Thought Piece

Our nation’s infrastructure needs updating for many environmental reasons, as mentioned in this Wall Street Journal editorial; and yet, many local, state and national voices are opposing natural gas pipelines being built with private money and designed to be much safer than the pipelines they replace.
The environmental activists don’t consider these technological improvements to be a climate issue, instead it’s an argument against fossil fuels in toto. Frankly, I can’t help wondering when the fire and brimstone of this clash between the climate belief systems will enter into a more constructive period?
“Power can be misused as much in the hands of the sanctimonious as the corrupt.” Anonymous

Standing Rock Redux

Green activists oppose a pipeline that would reduce oil spills.

Extreme environmentalists haven’t been able to stop consumers from using oil, so they’re now trying to disrupt the supply chain. That’s the strategy behind green opposition to pipelines, and the latest target is Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 in Minnesota.

The proposed Line 3 would replace a deteriorating pipeline built in the 1960s that moves Alberta crude oil through a sliver of North Dakota and across Minnesota to Wisconsin. Enbridge estimates the old pipeline would require some 900 repairs by 2025 and 6,000 over the next 15 years, and it’s operating at about half capacity due to safety concerns.

The new Line 3 would benefit from more than 50 years of pipeline innovation. The old pipeline was forged using flash welding, which introduces impurities into steel that can cause cracks and corrosion.

Today’s double-submerged arc welding keeps pipeline steel clean and strong. To prevent rust, the new Line 3 would be coated in fusion-bonded epoxy. That’s a big improvement over the polyethelyne tape twisted around the old pipeline like hockey-stick wrap. The new pipeline would also feature automated valves, sophisticated leak-detection systems and 24/7 monitoring.

Thanks to such technological advances, pipelines now deliver oil safely 99.999% of the time, according to a 2017 report by the Association of Oil Pipelines and the American Petroleum Institute. Last year 72% of spills occurred in contained units on the operators’ property. And 70% of pipeline spills are less than a cubic meter, says Canada’s Fraser Institute.

The $2.9 billion proposed pipeline also carries major economic benefits. The project would use union construction workers, and Enbridge says it would support some 8,600 jobs. The pipeline is expected to generate $20 million in property taxes in its first year.

Trucks and trains are the alternatives to pipelines, but they’re more dangerous and carbon-intensive. Between 16.5 million and 23.1 million gallons of Bakken crude pass through Minnesota by rail each day. The state’s Department of Transportation has warned that this heavy train traffic routinely delays emergency-response vehicles and “poses a threat of catastrophic fire in the event of a derailment and rupture of some of the tank cars.” A recent derailment 15 miles south of the Minnesota border spilled 230,000 gallons of oil, contaminating two rivers.

Yet none of this matters to opponents for whom any oil production is a crime against the Earth. They’re gearing up for a repeat of the 2016 Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which also can be good business for the greens.

The Native American environmental group Honor the Earth brought in more than $3 million last year after helping lead the opposition to Dakota Access, and it had never previously exceeded $1 million, according to public disclosures. Honor the Earth co-founder Winona LaDuke is one of the most prominent activists opposing Line 3.

Enbridge won an initial victory in late June when Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission voted to approve Line 3. But expect a political brawl over the two dozen remaining permits the company needs before it can break ground in Minnesota. As ever, environmentalists’ demands for energy perfection are the enemy of the greater green good.

Correction: A previous version misstated which state utilities commission has voted to approve Line 3.

Appeared in the July 23, 2018, print edition.