MN Regulators Near Pipeline Decision 06/17 10:44
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota regulators will open two days of final
arguments on whether they should approve Enbridge Energy's proposal for
replacing its deteriorating Line 3 crude oil pipeline from Canada across
The proposal has aroused intense opposition from tribal and climate change
activists. The Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to make its final
decision late this month on whether the project is needed and, if so, what
route it should take.
Groups on both sides are urging supporters to pack the two-day hearing,
which start Monday. Some opponents plan to canoe the Mississippi River to
downtown St. Paul and then carry their boat to the proceedings.
Here's a look at some of the key issues:
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge wants to replace Line 3, which it built in
the 1960s. For safety reasons, Enbridge runs it at only about half its original
capacity and only with light crude. The replacement would restore its original
capacity of 760,000 barrels per day so that it can again deliver as much light
or heavy crude as Midwest refineries want. All Enbridge still needs is
Minnesota's approval, through it has been a long, contentious process.
The current Line 3 starts in Alberta and clips the northeastern corner of
North Dakota before it traverses northern Minnesota on its way to Enbridge's
terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge wants to lay a line that would run
parallel to the existing one as far as Clearbrook, Minnesota, before taking a
more southerly route to Superior.
Enbridge says the old line is increasingly subject to corrosion and
cracking, and that its maintenance needs are accelerating. It says that without
a new Line 3, its customers would have to rely more heavily on rail and truck
transport, which have higher costs and risks.
Unlike the old route, the company's preferred route bypasses the Leech Lake
and Fond du Lac Indian reservations, but tribal groups still oppose it because
the new route would take it through a pristine area of lakes and wetlands in
the Mississippi River headwaters region, where Native Americans still harvest
wild rice, fish and claim treaty rights.
They're allied with environmental groups that oppose Line 3 because it would
carry Canadian tar sands crude, which generates more greenhouse gases than
lighter oil because the production process uses more energy and generates more
More than 500 clergy and other faith leaders have signed a letter to the PUC
and Gov. Mark Dayton urging rejection, citing the risks to the environment and
the rights of indigenous peoples.
WHAT OFFICIALS RECOMMEND
The PUC staff this month recommended granting Enbridge a certificate of need
and said the company's preferred route would have the fewest adverse
That contrasts with a recommendation from an administrative law judge who
concluded that the replacement would be justified only if Enbridge digs up the
old pipeline and uses the existing trench. However, the Leech Lake tribal
government has already formally rejected any new pipeline crossing its land,
and the Fond du Lac band has been nearly as outspoken. Another problem is that
using the existing trench would take Line 3 out of service until the new
pipeline could resume operations.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce went even further last year, saying the
project isn't needed and that Minnesota might be better off if Enbridge just
shuts down Line 3. The department said the environmental and socio-economic
risks outweigh the benefits to Minnesota.
The PUC is an independent five-member commission but its members were all
appointed by Dayton, a Democrat who vetoed a GOP-led attempt in the recent
legislative session to bypass the PUC and give Enbridge permission to proceed
immediately. None of the recommendations from the PUC staff, the administrative
law judge or the Commerce Department is binding on the commissioners, who will
reconvene June 26-27 for deliberations and a decision.
PUC Chair Nancy Lange has said that whatever the commission decides, the
dispute is likely to end up in court. County officials in northern Minnesota
told the PUC last month that they're worried about large-scale protests if
Enbridge gets a green light.
Construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in neighboring North Dakota drew
thousands of protesters to the Standing Rock Reservation area in 2016 and 2017,
resulting in sometimes violent skirmishes with law enforcement and more than
700 arrests. Some activists have threatened a repeat in Minnesota if Line 3