Local View: Pipeline protests a public necessity? More like a public nuisance
On June 12, trespassers broke into a secured worksite for the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project that's currently underway near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The trespassers damaged electrical lines and poured cement into the gas tanks of equipment located on site.
Pipeline protesters and "valve turners" (people who trespass onto pipeline property to turn off pipeline valves) often delude themselves into thinking their destruction of property is somehow a public good. In reality, these protesters inhibit the safe and efficient transport of a commodity on which we all rely. This makes them a public nuisance, not a public necessity.
Oil accounted for 30 percent of the total energy used in Minnesota in 2015, which means Minnesotans consume more oil than any other form of energy. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Minnesotans used 118.4 million barrels of petroleum products in 2016. That was about 21 barrels for each resident of the state.
We know gasoline enables us to drive to work and drop the kids off at soccer practice, and diesel fuel powers our ambulances and school buses. But we don't often think about how these products fuel the tractors and combines that farmers use to grow our food and the semi-trucks that deliver this food to the grocery store before it ultimately ends up on our tables.
It is important to note that pipeline protesters are as dependent upon petroleum products as anyone else. The United States consumed approximately 19.88 million barrels of oil each day in 2017 but only produced about 10 million barrels per day. This means imports account for about half of the oil we depend upon. We can either purchase this oil from Canada, our friends to the north, or Saudi Arabia, Russia, or Venezuela. This should not be a difficult decision.
Line 3 is old and needs to be replaced. New pipelines have spill-prevention and spill-detection technology that make them much safer to operate than older pipelines. Therefore it makes zero sense to oppose the construction of this pipeline based upon environmental concerns.
But won't protests and property destruction help the environment in the long run? This is the so-called logic of pipeline protesters who often couch their actions as necessary to save the planet from climate change. However, if these activists were truly worried about carbon-dioxide emissions, they would chain themselves outside the offices of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and plead with commissioners to keep Minnesota's carbon dioxide-free nuclear power plants open longer — not cut chains at pipeline construction sites and fill gas tanks with cement.
Opposing the construction of Line 3 because it will ensure the safe and efficient delivery of oil for years to come based on carbon-dioxide emissions uses the same logic as protesting necessary bridge repairs because they will incentive Minnesotans to drive rather than ride their bicycles to work.
Isaac Orr is a policy fellow specializing in energy and environmental issues at the Center of the American Experiment, a think tank in Golden Valley, Minn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @thefrackingguy.