The largest crude oil pipeline project in the state of North Dakota is getting closer to becoming a reality. Enbridge Energy’s Sandpiper Pipeline Project, also called the Northern Gateway project, would carry oil sands bitumen from Alberta, Canada’s Bakken Shale to the British Columbia coast. Enbridge recently announced plans to make the pipeline operational by 2016.

Residents, environmental groups, and several British Columbia First Nations are attempting to protest the project, which could potentially transport 300,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day across 610 miles of North Dakota.  The pipeline will transport bitumen through the state to Minnesota and Wisconsin, where it will be shipped to Asia, according to Greenpeace Canada.

The pipeline would cross 1,000 streams and rivers, many of which are key habitat for salmon and other species. It would pass through the unceded traditional territory of dozens of BC First Nations and the Great Bear Rainforest – the last intact temperate rainforest in the world.

Enbridge claims the pipeline will benefit local communities. However, residents understand that the pipeline is just a disaster waiting to happen. In January, several environmental groups and First Nations filed lawsuits to block the pipeline in a federal appeals court. At least four separate complaints were filed in Vancouver, seeking judicial review of the government’s decision to recommend approval of the pipeline.

The groups allege that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s review of the project is unsound. According to Pipe Up Against Enbridge, “The lawsuits claim the joint review panel erred by considering the economic benefits of the project to the Alberta oilsands, but ignoring the adverse effects of the development.”

Enbridge has a long history of oil spills and leaks. In 2010, the company spilled 34,122 barrels of oil – the equivalent of more than one million US gallons. In July of that year, an Enbridge pipeline burst and flowed into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, causing the largest onshore oil spill, as well as one of the costliest oil spills, in US history.

It was later discovered that Enbridge knew in 2005 that the section of pipeline that burst was corroded and cracked, yet did nothing to address the issue. In 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the spill on Enbridge, saying, “A culture of deviance in the Enbridge control center was displayed in this accident.”

The Michigan Kalamazoo River oil spill was overshadowed in the media by the massive BP Gulf of Mexico spill. Yet even two years after the spill, bitumen was still being removed from the Kalamazoo River and 30 miles of the waterway remained closed to the public. The diluted bitumen could not be removed by traditional oil recovery methods. The company also reportedly vastly underestimated the amount of oil it spilled.

North Dakota experienced a major oil spill just last year due to a pipeline break. Over 20,000 barrels of crude oil were spilled, covering 7.3 acres of land. The spill went unreported for 11 days. Shortly after news of the spill became public, it was discovered that hundreds of North Dakota oil spills have gone unreported during the past two years.

Oil or tar sands bitumen has been called one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. The process of extracting oil sands creates three times more carbon emissions than conventional oil extraction, requires clear-cutting and strip-mining the earth where production will occur, and creates massive amounts of waste.

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Pipe Up Against Enbridge

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Image via: University of Virginia Sustainability Project

Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.