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Commentary: Leech Lake, prepare for invasion of Tar Sands oil

Keep your children close, your inhalers in hand and don't forget to stock up on drinking water, as a new pipeline is proposed for northern Minnesota.

A set of corporations has offered $10 million to the Leech Lake tribe in exchange for a 20-year lease of tribal lands. The proposed Enbridge Alberta Clipper pipeline is one of the most controversial in history, with immense environmental and economic impacts. Leech Lake Band and the rest of northern Minnesota would do well to stop the pipeline, joining with thousands of Canadians, indigenous peoples, and indeed a host of shareholders, who think this project is a sham, as well as an environmental and ethical disaster.

The Tar Sands are ecologically considered the most destructive project on the Earth. The impact is devastating in northern Alberta, and promises to not only link our region into an unsustainable and immoral set of projects, but threatens our own groundwater in the land of lakes.

The proposed pipeline starts in the north of Alberta, Canada, where a set of companies is literally squeezing oil out of sand, in an economically and ecologically insane process. Consider this equation -- one barrel of tar sands oil requires between 2 and 4.5 barrels of water, the addition of two tons of tar sands (scraped from below the surface of the boreal forest), and creates two barrels of toxic waste and one barrel of oil. We might also add that the processing of this tar sands oil requires immense amounts of natural gas. Daily, tar sands producers burn 600 million cubic feet of natural gas to produce tar sands oil, enough natural gas to heat 3 million homes.

An area the size of Florida is slated for strip mining and in-situ drilling for tar sands. At present, the province of Alberta has leased over 65,000 square kilometers of land for tar sands development without environmental assessment. (Regulations in Canada are very lax in some provinces, leaving only minimal recourse).

Tar sands production is licensed to use more water than Alberta's two major cities -- Calgary and Edmonton -- combined. That water is turned into poison, laced with chemical sludge. And now the tailings pond for Syncrude (one of the corporations) is the largest dam project on Earth and can be seen from space by a naked eye.

The project is presently producing the most greenhouse gases in Canada, the equivalent to the emissions of the Czech Republic, while destroying the boreal forest, part of the world's most important storehouse of climate regulating carbon and oxygen of Canada.

To secure more markets, Enbridge is seeking expansion of this project by initially transporting 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), with ultimate capacity of up to 800,000 bpd available. The proposed Enbridge pipeline will pass through from Alberta through Saskatchewan and Manitoba into Minnesota while ending in Superior, Wis.

Recent negotiations taking place with Fond du Lac have finally come to an end. After a long battle, the tribe has finally signed an agreement for Enbridge to pass through their lands for a rumored $17 million. This decision now renders Enbridge's threats to bypass the reservation through a 21-mile detour as fruitless. However, there is no doubt that Fond du Lac temporarily cut the legs out from the project when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission refused the bypass.

Other tribes continue to fight, including the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and the Yankton Sioux who have filed suit against a similar pipeline to stop construction in South and North Dakota. Tribes argue their treaty is being violated by not requiring proper consultation and review as required by executive order.

Enbridge also wants to pump the oil over Leech Lake lands and through our area of lakes and woods. The lease they are offering will expose, in particular, Leech Lake tribal citizens to the risk of oil spills during transportation.

Looking beyond the environmental disaster of Alberta, Leech Lake must specifically be warned of the exposure to potential oil spills. Between 1992 and January 2008, the project has experienced a number of accidents averaging a reported 478,000 gallons of spilled oil. The pipelines are not safe.

Minnesota has already suffered exposure to these spills. In 2003, the Enbridge pipeline spilled 100,000 gallons of oil into a tributary of Lake Superior. In 2007, a spill of 235 barrels of oil in Clearbrook resulted in a fire and explosion causing the deaths of two repair crewmembers. Also in 2007, a pipeline spilled 500 barrels of oil and another 80,000.

Less than 100 miles from Leech Lake, the Koch pipeline spilled 134,000-plus gallons of oil into 10 acres of seasonal wetland. Several citizens voluntarily evacuated their homes in fear while the EPA alerted the nearby Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe of the spill. Not to mention the Enbridge spill in 2002 that released 48,000 gallons of crude oil at the Cass Lake pumping station.

It is clear the restoration costs of any spill could outweigh any offer provided by the oil companies. It is also clear that pipelines are the veins of the project, without them the tar sands could not be a reality.

Why would the companies continue a multibillion-dollar project if they had no transportation for their oil? They wouldn't. Please use this opportunity to speak with tribal and state leaders about the safety of and environmental impact of this project. We don't need it here.

Nellis Kennedy of the Navajo Nation is national campaign associate with Honor the Earth. Winona LaDuke, is Honor the Earth executive director, a White Earth enrollee, an author and twice a vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket.