Gulf Coast Tribe Vows to Resist Enbridge’s New Pipeline Expansion Plans

As Indigenous Water Protectors and allies in northern Minnesota are stuck with legal and environmental fallout of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline’s construction and operation, Enbridge is already moving on — eyeing ways to streamline and further expand its ability to deliver Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast for export to global markets.

The Canadian oil giant is looking to increase capacity across its fossil fuel infrastructure systems that connect to the Texas Gulf Coast, including potentially building a pipeline linking the Houston area to its newly acquired crude-export hub at the Port of Corpus Christi in order to accommodate Line 3’s ramped up capacity, according to reporting by S&P Global Platts.

The company is also looking at ways to expand its capacity across its Southern Access Extension and Flanagan South pipelines, corporate officials reportedly said on its third-quarter earnings call. It’s just waiting on a major Canadian regulatory decision later this month that will determine whether Enbridge can overhaul the way it awards space on its biggest tar sands pipeline network into the U.S., allowing it to contract up to 90 percent of its capacity on its Mainline system by signing long-term deals with potential shippers, rather than operating as a so-called “common carrier.” Corporate officials say they will provide more details on future projects at a December investors event.

Last month saw the startup of Enbridge’s Line 3 expansion, which is now bringing 760,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen a day from Edmonton, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin. It also saw its Wisconsin-to-Illinois Southern Access pipeline expansion come online, increasing its capacity to 1.2 million barrels of crude per day. On top of that, the oil giant closed in mid-October its $3 billion acquisition of the Moda Ingleside Energy Center, the U.S.’s largest crude-export hub near Corpus Christi, which also delivers fracked gas from the Permian and Eagle Ford basins to global markets.

“Returning the line to full capacity sets us up for downstream expansion to the US Gulf Coast,” Enbridge CEO Al Monaco told Platts, referring to the Line 3 and Southern Access expansions, which, he says, promote “full path access for Canadian [tar sands] to the US Gulf Coast.” Like TC Energy’s hopes with the now nixed Keystone XL pipeline, Enbridge wants to light its own fuse to what climate scientists have described as the world’s largest climate emissions bomb in Alberta’s tar sands as oil prices continue to rise during a period of inflationary pandemic recovery.

Enbridge’s Gulf Coast expansion plans promise to lock in increased planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions over the long term, not only from Alberta’s tar sands climate bomb, but also from another major emissions bomb in West Texas and southeast New Mexico’s sprawling Permian Shale Basin. Enbridge’s plans worsen the findings of a new analysis showing fracked gas extraction in the Permian is expected to increase 50 percent over the next decade.

The plans also come at a time when many climate justice activists are reeling from a watered-down agreement at the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, that they say is too weak to meaningfully reduce emissions and limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius — the target scientists say we must stay under to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis.

To make matters even worse, the plans come as the Biden administration held the largest federal offshore drilling auction of Gulf waters in U.S. history Wednesday. ExxonMobil and Chevron were among the top buyers at yesterday’s federal auction of oil leases in the Gulf, which generated more than $190 million — the highest since 2019.

“You have to wonder if Big Oil enablers like Enbridge are following world climate news at all. Experts are telling us to move as quickly away from fossil fuels as possible, including fossil fuel infrastructure,” Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, told Truthout. “No new pipelines and export terminals in the Gulf region is the way to go, especially for a climate criminal like Enbridge. The new Line 3 pipeline is already the equivalent of 50 new coal-fired power plants. This new line in Texas is not something we need in the time of the ‘Code Red’ climate crisis, especially after an ultimately dismal climate conference in Glasgow.”

Now, Texas Gulf Coast Indigenous communities are vowing resistance to Enbridge’s Gulf expansion plans in solidarity with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Water Protector LaDuke and other Anishinaabe peoples’ continued resistance to Enbridge and Line 3.

“A lot of the organizations that I work with down here in Corpus Christi Bay that are dealing with the Enbridge expansion and the Cheniere [Energy liquified natural gas export terminal] expansion and the whole fossil fuel industry here, … we’re ready,” said Love Sanchez, co-founder of Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend (IPCB) who is descended from the Karankawa Kadla Tribe of the Texas Gulf Coast. “We’re just kind of on standby to see what’s next and planning behind the scenes, and seeing how we could prevent the expansion from happening.”

Love tells Truthout Gulf South communities aren’t afraid, even though they know opposing Enbridge’s expansion will be a challenge. “I was upset [about Enbridge’s expansion plans] because it’s like: They really are in a position of confidence that they’re just like, ‘We’re going to keep going.’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, we’re going to keep going too.’ We’re not going to bow down. We’re not going to back out of what we’re doing.”

IPCB, the Karankawa Kadla Tribe and the Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August for issuing a permit for the then-Moda Midstream-owned Ingleside terminal — the same crude-export terminal Enbridge purchased in mid-October and wants to link with its Seaway Pipeline — to double its capacity and expand operations into an undeveloped area sacred to the area’s Native people.

The suit argues the plans to construct an additional deep-water dock and turning basin failed to address environmental and community concerns as required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, and that the expansion will destroy a Karankawa cultural site and ecologically sensitive seagrasses and wetlands. Enbridge says it plans to delay construction until August 2022.

