Two men working on construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline have been arrested in Minnesota as part of a sex-trafficking sting operation.
The U.S. state’s human trafficking task force ran the operation from June 25 to 26, placing an ad on a sex advertisement website. The agency said in a news release that six suspects were arrested as they arrived at an arranged meeting place with the intention of committing a sex crime, and charges are pending.
Calgary-based Enbridge confirmed that two of those arrested last week were working for a subcontractor on the Line 3 replacement project.
Workers fired, company says it has ‘zero tolerance’
“Upon learning of their arrests, the employment of these two individuals was immediately terminated. Enbridge and our contractors have zero tolerance for illegal and exploitative actions. That is why we are joining with our contractors and unions to denounce the illegal and exploitive actions of those who participate in sex trafficking,” the company said in a release on Monday.
It’s not the first time workers on the pipeline have been charged with human trafficking. A sting in February saw two other contract workers for Enbridge in Minnesota arrested.
Minnesota State Senator Mary Kunesh said in a statement that Indigenous women testified to the state’s public utilities commission in advance of work beginning on the pipeline that they feared it could put their communities at risk.
There is precedent for that concern. The U.S. Department of Justice’s office on violence against women noted in a 2014 report to congress that the Dakota Access Pipeline oil development brought itinerant workers and a sharp increase in sex trafficking and domestic violence to North Dakota.
“What do you expect when you flood rural communities with 4,000 men, flush with cash, time on their hands? They were warned, by the victims themselves,” Kunesh said.
Enbridge said all of its workers on Line 3 are required to complete human trafficking awareness training, and the company said it’s committed to working with Native American tribes along the pipeline’s rout to raise awareness of the issue.
“We recognize that human trafficking is an ongoing issue in our community and in society as a whole, and we encourage everyone to join us in our commitment to working together with law enforcement and government agencies to bring awareness to the victims of these crimes, and end this illegal and exploitative behaviour,” the company said.
Line 3 carries Canadian crude from Alberta, through North Dakota and across northern Minnesota to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.
The pipeline is aging, and Enbridge says the new line will restore its capacity to 760,000 barrels per day and better protect the environment. Thousands of workers have been brought on to work on the $7.3-billion US replacement, which is largely complete with the exception of the Minnesota leg.
Opponents to the replacement line say it will aggravate climate change and risk spills in ecologically sensitive areas, as well as areas important to Indigenous groups.