Rodney Struble: Pipeline Abandonment, Easements, and Legacy

"The biggest issue is with the legacy contamination of this pipe... they're going to keep kicking the can down the road until there's no one left who knows what's what." 

Rodney (“Rod”) Struble moved onto his two acre parcel of land just outside Warba, Minnesota with his wife in 1995. He poured himself into house improvements and building up a fence line around the small field behind his barn so he could pasture animals on it. It was a personal investment, into the life he wanted to live, and into his financial future. “This place will be my retirement,” says Rod.

The property came with an Enbridge easement - originally written up in 1949 - for the company’s main line corridor. There were four pipelines running underneath that field Rod wanted for pasture; at the time he didn’t think it would be an issue. Now there are six pipelines there, and he feels differently. 

 

 

By now Rod has had his share of trouble with Enbridge, and the company’s plans for Line 3 add insult to injury. “The abandonment of this pipe is nuts…to abandon it, and leave their environmental hazard left around for landowners is just wrong.” And according to Rod, there’s not much the landowners can do on their own. “If the Minnesota legislature doesn’t act and put rules in place to govern this issue they [Enbridge] will do what they want because they only do what they are actually forced to do.”

This sentiment has cropped up for Rod during years of accumulating frustrations. Enbridge has made it a habit to avoid being upfront about their dealings on his property. In 2008 ,when the company was preparing for its enormous Alberta Clipper project, they sent surveyors out to Rod’s land. They were vague with Rod about their purpose, and and left him with the implication that their activities were just routine. It was the Channel 13 news that broke it to Rod that Enbrige was going put a new 36-inch tar sands line through his back yard. He called Enbridge, and only then did they come out with maps and information.

The following spring, after the company ‘restored’ his portion of the easement, Rod noticed his field sporting a strange new pattern: a clearly visible path where vegetation was growing back in much darker colors zig zagged across and around the easement area. Rod suspects it was the route of a machine they had been driving around, that they had leaked a substantial quantity of something in the process, and again never mentioned anything to him. He had the soil tested the following year, but results came back inconclusive.

Not long after this episode, Enbridge was again ‘restoring’ the corridor after tearing it up for an integrity dig. When they reseeded the top they replaced the clover Rod had been fostering for his cows with a mono crop of daisies. The only diversity to speak of? They introduced a weed he didn’t recognize and spread around another that makes his cows sick. He now puts in extra hours every spring spot-spraying in his attempt to eradicate the new plumes of Tansie from his pasture.

“When they talk about their newest practices for laying pipeline, you know, state of the art technology, that’s about the laying of the pipe. That doesn’t talk about the land, the way they propagate weeds during their projects. They come through late in the fall, spread the seed, work it in with the soil and lay it back out. If you have any noxious weeds you are going to have more. They don’t care. It’s the landowner’s issue to take care of noxious weeds,” said Rod.  

When Rod followed up to get his complaints taken care of, he had to push hard to be taken seriously. When he got too serious about holding a land agent (representatives of the company that work with landowners) accountable, they swapped that person out and assigned him a new one. “If you have a problem with one right of way agent they ship you to another one. So they don’t beat up on this guy because they can say ‘Oh well, it wasn’t me, I’m just here to take care of the issue.’ They do that constantly,” said Rod. He has dealt with five different agents in the past 7 years.

Rod says he’s happy that Minnesotans for Pipeline Cleanup contacted him. “I’m glad somebody’s in our corner,” he said. For him the abandonment issue is the last straw. “If they ever want another easement through here they will be taking out Line 3. It will be part of the negotiating process. They will never get to leave that here. And at that time it will be in writing what the transition of the remaining pipes will be as they decommission those…They can’t leave their garbage behind.”

 

NEXT: Richard on property value, abandonment, and basic rules of respect