With court challenges and permit pending, prep work ramps up on Line 3

Line 3 work preparations near Backus, Minn.

Activity has picked up at an Enbridge storage yard near Backus, with five large trailers, 10 or so porta potties, and a number of trucks with out-of-state plates, according to reports from Line 3 scouts.

Precision Pipeline of Eau Claire, Wisc. applied for the storm water permit for the 45-acre storage yard, according to the application submitted in August.

It’s unclear whether the trailers are work space or housing. Regardless, it means that as the coronavirus infection rates are increasing in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, an influx of workers could increase local transmission.

The rush to build the pipeline during the epidemic is all the more perplexing in the face of struggling oil markets.

Enbridge does have a Covid-19 prevention plan, part of its May, 2020 Construction Environment Control Plan.

Some of Enbridge’s recommendations are vague, such as “Minimize activities where groups of workers congregate.” Others include:

  • Where possible, work with contractors to transport any personnel exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms to their home area for treatment as opposed to using a local medical facility where possible. (“Where possible” isn’t defined.)
  • Expectations that workers/contractors follow the CDC’s recommended guidelines outside of work hours in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the community. (No sanctions are mentioned for workers failing to follow CDC guidelines.)
  • At work sites, assign a social distancing coordinator to monitor social distancing at all times.
  • Practice social distancing during all work activities.
Hmmm. Not much social distancing going on here.

In a worst-case scenario, work on Line 3 could begin this fall, with lots more people arriving.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is reviewing Enbridge’s water crossing permit and faces a Nov. 14 deadline to decide. If approved, work on Line 3 could start soon after.

The MPCA’s Line 3 review is flawed. It ignored the damage Line 3 would do to climate. It ignored the environmental impact of a crude oil spill. It downplayed the impacts of trenching the pipeline through 78 miles of wetlands and across more than 200 streams and other water bodies.

The agency recommended approving a draft water crossing permit for Line 3. Due to strong pushback from Native Nations and environmental groups, the MPCA agreed to a contested case hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The judge’s findings and recommendation are expected mid-October.

In addition, Native Nations and environmental groups have sued to stop the project in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. They are challenging permits the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission issued for Line 3. The cases will not be decided by this fall, but the plaintiffs could request a court injunction to temporarily block construction until the legal issues are decided.

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