Enbridge Energy Line 3

Pipeline used to carry crude oil is shown at the Superior terminal of Enbridge Energy in Superior, Wis., in this AP file photo. Former Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's administration appealed a state regulatory panel's approval of Enbridge Energy's plan to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

(The Center Square) – The Line 3 Pipeline is 70% complete, according to Enbridge – the Canadian company building the line.

That comes despite six years of resistance from a range of environmental, Native American, and left-of-center groups. The Minnesota Department of Commerce also opposed the project, which transports crude oil from Canada through Minnesota to Lake Superior. 

Juli Kellner, communications specialist for Enbridge, says the company has bent over backwards and jumped through all the hurdles.

“We hoped all parties would come to accept the outcome of the thorough, science-based review and multiple approvals of the project here in Minnesota where Line 3 has passed every test through six years of regulatory and permitting review,” Kellner told The Center Square in an email response.

Kellner cites a laundry list of those hurdles encountered. Her list includes 70 public comment meetings, judicial review of a 13,500-page Environmental Impact Statement, four reviews by administrative law judges, and 320 route modifications.

She also highlights approvals from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the only tribe with water quality authority along the pipeline route.

The latest news in the controversy involves both an Enbridge construction spill and appeals to the Biden administration to unilaterally stop Line 3. The demands come following Monday’s Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling.

The ruling, by a vote of 2-1, found that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission was within the law in approving the project. Opponents, including the Sierra Club, filed an appeal with the Minnesota Supreme Court Wednesday.

Head of Minnesota’s Sierra Club, Margaret Levin, said in a news release: “We will continue to make our case in court that the permits for this dirty tar sands pipeline should never have been approved, but with construction underway, there is no time to waste.”

Levin also urged President Biden to “live up to his commitments to climate action and environmental justice, and stop Line 3.”

However, Biden’s Department of Justice stood up for Line 3 in a June 23 legal brief.

The document argued that the Army Corps of Engineers 2020 permit approval for Line 3 checked off all the boxes by considering the impacts to “wetlands, the climate, low-income and minority populations, Tribal rights to hunt, fish, and gather, and all of the issues to which Plaintiffs draw special attention.”

Enbridge asserts they use tested and environmentally safe procedures for drilling to put pipe under waterways, have brought back millions to reservations, are boosting the Northern Minnesota economy, and work hard to protect tribal cultural resources.

The pipeline was first built in the 1960s and suffered several serious oil spills over the years. The new pipeline is replacing the old one with improved and larger diameter pipe to restore the line’s original capacity. The old pipes will be cleaned and emptied, but not removed.

The safety of the building process came under attack this week when drilling materials (clay, water, and thickener) spilled last week on the Willow River near Palisade.  

Honor the Earth environmental group believes that the non-toxic materials still pose a risk. "The mud itself is composed of fine particles, which can smother aquatic life," the group warned in a news release.

The size of the spill was estimated by Minnesota authorities to be as much as 100 gallons, or one-half cubic yard.

Enbridge's Kellner released a statement, stating the spill is under control.

"Upon identifying the inadvertent return, the drilling operation was immediately shut down and crews followed the procedure for managing containment and cleanup of material as specified in project permits," Kellner said Tuesday.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is investigating and will provide the public with a full report in the near future, according to an MPCA spokesperson.

Last week protestors went to the Willow River site and blocked construction for a day by “water protectors,” the environmental groups’ preferred name for their members. The protestors trapped themselves inside pipes and locked themselves into tree stands.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to deal with the protestors for months. The county sheriffs say they do not have the manpower or funding to deal with removing lawbreakers who interfere with construction sites and nearby public roadways.

Minnesota peace officers formed a coalition of agencies, the Northern Lights Task Force (NLTF). Their social media presence states, “Being that most departments in this area are small, they have banded together to be able to provide mutual aid seamlessly and proactively for both planned and spontaneous events.”

The task force dealt with multiple protests last week, leading to the arrest of 179 individuals and the issuance of 68 citations last month. 

NLTF says they were particularly concerned about protestors entering pipes filled with fecal matter. The feces were added to interfere with removing the protestors.

The task force’s social media page warns that using confined spaces as protest sites endangers the protestors themselves. The dangers arise especially from lack of oxygen.

The page also cautions others are threatened in the process, “Would-be rescuers (including first responders) account for more than 60 percent of all fatalities that occur in confined spaces. If trained professionals have a hard time surviving in those spaces, they definitely are not safe for an untrained, unprepared person without proper gear.”