Minnesota Law Enforcement Shared Intelligence on Protest Organizers With Pipeline Company
Police responsible for public safety surrounding the construction of an oil pipeline in Minnesota have repeatedly denied having a close relationship with Enbridge, the company behind the controversial energy project. According to records obtained by The Intercept through public information requests, however, Enbridge has provided repeated trainings for officers designed to cultivate a coordinated response to protests.
By the time construction on Line 3, a tar sands oil pipeline, began last December, a working relationship had been established between Enbridge and police officers. A public safety official even invited the company’s Line 3 security chief to regular intelligence sharing meetings. In one case, the official passed along intelligence to Enbridge’s security chief for Line 3: a list of people who attended an anti-pipeline organizing meeting.
Line 3 opponents have long raised concerns about payments made to law enforcement by Enbridge to cover pipeline-related policing. A special account set up by the state of Minnesota has distributed $2.3 million in Enbridge funds to public safety agencies so far. The records shed new light on the level of close coordination between law enforcement agencies and the Canadian oil company to police the Indigenous-led movement to stop Line 3.
“Local law enforcement has become the brutal arm of a Canadian corporation.”
“Local law enforcement has become the brutal arm of a Canadian corporation,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund’s Center for Protest Law and Litigation and an attorney representing opponents of the pipeline. “It’s highly inappropriate for law enforcement to target people based on First Amendment activity, collect identity information and then deliver that information to their political opponents.”
The effort to halt the Line 3 pipeline is the latest flashpoint in the movement to end development of new fossil fuel infrastructure amid a growing climate crisis. In Minnesota, members of the Indigenous-led resistance, known as water protectors, have turned to tactics that directly disrupt construction, sometimes trespassing on private property, blocking roads, or locking down to pipeline company equipment.
“Community police and sheriff deputies are responsible for public safety,” Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner told The Intercept. “Our security call the police when a disturbance occurs. Officers decide when an individual is breaking the law — or putting themselves or others in danger.”
How law enforcement responds to the protest movement is a matter of training and discretion. The documents obtained by The Intercept suggest that Enbridge has stepped in to influence officers’ choices.
Water protectors point to the close working relationship between Enbridge and law enforcement to explain escalating police tactics, with rubber bullets and other “less-lethal” weapons deployed in recent weeks.
Plans to Coordinate
Emails between Enbridge and members of the Northern Lights Task Force — a group consisting of sheriffs and public safety officials coordinating plans for expected protests against Line 3 — describe several joint training exercises and other coordination meetings set up by the energy firm. The largest of the trainings was in Bemidji, Minnesota.
In October 2020, according to emails, Enbridge organized an all-day training at the company’s Bemidji Emergency Operations Center. According to an email sent a day before the event, dozens of Enbridge employees, public safety officials, including local sheriffs along the pipeline route, and an FBI agent were invited to attend. A primary goal for the event: “Coordination between Line 3 project team and L.P.” — an acronym that typically refers to “local police.”
The email sent out ahead of the training included a series of “Incident Briefing Maps” laying out scenarios where Enbridge and law enforcement might need to coordinate a response. The various scenarios had something in common: They all involved protests.
The list of scenarios — which were drawn up by the Response Group, a controversial crisis management firm that works for the energy industry — laid out four possible events: demonstrators blocking traffic, the breach of a construction site, “swarming” of a pipeline hub while streaming on social media, and project opponents locking themselves to the gate of an Enbridge office.
Training participants would be asked to come up with a plan to respond to each of the scenarios, as well as to develop an “Information and Communication Strategy” to keep government agencies, the public, and the media informed of what was happening, according to a list of exercise objectives. Enbridge planned to discuss providing local law enforcement with a project radio, according to an email describing the exercise.
It wasn’t the first conversation of its kind. In advance of a smaller version of the exercise, back in April, members of the Northern Lights Task Force filled out a questionnaire for Enbridge. The public safety officials noted that it was a “priority” for law enforcement to obtain access to Enbridge security camera feeds. It also referenced the possibility of placing an Enbridge liaison inside the two law enforcement emergency operations centers, as well as a law enforcement liaison in Enbridge’s emergency operations center.
The Northern Lights Task Force’s communications team did not answer a detailed list of questions. Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida, a member of the task force, said his office never received a project radio nor saw other agencies with one. Guida said that the scenarios served to show law enforcement how Enbridge runs its emergency operations center. “It was for Enbridge to learn. We didn’t get trained by Enbridge,” he said, adding that law enforcement might carry out a similar exercise with a bank. “We assisted them and told them this is how we do it, you do your own thing.”
It’s not clear how many officers attended the trainings offered by Enbridge. Clearwater County Sheriff Darin Halverson was copied on the invite and RSVP’d that he would attend an additional Enbridge security exercise as well as a “sensitive security information” meeting. He told The Intercept that he did not attend any of the gatherings.
By the time construction on Line 3 began, a comfortable working relationship appeared to have been established between Enbridge and some of the public safety agencies invited to the company’s meetings. Public officials repeatedly expressed interest in exchanging information on pipeline opposition with Enbridge.
In December 2020, a St. Louis County sheriff’s deputy distributed language to be used by officers issuing dispersal orders during protests against Line 3 and also sent a list of potential charges that could be applied to pipeline protesters. Another officer responded, noting that it would be legal to arrest water protectors even if they trespassed without a law enforcement officer present. “Hopefully Enbridge security would be videotaping when able,” the officer said. Other documents affirmed that Enbridge security would be wearing body cameras.
The Northern Lights Task Force, the group of public safety officials, occasionally suggested that Enbridge should be excluded from planning, the documents show. In November 2020, Guida, the Aitkin County sheriff, copied Enbridge public information officers on an email about the task force’s public messaging strategy. Another sheriff advised that the corporate representatives did not belong in the group: “It is not a good idea to have Enbridge employees in our group, but they would certainly be good contacts to have to know what info is being put out,” wrote Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake. (Guida told The Intercept he copied Enbridge on the email so that law enforcement and the company could avoid mixed or duplicate messages.)
In other cases, public safety officials actively sought out Enbridge security to assist with law enforcement officers’ efforts, inviting an Enbridge representative to share space and attend meetings. St. Louis County Emergency Management Coordinator Duane Johnson copied Enbridge’s security lead for the Line 3 project on an email inviting first responders to work out of the law enforcement emergency operations center as they monitored intelligence on a potential direct action the next day. “There is considerable intel on something brewing tomorrow. Let me know if you’d like to come over and work out of the EOC tomorrow just in case something pops,” the official wrote, referring to the emergency operations center.
In another email, Johnson requested that Enbridge’s Line 3 security lead attend regular intelligence meetings. “We have missed you on our 0900 intel meetings. Is there another time that would work better for you?” asked the emergency management coordinator in a January 2021 email. “It would be nice to have someone from your company on.”
The Enbridge security officer was kept in the loop. The next day, Johnson copied him on another email, forwarding a list of names of water protectors who had attended a “Line 3 Organizing Meeting” the night before.
“It was all I really got from last night,” Bruce Blacketter, emergency management director for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, wrote to Johnson in the forwarded email. “Well, this and a slight ‘back of the head’ headache from the musical performances and guided breathing/stretching exercises.”
St. Louis County did not respond to a request for comment, and the Fond du Lac Band declined to comment.
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