Enbridge is plastering Minnesota newspapers with ads
73 percent of the publications we picked ran at least one Enbridge ad over the course of the week.
For more than 70 years, Minnesota has been known as “the land of 10,000 lakes.”
But lately, it looks more like the land of 10,000 advertisements for a controversial tar sands oil pipeline that would run underneath and beside them.
The ads are for Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, which achieved federal approval in the final weeks of the Trump administration. The project is a 340-mile replacement and expansion of the old Line 3 pipeline, which would allow the Canadian oil giant to increase the amount of thick crude oil transported through the region from about 500,000 barrels to 1 million barrels per day.
New Line 3 is fiercely opposed by many of Minnesota’s indigenous people, and opponents are increasingly putting their bodies on the line to prevent construction after silence from the Biden administration. They say Line 3’s expansion threatens Anishinaabe way of life, Minnesota’s waters, the mighty Mississippi River, and the global climate.
But you would not get the impression of such controversy if you were just passing through northern Minnesota. Along the new pipeline’s construction route and on social media, Enbridge's advertising and marketing presence is strong, and paints a picture that looks much rosier than reality.
If Line 3 is eventually completed, it will be in part because of Enbridge’s sophisticated public relations strategy across the state. Indeed, public relations is among the most important and unequally distributed weapons in the fight for a livable climate. In northern Minnesota, that reality is easy to see.
Pro-pipeline ads: 73 percent. Anti-pipeline ads: 0 percent.
HEATED was reporting in Minnesota for seven full days. Whenever we were in a new place, we picked up a newspaper. At the end of the trip, we had 26 individual newspapers from 15 different publications.
Overall, we found that none of the newspapers we picked up contained any ads opposing the Line 3 project. But 73 percent of the publications ran at least one Enbridge ad over the course of the week. Thirteen, or 50 percent, of the individual papers contained ads from Enbridge.
This is obviously a pretty rudimentary analysis; a microcosm of the entire Minnesota media landscape. But the results line up with how local pipeline opponents describe their experience. Jerry Striegel, an MN350 volunteer who has tracked Enbridge’s newpaper ads, recently told Healing Minnesota Stories that they’ve been in local newspapers since at least 2017.
“Those opposing Line 3 don’t have Enbridge-type funding to run ads and give the counter narrative,” the article read.
Enbridge’s narrative: Line 3 is a “replacement” and everyone loves it
The Enbridge ads we found all contained misleading language about the nature of the project. They all described Line 3 as simply a “replacement,” not an expansion that would double the pipeline’s existing capacity and add a new pipeline corridor. They also did not mention that old Line 3 would be left in the ground.
The ads also all described Enbridge as a company with “70 years proudly in Minnesota,” which may lead readers to believe Enbridge is an American company. Enbridge is in fact a Canadian company and the largest transporter of Canadian tar sands in the world.
One common Enbridge ad (photo above) painted Line 3 as a project with widespread support from Minnesota’s tribes. But the reality is much, much more complicated. The ad above, for example, cites “an unprecedented level of Tribal engagement [and] inclusion” on the project. But many indigenous leaders and have criticized the engagement process as a sham.
Another common Enbridge ad painted Line 3 as a safe project bringing jobs and economic stability to the area. But those claims have been disputed, too.
Enbridge claims that, over two years, Line 3 will create 4,200 jobs in Minnesota, half of which will be for local union workers, and that it will provide a $2 billion jolt to the Minnesota economy during project design and construction. But according to the Star Tribune, so far only 33 percent of workers on Line 3 are from Minnesota.
On the economic stability front, Enbridge has put many cash-strapped Minnesota counties in a near-existential financial bind, by claiming they owe the company a combined $55 million in tax refunds. Enbridge told the Star Tribune they are "committed to working with counties to ensure undue hardship does not result from these proceedings," but that it is “premature to talk specifics.”
Some Enbridge ads we found were not specifically about Line 3, but about the benefits of oil and the company in general. Those were from Enbridge’s “E=” campaign, launched in 2014 with the goal of “skirting constant battles over pipelines and fossil fuel projects” by focusing on things like “how energy allows your dog to take in the cool breeze as he sticks his snout out your car window.”
These are just your general, run-of-the-mill fossil fuel ads, the purpose of which are to maintain Enbridge’s “social license to operate”—basically a fancy term for “public support.”
Fossil fuel companies like Enbridge depend on social license to continue extracting and profiting from climate-destroying fuels. That is why these ads are literally everywhere in Minnesota.
“State of the art propaganda”
HEATED has covered the role of fossil fuel public relations in furthering the climate crisis many times in the past. When thinking about Enbridge’s ad presence in Minnesota over line 3, this interview seems worth repeating:
Geoffery Supran, a Harvard University researcher who co-authored a peer-reviewed analysis of ExxonMobil's 40-year history of climate change communications, said oil companies run ads for one reason, and one reason only: because they work.
“The fossil fuel industry's ad campaigns are state of the art propaganda developed in partnership with public relations experts and based on almost a century of collaborative experience,” he said in an email. “Everyone is a target: politicians, policymakers, the public, and the press themselves.” …
“They know their demographic. They know what they’re doing. It’s a very well-constructed political influence campaign,” said Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist and professor emeritus at Drexel University. “They’ve been doing it for decades, and we’ve yet to have any real action of climate change.”
“Does that mean their propaganda campaign is working? I don’t know,” he added. “But if they are spending $300 million a year on it, and they think it’s important, we ought to be trying to understand how it actually works.”
The role of public relations in furthering the climate crisis is starting to get more attention. Last week, The New York Times reported that ad agencies are starting to back away from doing campaigns for oil and gas companies like Enbridge, likening those companies’ efforts to that of cigarette companies that tried to convince the public smoking was not harmful to public health.
Lingering questions + how you can help
So who is the ad agency supporting Enbridge’s effort in Minnesota? And what does the rest of Enbridge’s PR effort look like? (Because it’s certainly not limited to simply newspaper ads).
We’ll get to those topics in a later issue. For now, you can help HEATED with the latter question if you’re in Minnesota.
If you see a pro-Line 3 or Enbridge ad in a newspaper, local radio station, or local television station, send them to email@example.com. Please include the ad itself (a picture or recording), the date it appeared (and if it’s radio or television time it aired), and the name of the publication. We’ll add it to our above Google Map to try and visualize Enbridge’s ad presence along the pipeline construction route.
Also, here’s a few definitions of the word “propaganda,” just in case anyone has a problem with me using it to describe pipeline ads.
Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. (Oxford Languages).
The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. (Merium-Webster).
“Propaganda is the more or less systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols (words, gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, hairstyles, designs on coins and postage stamps, and so forth). Deliberateness and a relatively heavy emphasis on manipulation distinguish propaganda from casual conversation or the free and easy exchange of ideas. Propagandists have a specified goal or set of goals. To achieve these, they deliberately select facts, arguments, and displays of symbols and present them in ways they think will have the most effect. To maximize effect, they may omit or distort pertinent facts or simply lie, and they may try to divert the attention of the reactors (the people they are trying to sway) from everything but their own propaganda. (Britannica).
Chris May contributed reporting.
Catch of the Day
Fish’s cute lil face is an example of pro-treat propaganda.
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