The recent announcement of Enbridge's purchase of the Dakota Access Pipeline came as a surprise to most of us. For the past four years, Enbridge has told the people of Minnesota that the proposed Sandpiper route (Clearbrook to Superior) was essential. It turns out that was not true. Let me try to translate what I think happened.
Regulation: Enbridge cited Minnesota regulators as a problem. In contrast, there is scant regulation in North Dakota. That is painfully obvious. There are more lawsuits about oil drilling than active rigs in the Bakken (last year brought a record-setting 9,305 civil cases on oil, according to the Star Tribune). Not surprisingly, Dakota Access received quick approvals, and is only being challenged by tribal governments in North Dakota, with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filing a preliminary injunction Aug. 4. If the injunction is signed, the Army Corps of Engineers has to withdraw permits issued for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Opposition: At every step, the company was faced with huge opposition from Minnesotans and tribal governments. In 2015, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Friends of the Headwaters, ordering a full environmental impact review on the Sandpiper, much more than either the state or company wanted. Tribal governments have intervened with strong opposition. Recent comments by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the proposed route called for a rigorous review, and noted that more than 180 culturally important sites for Anishinaabe people were directly on the proposed route. That is the making of a long set of delays.
And, Enbridge's Sandpiper faced a challenge in North Dakota's Supreme Court on eminent domain, in a case against farmer James Botsford, who contends that the Canadian company is not meeting a public need. That case would be heard this fall, and could set a bad precedent for the company.
Pocketbook trouble: Enbridge just lost big in Canada. On June 30, Canada's Federal Court of Appeals overturned approvals for Enbridge's $7.9 billion proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, finding the government fell short in its obligations to consult with First Nations groups. That had to hurt. The July 6 announcement in the Canadian media that Enbridge purchased defective pipes and valves from a bankrupt Thai company (Canadaoil Asia) has caused more problems. After waiting eight years to sound the alarm, during which time at least one Canadian pipeline with defective parts blew up, the National Energy Board recently issued an emergency safety order that gives Enbridge six months to fix what industry insiders have described as a series of "ticking time bombs." The companies were not immediately able to say where they installed the defective parts, and Enbridge attorneys asked for an extension to find them.
Marathon's problems: Meanwhile, Marathon Petroleum, the Sandpiper (and Dakota Access) partner, is also having problems. Lawyers in Detroit filed a class action lawsuit seeking in excess of $5 million, requesting a court order that Marathon cease the release of all contaminants into residential neighborhoods within blocks of the refinery. Boynton-Oakwood Heights is known as Michigan's most polluted ZIP code.
"We are a sick community. They keep poisoning us." Emma Lockridge community resident testified. "I have kidney failure. Neighbor died on dialysis, Neighbor next door with dialysis. ... We have cancer, we have autoimmune illnesses, we have MS, we have chemicals that have come up into our homes through the sewer."
In mid-April, Marathon had a catastrophic spill of 50,000 gallons of diesel into the Wabash River, in Illinois. Despite attempts to mitigate, the company was unable to recover any of the oil.
Finally, Marathon is losing gas stations. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe closed three Marathon gas stations on its reservation.
Way out west: Bakken oilfields are in decline. With oil prices remaining low, Bakken drillers are going bankrupt and the active rig count in the Bakken is down over 85 percent from a few years ago. Marathon no longer has any active rigs in the Bakken.
World oil markets are likely to remain poor for the more expensive Bakken and tar sands oil, as Saudi Arabia has announced plans to sell shares of the state oil company, and diversify the country's economy beyond oil in the next few years. Simply stated, that will take a lot of money from oil, and the Saudis intend to continue saturating the market to keep prices low. Marathon Oil Corp.'s stock has crashed by about two-thirds of its value since 2014 highs, and Enbridge Energy Partners' stock value has dropped by about 40 percent from 2015 highs.
Enbridge is starting to look like Enron. Too big to fail ... but I think it will.