Opinion Column

Big questions for Enbridge

Will Braun


Every time I drive from our farm south of Morden into town, I cross the single largest conduit of oil into the United States. That is what Enbridge calls its seven-pipeline corridor than passes under the Morden golf course on its southeasterly path to Gretna and across the border.
The seven little signs in the ditch just outside Morden belie the passage of about $125 million dollars worth of oil daily. That underground brownish river carries roughly enough oil to fill up Lake Minnewasta every 12 days.
Though the global superpower is utterly dependent on these pipelines, I bet most people in this area don’t know they exist.
This reality will be harder to ignore in summer as Enbridge plans to replace the aging Line 3 with a larger line. Though the project has escaped the controversy of other new pipelines, Line 3 replacement stands to be the most expensive pipeline ever laid in Canada at an estimated cost of $5.3 billion on the Canadian side and another $3.7 billion in the US. 
Pipelines have become flash points of debate about oil, climate and the optimal future of society. These debates are predictably polarized.
Sometimes the lefty environmentalists (friends of mine included) use unrealistic, sloppy arguments, like how solar power can solve virtually everything. Sometimes rightwing climate skeptics (friends included) are quick to cherry pick facts to match their self-interest. And people on both sides tend to be dreadful at humbly listening to people with differing views. 
A few years back a member of my church denomination, having read articles in which I called for action to address climate change, challenged me to consider the views of climate skeptics. I came very close to just deleting his email, but in the end I took him seriously, despite his accusatory tone. I devoted considerable effort to finding and understanding what I found to be the strongest—not the weakest—arguments of climate skeptics.
In the end I found the arguments to be not entirely without merit, but overall conveniently slanted. It was a valuable intellectual and spiritual process. It sharpened my thinking and dulled my self righteousness. And it showed me that there is more to be gained by understanding our opponents than silently sneering at them from a distance.
I wrote about my dive into the world of climate skeptics and the person who originally challenged me appreciated the article, even though I didn’t end up agreeing with his view. And I appreciated his challenge and the ensuing back-and-forth we had. 
I hear it said that people in this are don’t talk about climate or the environment. I don’t buy it. I know there are many people here who reject the idea of climate change outright. There are some who are deeply concerned. And surely there are many in between. And lots who simply have other things on their minds. That’s the reality.
I simply suggest that climate and energy consumption are such big issues that they warrant constructive, candid discussion. The reality of this massive oil river running right past us punctuates for me the importance of at least talking about the direction our world is going.
Personally, I think Line 3 replacement is a bad idea. To me it is not a question of whether pipelines are safer than trains; of course they are. The question is whether further investment in oil infrastructure makes sense. I believe it is a step in the wrong direction—an investment in the past. I think now is the time to make a concerted step in the direction of a lower carbon future.
Yes I use fossil fuels, though our family has taken significant steps to live in smaller circles. Essentially, that means buying less, travelling less and settling into the beauty of simplicity, home and family. That’s not the Enbridge tune.
I don’t trust the motives of the people who sit around the Enbridge board table, charged as they are with putting the financial self interest of shareholders above all other values. Though, to be fair, Enbridge invests in numerous alternative energy projects. Our world is an interesting shade of grey.
I don’t think the federal government should be subsidizing the oil industry. About $1.6 billion of public money goes to oil and gas companies in Canada annually. That smells like powerful people clinking glasses with rich people while the rest of us pick up the tab.
Wherever we stand on climate, pipelines and government incentives, I believe we need to build a society and community in which we can talk openly and constructively about these and other big questions. We’re all in this together. We’re adults. We can talk, disagree, listen, connect.
In that spirit, I invite you to a town hall style meeting about the implications of Line 3 replacement on March 7 at St. Paul’s United Church in Morden at 7 p.m. The piles of pipe for Line 3 are stacked beside the highway between Winkler and Morden. We can’t ignore the reality of oil in our community and world.