Protesters Against Line 3 Tar Sands Pipeline Face Arrests and Rubber Bullets

Project will pipe the ‘dirtiest fuel left on the planet’ across Minnesota’s pristine lakes and wetlands.

More than 600 people have now been arrested or received citations over protests amid growing opposition to the Line 3 oil sands pipeline currently under construction through Minnesota.

Protests against Line 3 are becoming a national and international cause as demonstrators seek to highlight the environmental impact of the pipeline. Photo by Lorie Shaul.

Native American tribes including the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and Indigenous-led environmental organizations such as Honor the Earth are leading opposition efforts in court and on the ground, mobilizing ‘water protectors’ to try to halt the project.

Protests against Line 3 are becoming a national and international cause as demonstrators seek to highlight the environmental impact of the pipeline, especially amid an escalating climate crisis that is caused by fossil fuel emissions.

Kelly Maracle, 57, a member of the Tonawanda Seneca and Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, was one of seven women arrested on July 19 while protesting the construction of the pipeline by the energy firm Enbridge. Maracle, Honor the Earth executive director Winona Laduke, and four other women chained themselves together at a right of way crossing on the Shell River in northern Wadena county, Minnesota.

For about three hours, the women sat chained together in front of a line of police.

Police officers arrested them on trespass charges and they were released two days later, while LaDuke was imprisoned an extra night in jail over charges related to previous actions.

Enbridge is paying the salaries of the police officers who are providing security during the construction of the pipeline, as a part of a deal with the state: The pipeline was approved in exchange for a promise that taxpayers would not have to foot the bill for policing the expected protests.

Maracle explained she got involved as a water protector in the fight to stop Line 3 for her grandchildren.

“I would really love it if they could have grandchildren. But that’s not going to happen unless there’s clean drinking water, because nothing lives without water,” she said.

For Maracle and other water protectors camping along the Line 3 construction route, the confrontations are becoming increasingly dangerous.

On July 30, water protectors at Line 3 were subjected to pepper spray and rubber bullets during a series of arrests, and protesters who’ve been jailed have reported mistreatment from officers such as lack of proper food, solitary confinement, and denial of medications. Maracle noted the police presence at camps has increased in recent weeks, including more frequent police raids, sweeps, surveillance, and helicopter flybys.

“It’s a climate crime,” said Winona Laduke, executive director of Honor the Earth, who lives on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. “This is the largest tar sands pipeline in the world being built in the time of drought in Minnesota and catastrophic fires in Ontario and Manitoba.”

Opponents of Line 3 have cited concerns over the environmental impact of constructing the pipeline on new routes through ecologically sensitive areas in Minnesota, as well as violations of US treaty rights with Native American tribes. And they object that expanding the tar sands gas pipeline will bring profit to a multinational corporation based in Canada, but will do nothing for the nearby communities.

“It’s running this pollution through our country, and then exporting it. So there’s no benefit for us. We’re just getting the pollution,” said Cheryl Barnds, a 52-year-old homeschooling mother of three children based in Takoma Park, Maryland.

She added: “This line is not a replacement. It’s a reroute and an expansion… So they decided to bring it through tribal land on people who don’t have a voice and don’t have the political power to stop it.”

Enbridge’s Line 3 oil sands pipeline is a 1,097-mile crude oil pipeline extending from Edmonton in Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. In the US, most of the pipeline’s route is being built in Minnesota, where construction of Line 3 is replacing an existing 282-milepipeline with a new 330-mile route.

The route crosses more than 200 water bodies and 75 miles of wetlands. Construction of the Minnesota portion of the pipeline began in December 2020; the total project is 80 percent completed, with estimates it will reach final completion toward the end of 2021.

The project received federal approval under the Trump administration, and the Department of Justice under Joe Biden has supported the decision in court, rejecting arguments from Native American tribes and environmentalists that the US Army Corps of Engineers did not properly assess the environmental impacts of the pipeline.

Battles continue in court to halt the pipeline construction.

Groups opposed to the project appealed to the Minnesota supreme court to overturn a lower court’s ruling in favor of the approvals granted for the construction to begin. The court is expected to decide whether to hear the case by mid-September. The lack of success through courts and regulatory authorities have inspired opponents to get involved in direct actions and protests to try to halt construction of the project.

“It became obvious that the regulatory system wasn’t going to do the right thing and stop them from building it, and that it was necessary to start putting our bodies on the line to defend the treaty rights and to protect the water,” said Trish Weber, an engineer based in Oregon who was arrested during the 19 July action.

There have been at least nine reported releases of drilling fluid along the pipeline’s route during construction, prompting 32 Minnesota legislators to request details from the state’s Pollution Control Agency. They also want work on the pipeline halted pending an investigation and until the drought conditions in Minnesota subside. Enbridge currently has a water appropriation permit to pump nearly 5 billion gallons of groundwater for the pipeline construction.

“We have a great deal of the world’s freshwater in our Great Lakes and in northern Minnesota and so this issue is coming to everyone. It isn’t just a Great Lakes issue or a northern Minnesota issue. Water is an issue worldwide,” said 66-year-old Barbara Lee With of La Pointe, Wisconsin, one of the women arrested during the July 19 action.

She has been involved in environmental protests for the past decade, ever since opposing an open mountaintop removal mine on the shores of Lake Superior, where she lives.

“I was born and raised in Minnesota, so my love of the 10,000 lakes is what got me over here,” added Lee With. “Tar sands is the dirtiest fuel left on the planet. This is the last tar sands pipeline and it’s running through Anishinaabe treaty territory and those treaty rights have been violated and ignored.”

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