I had planned a blog to share my comments to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Line 3 and ask all of you to take time to comment yourselves. There are multiple ways to submit comment but I found a BIG PROBLEM with the main way… So that will get attention first.

  • You can email Dan Wolf at the PUC dan.wolf@state.mn.us [This is how I submitted my comments. You could also email scott.ek@state.mn.us ] UPDATE: Just got notice from a friend that Dan Wolf has retired… Use Scott Ek address. Scott.Ek@state.mn.us
  • You can mail comments to Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, 121 7th Place East, Suite #350, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 55101.
  • And you could do an Online Comment on the PUC website – the PUC’s preferred way based on the comment notice. But it looks like maybe they screwed this method up… And the Line 3 webpage at the PUC shows nothing happening. Nothing to do, folks! We’ve got this under control!! So much for public engagement…

Is this why the PUC didn’t include email as a way to comment this time around? Did they want you going to the PUC site, where you’d get lost in their infinite loop? Here’s the verbiage from their notice:

When you click on the link they provide, you get this. Can you find the Comment selection? Has it been replaced by Subscribe? (That’s where the Comment link used to be…) It seems in the midst of noticing the public that they want comments, the PUC made a major change to their screens removing the Comment link.

In case you want some ideas for comments you might make, I’m including mine below. Perhaps the PUC will soon clean up this debacle. Meanwhile, I’d suggest email as your easiest way to make a comment…

UPDATE: PUC has removed whatever they installed to change their comment system and it appears to be functioning again. Screen now looks as it did last week. The Comment button is back!!

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Docket Numbers 14-916 and 15-137 – Enbridge Proposed Line 3 Pipeline

Mr. Wolf,

Please find below areas of concern that demonstrate the second revised FEIS (2R FEIS) has not adequately addressed the potential impact of a spill into the Lake Superior watershed.  Because the EIS remains Inadequate, there is no basis for granting either a Certificate of Need or Route Permit.

Note: Quoted type indicates 2R FEIS verbiage.  Any highlights, including bold and italicized type, are mine. [Modified from my letter to accommodate WordPress limitations…]

I would include blue verbiage here but I failed to find any verbiage in this 2R FEIS that adequately defines the scope of the assigned work.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that “the FEIS is inadequate because it does not address the potential impact of an oil spill into the Lake Superior watershed.”  The only additional direction they gave was as follows:

  • “Lake Superior and its watershed, including the St. Louis River Estuary.”
  • “The EIS will consider potential impacts to the Lake Superior watershed including potential impacts of oil spills along the proposed Project.”

A definition of the “Lake Superior watershed” or “Lake Superior and its watershed” would be required as a first step in evaluating what specifically would require consideration in this effort to update the FEIS.  Determining if the 2R FEIS does indeed adequately address the impact of a spill would, at the very least, require this baseline understanding for all parties.  Without said definition, how can we ascertain if all required areas intended for study have been considered?

As will be noted consistently throughout my commentary, it seems the authors of this latest version of the Line 3 FEIS have incorrectly interpreted the Court of Appeals ruling to require a report on whether a drop of oil from a spill would reach Lake Superior, rather than a report on the impacts that would result to the Lake Superior watershed from a potential spill.

This seems a gross and egregious error that renders this new version of the Line 3 FEIS Inadequate.

As the 2R FEIS is Inadequate, there is no basis for consideration of a Certificate of Need or a Route Permit.

“Approximately 150 watercourses within the Lake Superior watershed were considered again in order to select an additional representative modeling location. Many of these watercourses were quite small, with limited or no potential for oil to reach Lake Superior within 24 hours. Therefore, the list was refined down to nine potential sites where, as a result of topography and water features, an oil release might result in either downstream and/or overland flow that had the potential to reach the Lake Superior. Appendix V, Section 1.6.3, provides additional detail on the site selection process.”           P 10-57

Why was this a criterion that would justify exclusion?  Is that what was interpreted to be the order by the MN Court of Appeals? To determine if oil from a spill would reach Lake Superior within 24 hours?  No, it was to determine the IMPACT of a SPILL on the Lake Superior watershed. 

“The Little Pokegama River and Pokegama River Crossing sites in Wisconsin were considered among the nine potential sites where, as a result of topography and water features, an oil release might result in either downstream and/or overland flow that had the potential to reach the Lake Superior.” P 10-57

Again, the goal is to assess a spill into the Lake Superior watershed, not into Lake Superior itself.  Perhaps these locations merit analysis to determine the detrimental effects to the Lake Superior watershed

“Based on the June 3, 2019 the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling there may be particular interest in the potential behavior of oil after 24-hours following release at Site 8 – Little Otter Creek. At this site, in general, after the oil has passed through the rapids in the St. Louis River and gone over the Fond du Lac Dam, the movement will slow down as the oil continues to flow into the less turbulent portion of the St. Louis River where the current slows down. At this point, because of the physical characteristics of the system, the oil would be floating and movement of the oil across the water surface will be largely driven by wind rather than by the river current. Given the sinuous configuration of the St. Louis River after the rapids (see Figure 3-12 in Stantec et. al, 2019 – Appendix V), and the fact that the oil will be affected largely by wind drift across the surface at this point, the oil would likely be driven towards shorelines where it would continue to be deposited. Chapter 10 Accidental Crude Oil Releases 10-70 Line 3 Project Final Environmental Impact Statement Because of the sinuous configuration, a series of continuous shifts in the wind direction would have to occur for the remaining floating oil to be blown across the water surface towards the Spirit Lake and Saint Louis Bay portions of the river and finally out to Lake Superior; this scenario of ever-shifting wind direction is unlikely to occur. As a result, even in an unmitigated release, it is unlikely that any measurable amount of oil would reach Lake Superior. This would occur with both light oil (Bakken crude) and heavy oil (CLSB or CLWB).” P 10-60 to 10-61

Not to beat this dead horse… but again, just because oil doesn’t reach Lake Superior itself, doesn’t mean that there has been no impact to the Lake Superior watershed.

“However, the Pokegama sites were rejected based on the following criteria, which are applicable to both sites:

  • Line 3 Project already reviewed, approved and constructed; 
  • Slow moving watercourse with low potential for entrainment and sinking oil; and
  • Much of the downstream receptor area is industrialized (e.g., docks and man-made banks).” P 10-57 to 10-58

None of these criteria justify rejection of these Wisconsin sites as worthy of analysis to determine the impact of a spill to the Lake Superior watershed.  1) The fact that the Wisconsin portion has already been constructed is irrelevant to whether or not Minnesota will decide to build. That this portion is already constructed is irrelevant to how a spill would impact the Lake Superior watershed.  2) Why should a slow moving watercourse be disregarded?  Because it is less likely to result in oil reaching Lake Superior?  That is not the requirement from the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  The court ordered an analysis that reported the impacts of a spill to the Lake Superior watershed.  Why would this type of stream not be considered a part of the watershed worth analyzing?  In fact, would it be problematic specifically because of the slow moving watercourse?  Would that result in more time for evaporation of the diluents and thus more sinking tar sands that will be even harder to remediate than oil floating toward Lake Superior?  3) Why does this industrialization matter?  Is there a watershed?  Yes.  Does the fact that it is “industrialized” mean “already contaminated” or “no longer consisting of natural ecosystems” or “no longer worth trying to save from contamination because it’s already polluted from industrialization”?  This is not clearly explained.  Regardless, why do any of these things – including the last which is sarcasm as any sane human being can surely recognize – have to do with reasoning the locations to be rejected?  There seems to be no logic to this reasoning unless perhaps it has something to do with avoiding already contaminated sites which might find cumulative effects of a spill that would render the project untenable.

In addition, if the spill site had been at a point along the Line 3 route through Wisconsin, the distance to the Lake would be significantly shorter and impacts therefore greater.  There is nothing in Minnesota’s environmental review law that limits jurisdiction to projects physically within the state.  Water knows nothing of man’s boundaries.     

[From the WI DNR Sandpiper/Line 3 EIS]  “With regard to potential oil spills affecting Lake Superior, the proposed Projects do not terminate near the shore of Lake Superior (they would terminate approximately 1.5 miles inland) nor do the pipeline routes parallel the lake shore. Spills on to land can be contained using berms and trenches33 to prevent spills from entering waterways. A crude oil spill that reached the lake would likely result from a release that entered a river or estuary upstream from the location where the river or estuary enters Lake Superior. Impacts to Lake Superior would likely be localized and could include surface sheens or slicks and some localized water contamination. Given the volume of Lake Superior, it is unlikely that a release into a river or estuary would result in significant long-term impacts to its water quality and its aquatic resources. For spills in water colder than the oil’s pour point, the oil quickly becomes viscous or tar-like.34 Even lighter, refined products can lose the ability to disperse and become non-coalescing, semi-solid, smooth, spherical particles that are difficult to recover. Weathering and loss by evaporation are slowed by low temperature and thickness of the slick.35 ”  P 10-58

There appear to be many assumptions in this paragraph.  “Impacts to Lake Superior would ‘likely’ be localized”?  No mention of the bitumen that would sink into the watershed after evaporation of the diluents?  What prevents the dilbit from breaking down into diluent and bitumen once released from the pipeline?  Why does a large volume of the lake mean no “significant long-term impacts”?  What definitions are being assumed for “significant” and “long-term”?  Significant based on human understanding?  Or significant based on how the fish experience it, or the toads, or the mosquitoes?  And again, I must point out, this is not about Lake Superior itself.  It’s about the “Lake Superior watershed”.  That means if there is damage to the water quality of the river or estuary, then there is an impact to the Lake Superior watershed.  Even if it is in Wisconsin.

“Based on the June 3, 2019 the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling there may be particular interest in the potential behavior of oil after 24-hours following release at Site 8 – Little Otter Creek. At this site, in general, after the oil has passed through the rapids in the St. Louis River and gone over the Fond du Lac Dam, the movement will slow down as the oil continues to flow into the less turbulent portion of the St. Louis River where the current slows down. At this point, because of the physical characteristics of the system, the oil would be floating and movement of the oil across the water surface will be largely driven by wind rather than by the river current.

Given the sinuous configuration of the St. Louis River after the rapids (see Figure 3-12 in Stantec et. al, 2019 – Appendix V), and the fact that the oil will be affected largely by wind drift across the surface at this point, the oil would likely be driven towards shorelines where it would continue to be deposited. Chapter 10 Accidental Crude Oil Releases 10-70 Line 3 Project Final Environmental Impact Statement Because of the sinuous configuration, a series of continuous shifts in the wind direction would have to occur for the remaining floating oil to be blown across the water surface towards the Spirit Lake and Saint Louis Bay portions of the river and finally out to Lake Superior; this scenario of ever-shifting wind direction is unlikely to occur. As a result, even in an unmitigated release, it is unlikely that any measurable amount of oil would reach Lake Superior. This would occur with both light oil (Bakken crude) and heavy oil (CLSB or CLWB).”  P 10-69 to 10-70

AGAIN, WHY DOES IT MATTER THAT NO OIL WILL SUPPOSEDLY GET TO LAKE SUPERIOR?  This report is about the impacts to the watershed, not simply the lake.  What of the solids that have sunk into the watershed?  What about the effects to the residents of the watershed who do NOT live in the lake?  Again, does “floating oil” indicate a failure to consider tar sands?  The dilbit would remain intact, not separating into diluent and bitumen?  All of it?  Was the choice of a spill at this place on Little Otter Creek done assuming that the downstream Fond du Lac dam would provide some mitigation?  As Enbridge’s Kalamazoo spill included two downstream dams, which were both breached, there can be no certainty that the Fond du Lac dam would act as a guarantee that oil would not reach the lake, let alone impact the watershed.

Again I ask, where exactly is the scope of the EIS’s stated inadequacy (as laid out by the Court) described?  Where is a map of the watershed explaining the area where the Court required a study of the impacts of a spill?  Without such a map, how can we know if we have appropriately achieved what the Courts set out to be done? It seems this clear depiction of the scope would be a starting point.  But in all the analysis we see, it seems the goal of the EIS has missed the Court’s directive, instead the report seems focused on what impact a spill would have only on Lake Superior.  Perhaps if a map had been drawn, the true goal of the impact study would have been better understood and reported.

In the following table, what exactly is being hidden from the public?  P 10-71

It does not appear that there are missing figures.  Does that mean these provided numbers are not consistent with those provided to other parties?  This is confusing.

Also, the reference to a vague and meaningless “Site 8”, and not “Little Otter Creek” disguises, in the tables that follow on P 10-72 through 10-75, that this is a real place we are discussing.  In designating the creek with a number, minimized or eliminated are any connection to place, love of the creek, or memories of time spent enjoying the creek.  At the very least, it requires anyone investigating the data to go back and forth in the tables to remember which site is which, rather than being easily able to distinguish this with a specific name label instead of a number.  The tables also show clearly large white spaces to the side which would seem to allow space for a proper naming convention as opposed to using numbers.  This could be done with a very wee bit of creativity required and the resulting clarity to the public for these spill locations would be much improved. It would have the added benefit of eliminating what appears to be an attempt to make the information less easy to analyze.  Below Table 10.3-8 shows an example of how numeric identities obscure any insight to the real world locations.

“There have been no spills over 6,000 bbl since 2000. For this reason, all of the hypothetical Line 3 spill scenarios would represent the largest spills in this time period.” P 10-72 to 10-73

Why, with the verbiage from page 10-72, does this table on page 10-73 require the 2006-2017 breakdown columns?  The data is clearly the same for both time periods, one of which is included in the other, seeming to make it irrelevant to report.  Is something else being hidden from view here?

In the Appendices – Revised, Appendix A, Maps 36A through 39A seem to show an old route, not the currently surveyed RA-05 Route Segment Alternative in Clearwater County.

This mapping does not reflect to the public where this pipeline is being planned for construction.  Is this information to be provided at some point to the public for evaluation of the true route Enbridge anticipates?  Or will the route information not be allowed public scrutiny and criticism?

