Hundreds protest proposed Alberta Clipper pipeline extension

High winds make a difficult walk to the Sanford Center.
Participants of the "Solution Summit" at the Rail River Folk School walk two miles to the Sanford Center in high winds Tuesday, where the public statements were taken on the proposed extension of the Alberta Clipper pipeline.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

As Native Americans opposed to President Trump's restarting of oil pipeline projects gather in Washington, D.C., opponents of other pipeline projects found a target in Bemidji. U.S. State Department officials were met by hundreds of protesters at a Tuesday question-and-answer session on the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline.

Calgary-based Enbridge Energy hopes to substantially increase the volume of crude oil flowing across the Canadian border in the Alberta Clipper pipeline. Bringing more oil across international borders requires a presidential permit.

For the last three years, Hassell's team has been working out what impact that expansion might have on the environment. The review is still just a draft. Hassell and a handful of others from her department came to Bemidji to answer questions as part of a public comment period.

Winona LaDuke  speaks at the 'Solution Summit.'
Winona LaDuke, environmental activist and Honor the Earth founder, speaks at the "Solution Summit" at the Rail River Folk School in Bemidji. "We need infrastructure for people, not for oil companies," she said.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

Nearly every mile of the Alberta Clipper from just south of the Canadian border, across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis., is already running at full capacity. Enbridge has built up their pump stations, and installed larger storage tanks. And so far they've gotten around permit requirements by siphoning oil from the Clipper, and pumping it across the border through an older pipeline.

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Once it's in the U.S. the detoured oil rejoins the Clipper.

Enbridge has argued it makes sense to allow the pipeline to flow uninterrupted. But hundreds of protesters at the public comment event disagreed. Around 300 people marched to the Sanford Center, carrying banners and signs that tore in the gusty wind.

Once inside, a few brought out drums and started a circle dance in the middle of a conference room.

Winona LaDuke, executive director of the Native American environmental group Honor the Earth, organized the protest. She says it's not just about a small section of the Alberta Clipper.

Attendees at the 'Solution Summit' at the Rail River Folk School.
Attendees at the "Solution Summit" listen to Winona LaDuke, environmental activist and Honor the Earth founder, speak about the importance of renewable energy.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

She worries about oil spills damaging the groundwater and wild rice beds of northern Minnesota. She said people are motivated by the Dakota Access pipeline protests. Around 750 people have been arrested since August in the area of the remaining section of that pipeline that is nearly complete.

"Nothing Enbridge does is going to be easy for them," LaDuke said.

The Associated Press contributed reporting for this story.