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Winona LaDuke, Published March 08 2014

Letter: Enbridge plays unfunny game with oil pipeline

A long time ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called my house. That was up in a remote Cree community in northern Canada, where I lived with my husband and children. The RCMP inspector asked for me and said they would like to talk to me about a missing person case. I said, “Who’s missing?” They said they couldn’t divulge that, as that was part of the investigation. I said I couldn’t help them.

We’ve got a similar challenge. The comment period for Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper fracked oil pipeline route through North Dakota and Minnesota is coming to a close – that is, to comment on the route or alternatives. The problem is that no one knows the route; we can’t get a copy of mapping for the proposed route to comment. Enbridge won’t release it.

Bob Merrit, former Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hydrologist, requested the GIS Shape File for the proposed line and was refused on the basis that the information was declared a “trade secret” and protected by Code of Federal Regulations covering sensitive public infrastructure vulnerable to terrorist attack. This is the correspondence from the Public Utilities Commission:

“Thank you for your e-mail to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Enbridge will not provide GIS shape files, as it deems this information as Trade Secret (Minn. R. 7829.0500). This information falls under Critical Energy Information (18 C.F.R. § 388.113) and is exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. You may certainly contact Enbridge to request this information.”

That’s what Brian Swanson of the PUC explained to Merrit. This is a problem.

As Willis Mattson, another former state regulatory official, quips, “The PUC and Enbridge cannot reasonably withhold this data set while simultaneously shifting the burden onto the public to find, evaluate and advocate alternative routes for the pipeline. The public is hampered in its time, expertise and technical resources and certainly is no match for the capabilities that large corporations like Enbridge possess. Yet, this is what the process requires of the public.”

So what’s a girl to do? Or what is the public to do? The process grinds on, and the proposal is to put a 24- or so inch pipeline next to spring-fed lakes, shallow aquifers, crossing near wild rice harvesting areas, areas full of native prairie and medicines – and fill that pipeline with some of the most volatile stuff known to humans. And, add to that, a company that proposes it has 800 spills under its belt; and less than 20 percent of pipeline spills are actually found by the company. They are found by folks like you and I, who become first responders.

In the meantime, we aren’t even allowed to know where the pipeline is proposed to go, and we can’t figure out what we are commenting on. The national security bit is a bit of a hoax because we don’t actually have a pipeline in. And besides that, by the time you are done clearing land for a pipeline you can find every pipeline right of way.

I’d sure like to know what aquifers, what endangered prairie (like that 960 acres near Grand Forks, which is pristine) the proposed pipeline would cross, and what alternatives would be. Can’t do that without a map.

I don’t know if the RCMP ever found that missing person. I hope they did. It was funny at the time. But I’ll tell you what, Enbridge’s lost pipeline, or the one under that cloak of invisibility, is not so funny.

The public has a right to know. The comment period should not continue without a full disclosure of the route.

LaDuke is executive director of Honor the Earth, and Ojibwe writer and economist who works on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation.