Canadian-based energy company Enbridge’s largest project, Line 3, received another setback after the Minnesota’s Appeals Court reversed the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) 2018 approval.
The organization that represents the maintenance workers for the pipeline, LIUNA (Laborers' International Union of North America), is not overly concerned with the ruling, however.
“We are confident that the additional review required by the court will only strengthen the case for replacing Line 3,” Kevin Pranis, a spokesman for LIUNA Minnesota and North Dakota, told The Center Square. “Our members have first-hand experience repairing the existing pipeline and know that the replacement project is the best way to protect Lake Superior and the rest of Minnesota’s natural resources.”
Deliberations over replacing corroding infrastructure and environmental and health risks to water and land resources has been a contentious issue ever since Enbridge Energy first proposed replacing 1,031 miles of Line 3 Pipeline and associated facilities between the North Dakota-Minnesota border and the Minnesota-Wisconsin border in April 2015.
Enbridge's proposed Line 3 replacement project requires two approvals from the PUC: a certificate of need and a route permit. Enbridge first applied to the PUC for these approvals in April 2015. It received approval over various stages into 2018 after years of review, public comment periods, and approval processes.
Three out of five tribes and environmental groups challenged the PUC’s 2018 approval of a certificate of need for Line 3. Appeals were also filed to block the PUC’s granting of a route permit for the pipeline.
The PUC did not respond to The Center Square's repeated requests for comment.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the PUC “acted in a manner that was unsupported by ‘substantial evidence’ when it determined the impact statement was adequate,” according to a statement posted online. “The impact statement specifically failed to address how an oil spill from the line would affect Lake Superior and its watershed, the court said.”
The ruling will delay the replacement of Line 3, which would have doubled the capacity of the existing pipeline to 760,000 barrels per day. The court upheld most of the project’s 3,000-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). However, it said the PUC failed to properly consider the impacts of a Lake Superior oil spill in its approval of the proposed Line 3 pipeline replacement.
What this means is that another spill model must be evaluated for Lake Superior, an easy solution and positive step, industry experts say.
Enbridge claims to own the world’s longest fossil fuel transportation network and says Line 3 is the largest project in its history. If completed, it would replace 1,031 miles of a corroded existing pipeline beginning in Alberta’s tar sands region, which travel to refineries and its eventual shipping destination in Wisconsin.
Line 3 expansion would pass directly through two Ojibwe (Chippewa) tribes in northern Minnesota. Three others have taken issue with the line, arguing tar sands have proven to be one of the most carbon-intensive fuel sources in the world.
However, the two tribes most affected by the line say they strongly prefer the line to be replaced and are not opposing the plan. A newer and safer pipeline is better than a corroding one, they argue, and is safer than the alternative of shipping via freight train. Freight transportation has been proven to be 50 times more likely to spill than the pipeline method.
“The Line 3 Replacement will substantially reduce the danger of spills while ensuring the reliability of fuel supplies and creating thousands of well-paid jobs,” Pranis said.
Prior to the PUC approval last year, police departments in Minnesota spent 18 months preparing for a major standoff over Enbridge Line 3, according to records obtained from a Freedom of Information request submitted by The Intercept. The effort came after thousands of protesters against Enbridge at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in southern North Dakota.
“At Standing Rock, law enforcement used water cannons, rubber bullets, armored personnel carriers, and sound cannons in an operation that resulted in serious injuries,” The Intercept reported.
“Aided by private intelligence and security firms working for the pipeline, they gathered information on protesters via aerial surveillance, online monitoring, embedded informants, and eavesdropping on radio signals,” Will Parrish and Alleen Brown write for The Intercept. “In a time of growing resistance to fossil fuel industries, the public-private partnership served as a chilling example of law enforcement agencies acting as bulwarks of the oil industry,” they add.
The Minnesota Appeals Court ruling was met with disappointment by groups supporting the project, and Enbridge saw its share price fall 4.7 percent directly afterwards.
“We believe that the market will negatively view the court decision that casts uncertainty with respect to the timeline for the Line 3 Replacement (L3R) project, and specifically the ability to bring L3R into service” in the second half of 2020,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Robert Kwan wrote.
The court’s ruling “is disappointing,” Isaac Orr, a policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment, told The Center Square. “New pipelines are safer than older versions, just like newer cars are safer than older ones.”
Oil is the largest energy source in Minnesota, accounting for 35 percent of Minnesota's total energy consumption, according to federal data, Orr adds.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision given that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unanimously found the Line 3 Replacement Project’s 13,500 page FEIS adequate, based on the most extensive environmental study of a pipeline project in state history, affirming the recommendation of an administrative law judge who thoroughly reviewed the FEIS for adequacy,” Enbridge said in a statement.
“The FEIS is the product of a comprehensive interagency effort that included the environmental branch of the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Department of Natural Resources,” he added.
Enbridge said it is reviewing the court’s decision and will consult with the PUC and other state agencies about next steps. It remains unclear if the company will have to submit a new EIS for the project or within what timeframe.