When will the old Enbridge Line 3 pipeline get shut down? It’s up to the EPA

But what does ‘as expeditiously as practical’ mean?

UPDATE: See Enbridge tells EPA it’s already started to decommission the old Line 3 pipeline

A major reason the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted to approve the new and larger Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline is because commissioners were deathly afraid that original (and aging) Line 3 would rupture and spill somewhere along its northern Minnesota route.

Recall that then-PUC Commissioner Dan Lipschultz famously said that he felt like he had “a gun to the head,” meaning he either approved the new Line 3 or risked a major spill on the old Line 3.

Enbridge filed notice with the PUC Sept. 29 that Line 3 “is expected to be placed into service, with line fill activities reaching Minnesota, as early as October 3, 2021.”

That should put the gears in motion to shut down the old Line 3. That was the deal.

I’m guessing Enbridge would like to double dip as long as it can, running both pipelines and getting more profits. So who’s going to force Enbridge to stop running the old Line 3?

It’s the federal government’s responsibility, but exactly when that will happen isn’t clear.

To understand how things will unfold, look at the 2017 federal Consent Decree issued to force Enbridge to clean up its act.

Enbridge’s 2010 Kalamazoo spill helped lead to the 2017 federal Consent Decree. (Photo: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

The decree resulted from Enbridge’s bungled responses to 2010 pipeline spills in Michigan. (This included the Kalamazoo River spill, where clean-up costs exceeded $1.2 billion. A National Transportation and Safety Board report compared Enbridge’s spill response to the “Keystone Kops.”)

The EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard oversee the Consent Decree. Among its many provisions, it directed Enbridge to address the deteriorating conditions of its old Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota.

According to the Consent Decree (pg. 26), once Enbridge completes the new Line 3 construction, it’s supposed to take the old Line 3 out of service “as expeditiously as practical.”

That’s a vague term.

I wrote the EPA late Monday seeking clarification on what “as expeditiously as practicable” means, and to get a sense of the timeline. As of the end of day Wednesday, I hadn’t heard back. I will update the blog when I get an answer.

I emailed PUC Executive Secretary Will Seuffert to ask about the PUC’s role in shutting down the old Line 3. (After all, it had been an issue of deep concern to commissioners.) He wrote: “The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission does not regulate the operation or safety of pipelines, and does not have the authority to enforce the federal government’s consent decree.”

This is a sore spot in Line 3 resistance.

Back in 2018, when the PUC was making the final Line 3 permit decisions, Line 3 opponents argued the PUC shouldn’t justify approving the new Line 3 based on the poor condition of the old Line 3. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), not the state, have responsibility for pipeline’s safe operations.

The PUC ignored the argument.

Seuffert’s response about the PUC’s role in shutting down the old Line 3 is what Line 3 opponents were saying all along: Pipeline safety is a federal job.

Back in 2018, the PUC should have pressed the federal government to shut down the old Line 3 based on its condition. After that, it could have decided whether or not to build a new Line 3 based on its merits.

The gun to the head worked.

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