The Karankawa peoples’ ancestors have lived in the area of the McGloin’s Bluff site, where the proposed terminal expansion is slated to be built, for hundreds of years. In fact, archeologists uncovered more than 39,000 artifacts, including pottery shards, arrowheads, tools, and fish and animal bones, from a historic Karankawa village during an investigation of McGloin’s Bluff in 2008-2009, and recommended that the site be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

One archaeologist who worked on the assessment of the site has said that because the area was so heavily occupied by the Karankawa people, there’s a chance the site still contains Indigenous burials. In 2002, the skull of a prehistoric or early historic Indigenous woman was found by a pipeline construction crew at Ingleside on the Bay, according to a 2006 report obtained by The Texas Tribune.

The plaintiff groups are also concerned about damage to seagrass beds, which not only reduce coastal erosion but also provide important habitat and nurseries for marine species including waterfowl, sea trout, red fish, and juvenile shrimp and crabs.

The Army Corps wrote in a response to public comments that because the Karankawa Kadla are not a federally recognized tribe, “They have no special consultation rights and are considered members of the public.” In permit documents, the Corps said the project’s required archaeological surveys and environmental mitigation had been done.

Enbridge Spokesperson Michael Barnes said the expansion won’t impact the historic Karankawa village site at McGloin’s Bluff: It’s new megaship dock will require dredging of up to eight acres of seagrasses located within an active ship channel, he says. As the Army Corp permit documents specify, the company promises to plant new seagrass beds at a separate site to compensate for those it will destroy, while also setting aside 70 acres of land (excluding McGloin’s Bluff) as permanent green space. “We are confident the nearly year-and-a-half application review process was comprehensive, and that the permit was properly issued,” Barnes told Truthout.

IPCB Co-founder Sanchez says Enbridge’s promised mitigation and compensation measures aren’t enough, and that its permit was rubber-stamped, like most fossil fuel infrastructure projects in the U.S. “They say they’re not dredging over sacred lands, but they are,” Sanchez tells Truthout. “They have to dredge into the bay to, of course, get the pier out there…. They have to make some room for it. Then they’re going to dredge onto the land, of course, because they’re going to be constructing. So when they say they’re not, they’re lying. So how do we prove that? That’s why we’re in court.”

In the meantime, Sanchez tells Truthout she’s concerned about the plaintiff groups’ ability to monitor the difficult-to-see areas above the bluff site in case construction activity does start before August 2022: Texas passed a bill outlawing small drone flights over “critical” oil and gas infrastructure, including export terminals.

She called Enbridge’s broader plans to expand its capacity and infrastructure connections in order to bring Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast “a whole new mess.” In addition to its new Ingleside export terminal, the company has been steadily securing a number of infrastructure projects on the Texas Gulf Coast, including the Rio Bravo and Valley Crossing Pipelines in South Texas. The company co-owns the Seaway Pipeline with Enterprise Products Partners and is likewise partnering with Enterprise to build the Sea Port Oil Terminal offshore of the Houston Ship Channel.

On top of all the expansions in the Gulf, Enbridge could potentially ramp up its Line 3 capacity even beyond what it has been previously permitted for, and has also been in talks with shippers about reversing the flow of its Line 13 pipeline, which transports diluent from the Chicago area to Alberta’s tar sands region, in an effort to boost export capacity. Enbridge is targeting a 2023 startup date for the Line 13 project, which is part of its larger Mainline system optimization.

Climate activists who have long been engaged in the fight against Line 3 say Enbridge’s creation of an abundant supply of Canadian tar sands through its new infrastructure acquisitions and expansions artificially inflate demand while promising a disastrous climate future in the long term.

“The expansions you’re seeing right now are not an add-on to Line 3. Those are part of the integral reason for building Line 3 for Enbridge,” said Andy Pearson, Midwest tar sands coordinator for the Minnesota branch of 350.org, in an interview.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce challenged Enbridge’s long-term oil demand forecast, which the state’s Public Utilities Commission ultimately accepted when it approved the Line 3 pipeline. In the forecast, the company assumes constant demand for tar sands by refineries.

To justify Line 3’s expansion and replacement in northern Minnesota without having major U.S. or Midwestern market demand for its product, Pearson says, the company needs to be able to move its extracted product to global markets, so its Gulf Coast expansion plans are simply “a natural outcome of Line 3 getting completed.”

“The expansion of export capacity in the Gulf is, I would say, them fulfilling the other half of that forecast,” Pearson tells Truthout. “What they had submitted was like a piece of paper with the infinity symbol drawn on it, saying, ‘We don’t really need to tell you anything about demand because we’ll just export it, and we could export the whole of Canada’s tar sands if we need to and that would be fine.’”

Moreover, he says, the Biden administration’s near-exclusive focus on demand-side fossil fuel economics fails to tackle one of the most critical parts of the global climate equation by preventing infrastructure buildouts that promise to lock in the continued extraction and use of one of the most greenhouse gas and water-intensive fossil fuels on the planet.

Between ballooning Permian extraction, oil and gas leasing, and infrastructure buildouts in and along the Gulf, the Biden administration is overseeing one of the largest oil booms across the Gulf South — a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by its most-impacted communities.

“I’m not going to be like, ‘Yeah, I believe in the Biden administration’ because he was the vice president when the oil export ban was lifted at the end of ’15,” IPCB Co-founder Sanchez says. “So that’s very disheartening to know that he was a part of that. And to be asking him to roll that back and then to see him not do that, and to see [fracking projects expand under his administration].… It’s just sad to see these Indigenous communities, people-of-color communities experience the brunt of that because he’s not listening.”