves about oil transportation in the area. She added that they oppose the proposed expansion of Enbridge activities in Minnesota.

“(We’re) talking about the infrastructure, showing where the pipelines are, talking about the problems .. .and also about what’s happening in the future for us to get involved and be more aware and be able to participate in the process,” Norrgard said. “I don’t know where it will go from here, but we’re going to try to do everything we can.”

Enbridge is planning upgrades to its facilities along the line that runs from North Dakota through Minnesota to Superior, Wis. That project, the second phase of which is scheduled to be completed in 2015, will increase the line’s capacity from 450,000 barrels per day to 800,000 barrels per day, according to an information sheet provided to the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners earlier this month.

That project will mean upgrades to pumping stations along the line and “no new pipeline construction outside station facilities,” Enbridge spokeswoman Becky Haase wrote in an email Wednesday. She said the line that would be upgraded doesn’t include the four pipelines being protested in Red Lake.

“We’re concerned for many reasons,” Norrgard said, including crude oil’s impact on climate change. 

The group protesting the pipeline’s existence under Red Lake lands has not had any more contact with Enbridge since one of its organizers was arrested during a peaceful protest at Enbridge’s Bemidji office in April, said Marty Cobenais, another protest organizer.

“Enbridge respects the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully, as long as they do so safely — and without posing any risk to the public or our pipeline operations,” Haase wrote in an email. Haase has previously said Enbridge went through the proper channels to build the pipelines, the last of which was built in 1972.

Kathy Hollander, of MN350, said Wednesday was her third time visiting the Red Lake site. She said more people are becoming aware of pipelines like the ones under her feet because of the national discussion surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Many of us recreate in northern Minnesota, many of us have relatives here, we regularly visit northern Minnesota,” Hollander said. “And we value this land.”

Andrew Slade, the northeast program coordinator for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, is concerned about more oil arriving in his home of Duluth and nearby Superior. He fears that could mean ships hauling oil in and out of the port, which he said doesn’t currently happen.

“It’s got to go somewhere,” Slade said. 

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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