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New Video Game Targets Oil Infrastructure


Have you ever wanted to blow up an oil pipeline? Well soon you, too, can blow up stuff—virtually, that is—in a new game called Thunderbird Strike, created by indigenous game developer and assistant professor at Michigan State University, Dr. Elizabeth LaPensee.

In the new side-scrolling game which will make its debut at the ImagineNative festival this week and available to the public later this year, players can control a thunderbird—a legendary mythical creature in many North American indigenous cultures that is a symbol of power and strength—as it charges up electricity and seeks to destroy oil infrastructure including trucks, pipelines, and more. Players can shoot bolts of lightning at various oil assets with impunity—players do not die in the game, nor are they arrested for their incendiary activities.

The mission starts in Alberta’s tar sands and travels to the Great Lakes, as the player “protects” what the developer calls Turtle Island (North America) “with searing lightning against the snake that threatens to swallow the lands and waters whole,” according to the game’s website.

The game’s website draws specific attention to Enbridge’s Line 5, and offers visitors information on how they can “protect the waters.”

While LaPensee, indigenous herself, doesn’t consider herself an activist, the activist message of the game is clear. Her greatest hope for Thurnderbird Strike “is that it will bring awareness to pipeline issues and contribute to the discontinuation of [Enbridge’s] Line 5,” Lapensee told oilprice.com in an interview on Thursday, adding that she was “merely existing and sharing the concerns of my community.”

Enbridge’s notorious Line 5 spans 645 miles and runs from Superior, Wisconsin, under the Straits of Mackinac in Lapensee’s current home turf in Michigan, and ends in Sarnia, Ontario, and serves as the ultimate target in the game game’s final level.

Line 5 carries 540,000 barrels of oil and NGLs per day, supplying 55 percent of Michigan’s propane needs. It has experienced a number of leaks to date, totaling 1.1 million gallons over the last 50 years, according to the National Wildlife Federation, and its aging infrastructure has sparked concern by local and indigenous peoples. Enbridge’s reputation in Michigan has been further sullied after a major leak in a different pipeline, in what has been dubbed the largest inland oil spill in US history.'

Related: Russia Goes All In On Arctic Oil Development

Lapensee is sensitive to the effect that the oil industry has on indigenous communities, in part because her children, along with other indigenous peoples, are from communities near the Alberta tar sands. Lapensee herself is from indigenous communities in Michigan, and was raised hearing stories about the lands and waters, which has “informed her perspective.”

“Line 5 is of great concern because of safety issues and the potential impact of a spill in such a vital connection of bodies of water,” Lapensee told oilprice.com. Protestors have lobbied for years to shut down Line 5 without success.

Line 5 isn’t Enbridge’s only pipeline that is raising concern. On Thursday, protestors shouting “Shut it down!” stopped a hearing in Minnesota concerning its plan to replace Line 3.

Enbridge is not alone. Pipeline protests throughout the country including DAPL, Enbridge Lines 3 & 5, Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline, and Pilgrim Pipeline speak to the increasing pressure that the oil and gas industry faces as it struggles to get oil to refineries given various pipeline bottlenecks, which leads to a rise in both oil imports and moving oil by rail—a much riskier endeavor, but one that has not garnered nearly as impassioned protests. 

While Thunderbird Strike is unlikely to facilitate significant tangible change in the way U.S. oil companies transport oil, it does serve as a clear sign that oil pipelines have fallen grossly out of favor as the indigenous community grows ever more disgruntled with oil pipelines. Pipeline projects in the future are likely to be met with increasing levels of resistance, and oil companies must work to reshape the narrative surrounding oil pipelines if they wish to have a clear road ahead. 

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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  • Gerald Landry on October 20 2017 said:
    A Court Injunction should be pursued to Stop the Public Release of this game promoting Terrorism against Energy Infrastructure that is needed for National Security. That said Line 3 is a Replacement of a pipeline with a likely Decommission Order. Enbridge, although faced with great expense over the Line 3 Project had better propose Replacement of Line 5, especially prioritize the section under the Mackinac Straits. They should approach the many Refineries in Sarnia for financial backup.

    Pipeline Operators have to get better at Public Relations with relevant discourse that for Environmental and Public Safety reasons it is expedient that these aged pipelines be replaced to avoid catastrophic failures. The dialogue is simplified by the fact that we are still dependant on oil and its many derivitives. Dang, even the polyfleece jacket worn by most people is oil based. The polyethylene kayak...
  • Gary Novak on October 20 2017 said:
    We've always had a chance to blow up pipelines-- but not with impunity-- even if the invitation comes from a fake PhD professor in Monopoly for Indians.

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