Last week the Public Utilities Commission began its final hearings on Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline project - the new tar sands line the company has proposed to build in a new corridor without cleaning up the old Line 3 that runs across our land. During these deliberations we've learned a little bit about how Enbridge thinks of us, and how they plan to treat us if this new pipeline gets approved.
As the first hearing began on Monday, June 18th, Enbridge offered up a few last minute promises, including creating a trust fund for decommissioning old pipelines in the future. This move came in the wake of an announcement earlier in the month from Enbridge CEO Al Monaco promising landowners that Enbridge would indeed remove the old Line from their properties if they requested it.
At face value it sounds good for our concerns to be addressed, but the reality is that Enbridge is taking a dismissive and evasive attitude towards removal. Company representatives have repeatedly claimed that there are only “a handful of landowners” who want the old Line 3 removed from their property, implying this is what makes it reasonable for them to commit to removal. We know from our work that this isn’t true. Our conversations and meetings with landowners along the mainline corridor reflect widespread support for removal, and a broadly shared sentiment that it’s wrong and disrespectful for a company to leave behind a mess as they move on to a new project.
It’s an insult that the company seemed to think casually throwing out general promises would be enough to solve this problem. As multiple commissioners and intervening parties pointed out during deliberations last Tuesday, without concrete, detailed plans and structures of accountability, these kind of statements are useless. We know from listening to the past experiences of landowners that lofty sounding ‘company policies’ – be they about remediation, land access, our trees and fences – never play out so smoothly in real time. In the words of landowner Rod Struble, “they’ll only do what they are forced to do.”
After being pressed in the hearings, Enbridge delivered a few more details of their plans in a document to the e-docket on Friday. In the portion addressing the “Landowner Choice” removal plan, the document explains that the company will ask landowners via mailed letters whether they want their portion of the line removed. In an attached addendum at the bottom of the document, however, it also states that landowners will be offered compensation to let Enbridge abandon it instead of remove it.
Landowner compensation is already a sore issue up and down the mainline corridor. We know that Enbridge compensates landowners at different rates, and a number of our landowners feel that they or their neighbors have been fleeced by intimidating land agents. In the past, Enbridge has isolated landowners by approaching them on an individual basis, falsely reporting that neighbors have already agreed to what the company is asking for, and putting non-disclosure restrictions on the settlements they negotiate. Why would compensating landowners in the “Landowner Choice” removal plan be any different? Aside from this, how does giving us a one-time compensation rectify the fact that pipeline abandonment falls outside of our easement contracts? What legal tools will we have to represent our own rights and hold the company accountable?
This is a ploy to get around the transparency required for proper removal procedures. The company would rather throw money at individual landowners and play them against one another than pull up large sections of the pipe and discover what contamination might be sitting under those 900 structural anomalies. Enbridge says there’s only a handful of landowners that want the pipe removed, but the reality is that they are simply trying to make that true. And while we are all concerned about our property values and how an abandoned pipeline affects our livelihoods, this isn’t just about a one-time paycheck. We are leaving our land to our children, and our grand children. This is about legacy, not just money.
This group is about demanding our right to removal together, because we can’t each stand up to a billion-dollar oil transport company as individuals. Our request is simple: we want transparency and commitment to the removal of the old Line 3 pipeline, and remediation of any contamination discovered in the process. Removal should be negotiated and overseen through the Pollution Control Agency or other regulatory bodies that ensure the facts and risks of abandonment play a clear role in how removal is requested, carried out, and documented. Before that’s cleared up, Enbridge shouldn’t be making any more messes.