It also seems that Bear Creek is being denoted as an “Unnamed Stream”  As a newer resident to Bear Creek Township in Clearwater County, with one main stream, it is easy to determine that this stream is Bear Creek.  However, I also noticed that the signs for Bear Creek were removed from the roadway during this Line 3 process.  Was that done in order for this waterway to become an “Unnamed Stream”?  While this at the least makes reading the lay of the land in the area of the pipeline’s proposed route more of a task for locals, the larger concern is that if Enbridge has so little familiarity with this place of ours, how will they be able to respond quickly when someone calls in a spill at “Bear Creek”? 

Once there is a true definition of the Lake Superior watershed, perhaps the DOC could use, as a model for their Environmental Impact Statement, the Michigan Independent Risk Analysis for the Straits Pipelines – Final Report to truly assess all aspects of the impacts of an oil spill to not only the Lake Superior watershed, but all spill locations to  include:

  • Analyzing How Long it Takes to Contain and Clean Up the Worst-case Release
  • Analyzing the Short and Long-term Public Health and Safety Impacts
  • Analyzing the Short-and Long-term Ecological Impacts
  • Analyzing Potential Measures to Restore the Affected Natural Resources and Mitigate Adverse Impacts Upon Ecological and Cultural Resources
  • Estimating the Amount of Natural Resource and Other Economic Damages, Public and Private, That Would Result from a Worst-case Release
  • Estimating the Governmental Costs That Would Be Incurred as a Result of a Worst-case Release

Perhaps this last is most important as we consider the likelihood that Enbridge will not be able to maintain the resources needed to assure financial culpability for spills on all of its many pipelines. The continued divestment announcements from banks around the world show their confidence in the fossil fuel industry is waning.  As the planet looks to move away from fossil fuels to more renewable sources of energy, we will continue to see growing financial instability for fossil fuel companies, especially as they begin to acknowledge the stranded assets that make up much of their portfolios.    Again, we can look to Michigan for details on this concern specific to Enbridge in their report entitled An Analysis of The Enbridge Financial Assurances Offered to the State of Michigan.  Minnesota does not want to be left financially responsible for Enbridge’s oily mess if they discover themselves bankrupt.

For a project of this size and type, which is destined to be a final, unnecessary conduit for the energy of our past, one would imagine that a full accounting of the benefits and risks might easily result in a No Build decision.  Clearly, the tens of thousands of Minnesotans who have already spoken their opposition would support this action.  However, when we look at the DOC’s project website, the project WILL be built – there is no allowance for NOT building the project.

Since the PUC originally, and erroneously, approved the EIS as Adequate and, subsequent to that error, granted both a Certificate of Need and a Route Permit, both of which have major concerns that also await their days in court, we have seen an unprecedented realization around the globe about the dire straits created with greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe).  These GHGe were largely driven by the fossil fuel industry and made worse and left unaddressed due to the industry’s campaign of climate change denial. While we are still years away from realizing all the effects of the GHGe we’ve already released, this entire Line 3 2R FEIS is written for fossil fuel infrastructure which not only continues to bring further risk to our tenuous environment but plans to do so with some of the dirtiest fossil fuels remaining, Tar Sands Oils.  So the dangers of continuing with fossil fuel infrastructure investment are clear.  And that is without even considering the risk of a spill.

Meanwhile, we are seeing a decline in fuel consumption and a commitment from all major vehicle manufacturers to move all product lines to electric vehicles near term.  There is currently a glut of fossil fuels, most likely because the industry is working to sell all they can before the world cuts them off from their deadly game.  It becomes clearer each day that the world is moving away from fossil fuels as large banks commit to ending fossil fuel investment.  Public pressure is increasing as more realize the true nature of our changing climate and its devastating effects around the world.  We all can see the negative effects, again, largely a result of our consumption of fossil fuels, and for which the industry created a campaign of doubt to prevent us from realizing these dangers they were bringing.  Sadly, the climate predictions our fossil fuel corporations made decades ago are proving all too accurate as the climate catastrophe unfolds. 

And, yes, all pipelines leak, eventually.  Whether by accident, material failure, incompetence, or act of God, the result for the environment and humans is the same.  And the limited available evidence is clear that one of the worst places for a tar sands pipeline is in wetlands, where much of the applicant’s proposed route lies.

The most pressing need as climate impacts continue to escalate around the world is access to clean, drinkable water. Water IS more valuable to humans than oil, no matter how the corporations or the powers that be work to convince us otherwise. How do we know?  Because we know we can live without oil, but we cannot live without water. 

Please protect this important resource for future generations

Sincerely,

Jami Gaither


Feel free to use any of the information I’ve uncovered in the 2R FEIS as a starting point for your own comments. Enbridge has their supporters sending in comments too and I bet they’re hoping to outnumber our #NoLine3 comments. Please do what you can to show your opposition to Line 3. For the sake of our planet.