Line 3 Pipeline


Minnesota, USA

Project risks:

Environmental Destruction, Litigation, Social Harm


  • Enbridge Inc

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Approximate location. By zooming in, you can see the corridor of the Line 3 expansion pipeline.

The Line 3 tar sands expansion pipeline in Minnesota is a catastrophe for the environment. Canadian oil company Enbridge completed a 542 km (337 mi) replacement of the original Line 3 pipeline in September 2021.[1] The so-called replacement pipeline takes a different route and a much larger diameter than the original Line 3, doubling the capacity to 760,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day.[3][4] At CAD 7.5 billion, the Line 3 expansion is the largest capital project in Enbridge's history.1446114463 Indigenous groups and local activists have been fighting the pipeline for 9 years, ever since Enbridge published its expansion plans in 2014.[6] Opponents are against increasing the flow of tar sands oil. They also condemn the pipeline’s dangerous route through Minnesota’s sensitive rivers, lakes and tribal lands.

Oil from the tar sands in Canada's Alberta province is is one of the most greenhouse gas intensive fossil fuels in the world.14465 Canadian tar sands are a form of crude bitumen that contains tar, clay and sand. Oil companies extract the bitumen via surface mining or underground extraction. Fossil giants like Shell and ExxonMobil cut down boreal forests that are thousands of years old to mine directly underneath for the tar sands. This causes massive greenhouse gas emissions.[8] Companies also drain wetlands and alter the natural course of rivers and streams. They leave behind open pits and thousands of square miles of barren landscape.[9]

Oil companies are extracting the dirty tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Jiri Rezac

The Line 3 pipeline replacement carves through vast stretches of wetlands and tribal lands.[10] It crosses 200 rivers and streams in northern Minnesota that are part of the Mississippi river headwaters.[11] One single spill would threaten the drinking water of 18 million people.[12] The Line 3 replacement traverses treaty land and snakes its way between the White Earth, Leech Lake and Red Lake reservations.[13][14] The Anishinaabe people fish and hunt in those lands and farm traditional wild rice. They have done so for thousands of years. A single pipeline spill would poison the water, kill the wildlife, and force the Indigenous people to leave their homes.[15]

A spill is almost certain. In the US, there were 3,398 pipeline spills between 2010 and 2020.[16] From 2002 to August 2018, Enbridge and its subsidiaries caused more than 300 spills from their pipelines.14467 Enbridge was itself responsible for the largest inland oil spill in US history. In 1991, the Line 3 pipeline spilt more than 6.4 million liters (1.7 million gallons) of tar sands oil on a frozen river near the Grand Rapids in northern Minnesota. The owner of the pipeline was Lakehead Pipe Line Company, a subsidiary of the company which later became Enbridge.14469 Had the river not been frozen, the tar sands oil would have poisoned the drinking water of 18 million people.[18] Already during construction work for the Line 3 expansion, Enbridge caused groundwater leakages and contaminated the environment surrounding the construction site. When the company drilled into the soil to lay the pipes, it ruptured 3 groundwater reservoirs.14475 As a result, close to 300 million gallons (1.1 billion liters) of water gushed out of the ground.14477 Enbridge did not notify the state of the breaches for more than 6 months.15439 Regulatory authorities ordered the company to pay USD 11 million in penalties for the breaches.1448115441 Enbridge also spilled drilling fluids at least 28 times during the construction of Line 3.14479 This should be a warning. It is only a matter of time until Enbridge’s now operational expanded Line 3 will spill.

Enbridge’s pipelines have a long track record of spills. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline spilt up to a million gallons of oil through a 6ft rupture into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. Credit: NTSB, licensed under CC BY-SA

Indigenous people are leading the fight against Line 3. In May 2021, more than 300 national and local groups signed a joint letter to President Biden asking him to immediately halt its construction.[20] In June 2021, protestors engaged in days of action against the pipeline. Thousands of people took part.[21] Police arrested hundreds and shot at protesters with rubber bullets.[22] Disturbingly, Enbridge reportedly paid the police over USD 8.6 million to guard its construction site against demonstrators.1448514487 In a deal with the state, Enbridge reimbursed the meals, overtime hours, and gear for police officers that protected the pipeline construction site from protestors.14485 Investigations revealed that these reimbursements included handcuffs used on protestors, a Pipeline Punch-named energy drink and trainings on using teargas.15443 These payments practically turned the police into a private security firm for the fossil fuel company rather than it acting like an an independent state body.14489 Enbridge has also been accused of tracking and spying on community meetings and protestors it considers a threat to the project.14491 Enbridge’s aggressive tactics are a desperate response to nearly a decade of people marching, petitioning, speaking up in local government meetings and engaging politicians to keep the replacement of Line 3 at bay. After Enbridge announced the completion of initial expansion expansion works and the first oil fill in October 2021, Indigenous and environmental activists vowed to keep up the protest.[24]

