It is not too late to halt Line 3 for health.
The Enbridge Line 3 expansion is nothing more than a black eye on America and needs to be buried for good now. The project is to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin through the lands and freshwater lakes and rivers of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Yet as dirty as building a pipeline through the beautiful Midwest is, the real dangers are to people.
The Anishinaabe peoples are one group who will be negatively impacted. Their tribal lands and livelihoods are threatened. Wild rice paddies and fields that grow nutritious food to eat and sell would be disrupted. Trees that have sequestered carbon and provided shade for hundreds of years would be cut down.
The area is also home to other rural people and communities rich with history and values. The red banks of Lake Superior and their uncharted forests and waters were my backyard growing up. In the fall our family would collect manoomin by canoe. In the winter I watched sunsets while ice fishing. Spring brought tapping maple trees to collect sap to turn into syrup. My home, in many ways, taught me immense gratitude for natural resources. These resources are not just a way of life; they support life.
Now as a physician, I view Line 3 first and foremost as a threat to health. My colleagues and I witness the unexpected and sometimes irreversible harms that patients seek care for, and one thing is true: patients never think it will be them until it is. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and treatments to support life, we cannot undo the damages.
I am concerned about injuries that result from the pipeline. In 2020, Enbridge reported 67 employee incidents, 83 motor vehicle incidents, and 2 deaths. With climate-related record heat, workers risk heat-related illnesses, lost productivity, and injuries. Physical and psychological trauma to women, particularly indigenous women, have been demonstrated by prior pipeline activities with ‘man camps.’ As I see with my patients, the scars of sexual and domestic violence remain long after bruises fade.
Water contamination is another serious concern. Enbridge’s prior pipeline failures caused the largest U.S. inland oil spill and another massive spill (800,000 gallons) in the Kalamazoo River. It was a visual display of underrecognized health threats of these pipelines. According to Michigan Department of Community Health, there were 145 patients reported by clinicians. Symptoms included cough and choking, headaches, nausea, and eye pain. At least 320 others were identified as suffering adverse health effects. Surges of patients to our busy hospitals can delay response to these and other emergencies. Hospitals do not have infinite resources.
Lastly, pipelines literally fuel human caused climate change, and this public health crisis is the greatest reason to cease Line 3 expansion. The health impacts of climate change are widespread and devastating as I bear witness. The health care costs associated with air pollution alone and climate change exceed $800 billion per year in the U.S. Expanding Line 3 is equivalent to building 50 coal-fired power plants. These harms affect all but have undue burden on those frequently least responsible.
While it may feel hard to pivot towards a different path, the choice is simple. Instead of investing millions of dollars waiting to respond to spills, Enbridge and the U.S. energy sector should invest in clean energy and climate resilient infrastructure that defines a new standard of health and equity. This strategy aligns with Federal Emergency Management Agency and White House priorities. It also creates jobs. In Wisconsin, in-state production of clean energy would create 162,000 jobs and save $21 billion annually in avoided health damages.
We have a few short years to implement solutions across our communities that create a new trajectory of clean air and water for all. Shutting down Line 3 is the next logical step toward healing the wounds of our planet and people.
Caitlin Rublee is an emergency medicine physician in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.