For Enbridge Line 3, It’s the Calm Before the Storm

It’s quiet now, but there’s a looming confrontation over Enbridge Line 3.

After many contentious hearings last year, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. It was a flawed decision, ignoring climate change, treaty rights, spill risks, and the fact that Minnesota doesn’t need this pipeline to meet its oil needs.

On one hand, Line 3 still faces legal challenges and regulatory hurdles and can still be stopped. On the other, the federal government could intervene and try approve the pipeline even if the state objects.

Civil disobedience and direct action could occur should Enbridge start construction. So far things have been relatively calm. Should construction start, it’s going to get ugly. (See earlier blog: Minnesota Law Enforcement Already Coordinating with Enbridge to Respond to Line 3 Protests, Report Says.)

In the meantime, here’s what’s going on behind the scenes.

MPCA Review

Map shows current Line 3 and Enbridge’s proposed route.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is taking a hard look at the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 and its impact on water quality. Line 3 will cross under the Mississippi River twice, including the Headwaters region. According to Enbridge’s permit application and the Line 3 environmental impact statement, Line 3 will cross:

  • 211 streams (including six trout streams)
  • 78 linear miles of wetlands
  • Wildlife conservation lands/state forests, with 22,700 acres within a half-mile of the pipeline’s centerline. (This includes more that 1,300 acres in the Mississippi headwaters area.)
  • The Gully Fen Scientific and Natural Area
  • Four wild rice waterbodies , with nearly 390 acres of wild rice within a half mile of the pipeline.

The MPCA needs to issue Line 3 water crossing permits, or technically “Section 401” permits. It recently issued a timeline, with a decision projected in late October. As a result, Enbridge is delaying construction. “The project, which was initially expected to be in service before the end of 2019, now won’t be ready until the second half of 2020,” the CBC reported.

Under current plans, the public would get one month to comment on the MPCA’s water crossing permit, from June 10-July 10. More to come on this later.

Of particular interest will be how broadly the MPCA interprets the rules. For instance, will the MPCA consider the impact of potential oil spills on water quality or just Line 3’s construction-related impacts?

Here is the MPCA’s website dedicated to Line 3’s water crossing permits.

Republicans Try to Green Light Line 3

Multiple parties are suing to reverse the PUC’s Line 3 approval. These include the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Honor the Earth, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Headwaters and the Youth Climate Intervenors. The case will be heard in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Significantly, the Minnesota Department of Commerce also has filed suit to block Line 3, arguing that Enbridge never proved it was needed. The lawsuit was started by Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration and reaffirmed by Gov. Tim Walz’ administration.

As a result, Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, introduced SF 1757 to defund the Department of Commerce’s lawsuit. (It passed out of one Senate committee and is now in the Senate Finance Committee.) In a related matter, Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, introduced SF2330 to automatically grant Line 3 its needed approvals. (A similar bill was tried and failed last biennium.)

It’s unlikely these bills will make it through the session, but they need to be watched.

Possible Federal Intervention

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan addresses the crowd, at the STOP KINDER MORGAN protest rally, on Burnaby Mountain Park. (2014. Photo by Mark Klotz.)

Canada is pressing the United States government to push tar sands pipeline approvals, according to a CBC story. Canada’s natural resources minister Amarjeet Sohi met with U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry today in Houston, it said.

“The focus was on TransCanada’s Keystone XL project and Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement pipeline,” the story said. “… The delays on pipeline projects on both sides of the border are a frustration for the oilpatch in Western Canada and contribute to lower oil prices.”

This is worrisome. While President Trump doesn’t seem to be a fan of Canada, he does love fossil fuels.

Here’s the fundamental flaw in forcing the pipeline down Minnesota’s throat: Canada can’t even get crude oil pipelines approved through Canada. The Canadian government bought Kinder Morgan’s stalled Trans Mountain pipeline that would connect the Alberta tar sands crude with British Columbia ports.

Even the Canadian government is facing backlash and road blocks. Last fall, a Canadian court “overturned approval of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion, ruling that Ottawa failed to adequately consider aboriginal concerns,” according to a story by Reuters. Trudeau’s government decided not to appeal the court’s decision, and ultimately apologized to First Nations people for consultation failures, according to a CBC story.

Comment: In Minnesota, sales of finished petroleum products (gas, diesel, fuel oil, etc.) has been declining since 2004. We don’t need the extra crude oil here. There is no reason Minnesota should take on huge risks this pipeline poses for little if any benefit.

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