Frontline communities and water protectors continue to fight Line 3. In August 2021, the White Earth Band filed a complaint against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that granted water use permits for Line 3. With the case, the White Earth Band aimed to guard the rights of wild rice. Protected under tribal law of the White Earth Band, wild rice enjoys the right to exist and flourish in a natural and clean environment. In the case, tribal members said that the water use permits for Line 3 threaten these rights.14493 The court dismissed this unique lawsuit because it extended beyond its jurisdiction.14495 In a separate lawsuit, First Nations people and environmental groups also challenged the expansion permits. They argued that the environmental assessments for the Line 3 permits did not consider the pipeline’s climate impacts.14497 Although the judge refused to overturn the permit, the frontline communities will continue their fight. Line 3 is not safe from legal action.14499

Line 5: same problems, different story

Since 2020, Enbridge has been working on another climate-killing project. The company wants to breathe new life into its Line 5 pipeline.15445 Although Line 5 was originally built with a 50-year lifespan in mind, it has already been pumping oil for 70 years. It has spilled dozens of times since its inception, and the danger of another spill looms large.1544715449 In Wisconsin, the riverbanks of the Bad River are washing away the land less than 5 meters from the pipeline and threaten its collapse.1545115453 This is happening exactly where parts of Line 5 have been trespassing on land belonging to the Bad River Band since 2013, after a land use agreement between Enbridge and the Band expired.15455 The Bad River Band, who are also members of the Ashinabee people and live in the Great Lakes region, want the pipeline off their land.1545715459 In June 2023, a judge ordered Enbridge to shut down the section running on the Bad River Band’s land within 3 years and pay them over USD 5 million in compensation.15461 Rather than dismantle the nature-killing pipeline, Enbridge instead wants to reroute and replace it.

Line 5 runs through the Straits of Mackinack, a stretch of water connecting two of the five lakes in Michigan’s Great Lakes region.1546315465 These are among the biggest lakes in the world. The Great Lakes are home to 21% of the world's fresh surface water and supply drinking water for 48 million people.15467 If Line 5 were to collapse into the Bad River, it would be a catastrophe.If it were to burst underwater in the Straits, the extent of the catastrophe would be almost impossible to grasp. The oil could reach over 450 lakes and thousands of kilometers of shoreline.1546915471 Scientists have accused the company of downplaying the technical risks associated with such a project.15473 Enbridge’s consultants claim the company’s leak detection mechanisms can cut off any potential spill from Line 5 after 13 minutes.15475 In reality, its detection mechanisms failed to detect all but one of the 29 recorded oil spills from Line 5 since its inception.15477

Protestors march towards the headwaters of the Mississippi River, carrying a pipeline. Line 3 Protest June 2021. Credit: Frypie, licensed under CC BY-SA

Despite the opposition to Line 3 and 5, Enbridge has been a top fossil fuel client of big banks in total dollars since the Paris Agreement in 2015. By the end of 2021, it had received nearly USD 100 billion in loans and equity investments.15479 In 2021, Enbridge managed to secure a USD 1 billion loan from Citigroup, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and others to finance the Line 3 pipeline. Enbridge got the loan at a favorable rate on the condition that it will meet certain emissions reduction goals. But these goals were so low and ambiguous that they became meaningless.15481 A group of Citigroup shareholders have urged the company to improve its human rights due diligence following the Line 3 and 5 protests.15483 Financial institutions are under pressure to take the opposition against Enbridge's expansion plans as well as the broader production of tar sands oil seriously. Some are starting to divest. In April 2021, the New York State pension fund sold a USD 7 million stake from companies involved in Alberta's tar sands.[29] Banks like Credit Agricole, Swedish SEB, Santander, Natixis and BNP Paribas have adopted policies that exclude financial support for tar sands projects. Insurers like AXA are ending underwriting for tar sands.[30] Any financial institution that supports Enbridge and its Line 3 or 5 pipeline projects contributes to tar sands oil production, water pollution and grave threats to native peoples in Minnesota.

Groups working on Line 3: Honor the Earth,, Stop Line 3, Stand.Earth

IHS CERA. Special Report: Oil Sands, Greenhouse Gases, and US Oil Supply – Getting the Numbers Right (, p.9
Greenpeace, 2018. Dangerous Pipelines: Enbridge’s History of Spills Threatens Minnesota Waters (, p. 6…………………………………………