Will a Tar Sands Pipeline Become a Covid Super Spreader?

People protest against the Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline project outside the Governor's Mansion on November 14, 2020 in St Paul, Minnesota. The project took a step forward this week after receiving permitting approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Will a Tar Sands Pipeline Become a Covid Super Spreader?

From a climate perspective, a clean water perspective and a Covid perspective, Line 3 is nuts.

Minnesota boasts about being The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Yet somehow the Walz administration has issued the water quality permit necessary to build a 337 mile long tar sands pipeline, Line 3, across the entire northern breadth of the state, which is also known as, yes, Lake Country. Science tells us that any new tar sands pipeline is a disaster for the climate. Common sense and history tells us that a tar sands pipeline, especially in Lake Country Minnesota, will also be a clean water disaster at some point.

But this article is primarily about Line 3 and Covid. Minnesota currently has the fifth highest infection rate in the country. It has the highest infection rate of any state whose governor isn't a Republican, even though Gov. Walz is constantly voicing concern about spreading the disease. He tweets about a "Dial Back To Save Lives" campaign that calls on Minnesotans to hit pause on a number of activities because, he says, the virus is like wildfire. His twitter header features a masked face and a "Mask Up Minnesota" message along with "StaySafeMN". He tweets #DialBackMN. But he doesn't tweet #DialBackLine3. And he should.

On Oct. 14 Enbridge, the Canadian energy giant that is building Line 3, announced that 400 workers had finished building the 12 mile section that runs through North Dakota. It is wholly in Pembina County, which has a population of about 7,000. When construction started in mid-August there were 27 Covid cases in the county. By Oct. 14 there were 146. That's an increase of 540%. How much of that increase was due to the influx of out-of-state Line 3 workers is unknown. One thing is certain - their presence didn't lower the spread.

In Montana, Keystone XL's impact on the spread of Covid is a little clearer. That pipeline's owner, TC Energy, known previously as TransCanada, made a big deal last spring about how it had donated $20,000 worth of Covid relief to Montana communities in the form of tote bags full of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Later in the summer it donated something else. It's workers brought the first two Covid cases to Phillips County on July 28. Up until then, the county had been Covid-free. It is a huge county (5212 sq miles) with a tiny population of about 4,000, or less than one person per sq mile. The case count is now 242 and climbing with at least 5 deaths.

This is why it is so baffling that Gov. Walz has not at least hit pause on Line 3, which will bring in thousands of out-of-state workers for a very long time and they will disperse all across the state. Many in Minnesota and far beyond are hoping he will reconsider and follow the example of Gov. Whitmer's strong leadership regarding Enbridge and Line 5. She looked at Enbridge's history and was not impressed, to put it mildly. If Gov. Walz does not change course, concerned citizens are looking to Attorney General Keith Ellison to step up. From a climate perspective, a clean water perspective and a Covid perspective, Line 3 is nuts. #DialBackLine3

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