RICHARD SMITH: Enbridge’s refusal to reroute pipeline says it all

BEMIDJI -- When Herald readers look at maps of the proposed Enbridge Sandpiper Pipeline route to Superior, they can SEE what's at stake. The Enbridge route crosses the Red River and the Mississippi Headwaters, creating hazards for important aquif...

Richard Smith

BEMIDJI - When Herald readers look at maps of the proposed Enbridge Sandpiper Pipeline route to Superior, they can SEE what’s at stake.

The Enbridge route crosses the Red River and the Mississippi Headwaters, creating hazards for important aquifers and jeopardizing some of the cleanest lakes in Minnesota.

And what does it mean when Enbridge says the pipeline “has” to go to Superior? It means that Enbridge prefers Superior as the Sandpiper’s destination because it’s better for their bottom line. Nothing more. They want a short route and big profits.  

It means that they’re willing to risk important rivers and lake country for those profits. Even though there’s nothing to stop Enbridge from going around the Headwaters and arriving in Superior with a spur from the south - if they were really the careful stewards of the environment that they tell us they are in those half-page ads.

“Enbridge says alternate routes are not feasible.” Translation: Enbridge has chosen an expedient route - apparently oblivious, even after the disaster at Kalamazoo, Mich., to the dangers its pipelines create for a region of shallow groundwater and vulnerable surface waters.


Yes, Enbridge says it is a good steward of the land and water, but the company persists in advocating for a route that makes many water crossings through our sandy, porous soils. It wants a route that makes a sharp elbow over the shallow Straight River basin, an aquifer that already is identified by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as easily contaminated groundwater.

(One probable reason the MPCA is so concerned about the Enbridge route: At the site of a 1979 Enbridge spill near Bemidji, groundwater moves laterally about 3 inches to 5 inches a day. In the Straight River basin, the groundwater moves between 320 and 630 feet per day.)

According to Enbridge: “They (the monitoring facility in Edmonton, Alta.) can see what’s going on in the system at any point at any time.” But they don’t mention the many spills and leaks that go undetected and/or unreported. As the MPCA has noted: “It is probable that at least as much petroleum has been leaked underground in Minnesota during that period as was spilled above ground.”

If Enbridge has precise “computational monitoring,” why weren’t they paying attention to it during the Kalamazoo disaster? Why did they ignore the warnings for 17 hours? Human error.

As the EPA noted, “A series of in-line inspections had shown multiple corrosion and crack-like anomalies at the river crossing, but no field inspection was performed” - and oil spilled into the river for two days “as operators repeatedly overrode the shut-down system and restarted the line.”

Enbridge knows the EPA’s 2014 predictions around pipeline failure: an average of one leak, spill or rupture per every 30 miles of pipeline during each pipeline’s lifespan. And Enbridge knows that the Sandpiper will have leaks, spills and ruptures. They just don’t know if the spill will be near Hay Creek or the Mississippi River.

No wonder they’re making generous contributions to first responders.

As recently as May 6, Enbridge was admonished in federal reports for egregious lapses around infrastructure, integrity and inspection procedures. This is a company whose safety record is so bad that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration held up Enbridge as the industry model of what NOT to do. But we’re asked to trust them because this Canadian multinational corporation now has a new “corrosion inhibitor.”


No one in Friends of the Headwaters owns land on the Enbridge pipeline route. But no one who lives in this region wants a little Midwestern town to become that place “where you can’t drink the water.”

And nobody who lives here wants to decimate the local economy by jeopardizing the water local farmers use to irrigate potatoes grown for the area’s largest employer.

Please ask state officials to insist on a full Environmental Impact Statement before the Enbridge route is approved. This EIS should include risk analysis, as provided when the EIS is under the aegis of agencies charged with protecting our environment.

The people of this region can’t rely on PR from a Canadian conglomerate for information about this issue. These pipelines could impact our land, lives, lakes and livelihoods.

For more accurate information, see or .

Richard Smith is president of Friends of the Headwaters. 

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