Oil and water: The Line 3 debate

Protesters hang on as construction continues on Line 3 pipeline project

Line 3 construction begins as activists try to find ways to halt it

A person in a tree hangs off a tarp holding a solar panel.
Activist Liam Delmain adjusts a solar panel that they use to keep in contact with activists on the ground as they occupy a tree in the path of the Line 3 oil pipeline construction near Palisade, Minn., on Wednesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Liam Delmain has been living in a tree above the construction zone for the Line 3 pipeline for a week. “I’m hanging in there,” they said, and they are, literally

Their home is platform suspended in a poplar tree dozens of feet off the ground, on an easement about a quarter mile from where the pipeline is supposed to pass underneath the Mississippi River. 

The easement consists of land running east to west, which has been stripped of its trees and brush, save for the stand where Delmain’s and another activist’s platforms hang. Heavy machinery operators toil beneath during the daylight hours, laying down matting for a drill that will push the pipeline under the river. 

“The machines are really, really loud. There’s beeping and big engines and motors, and scraping and crashing. I hear trunks snapping and chainsaws. The sonic landscape feels really violent,” Delmain said. “I take a deep sigh of relief every evening when all the machines leave and I can just sit in peace.”

Other activists calling themselves water protectors are camped just across the easement. They keep Delmain company by talking and singing with them, but can’t approach the tree without an escort from police. Others chain themselves to construction equipment and trespass to attempt to disrupt construction. 

A large construction machine crosses a road.
Construction workers lay down pads and tires in order for a machine to cross Great River Road.
Evan Frost | MPR News

“It’s weird when I sit in my sleeping bag all day and my friends on the ground are running onto sites and people are doing lockdowns and protests … it’s a little isolating,” they said.

Delmain, who uses they, them pronouns, grew up on the shores of Lake Superior, and so they feel connected to Minnesota’s waterways, especially the Mississippi River. They spent 100 days paddling the river in college, a crucial experience in building their views on climate activism. Occupying a tree was a way to put their body on the line for the health of others. 

“This pipeline project is really just a continuation of colonial violence and genocide against Indigenous peoples,” Delmain said. 

Trees line a frozen river.
Ice flows along the Mississippi River near Palisade, Minn.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Tree sitting is not their first entry into action around Line 3 and climate change activism. Delmain participated in campaigns to block the pipeline through the regulatory process, and watched those efforts fail to halt the project.

“We can stop this pipeline, we will stop this pipeline and this is how we’re going to do it.”