What Is the Line 3 Pipeline and Why Is It Controversial?

Four members of the progressive Democratic "Squad" will travel to Minnesota this week to meet Indigenous leaders and express their opposition to a crude oil pipeline currently under construction.

Representative Ilhan Omar, who represents Minnesota's 5th congressional district, will be joined by Representatives Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Presley on September 3 and 4.

They will meet Indigenous leaders at the construction site on Friday and then hold a press conference in Minneapolis. On Saturday, they will participate in a round table discussion on "treaty violations and the lack of tribal consent."

The pipeline, known as Line 3, has been the source of significant controversy and protests, with opponents of the project arguing that it will run through land protected by treaties between the U.S. and the Ojibwe nations.

It is intended as a replacement for the 52-year-old Line 3 pipeline operated by Enbridge, a Canadian energy company based in Alberta.

However, most of the new line will run along an entirely new route. This route will take the pipeline through hundreds of lakes, rivers, wetlands and aqueducts.

Critics, including environmental groups, say the pipeline will open new parts of the state to potential oil spills that could endanger rivers, lakes and wild rice waters.

The new line will transport tar sands from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. Also known as oil sands, tar sands are a source of oil.

The current Line 3 has experienced leaks in the past, including the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history in 1991 near Grand Rapids. Enbridge has argued the new pipeline will be less likely to suffer from spills as it will be made of thicker, coated steel. Supporters of the pipeline have also cited the continued high demand for oil.

Last week, more than a thousand people gathered to protest the pipeline in the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. Protests have also taken place elsewhere and hundreds of protesters demonstrated at the headwaters of the Mississippi River in July.

During last week's event, Nancy Beaulieu, founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) Coalition, said: "We're going to continue to show up, and we're going to continue to assert our rights."

"We, as native people, have an inherent right to hunt, fish, gather and occupy," Beaulieu said.

A legal challenge to regulators' approval of the new pipeline was unsuccessful in the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court in August, though there is a case filed in a tribal court by the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe on behalf of wild rice that may be affected by the pipeline. The lawsuit may be the first brought in the U.S. on behalf of the rights of nature.

The defendant in that case is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to nullify a water permit for Line 3's construction.

However, the tribal court case may not be dealt with in time to prevent the pipeline's construction even if the White Earth Nation is successful. It's also not clear if the DNR would obey the court's ruling and a further appeal to the federal courts might be required.

The 350-mile stretch of pipeline is already around 90 percent complete and Enbridge has said it should be operational by the fourth quarter of 2021. The new Line 3 will eventually have capacity for 760,000 barrels of oil per day.

Demonstrators Protest Against the Line 3 Pipeline
Demonstrators with Extinction Rebellion XR Youth Los Angeles protest against climate change and the Line 3 oil pipeline project outside of the US Federal Building on August 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Four members of the Democratic "Squad" will express their opposition to the pipeline. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images