What are the Risks of a Line 3 Tar Sands Crude Oil Spill? Government Analysis Fails to Give Clear Answers

Last in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. Commerce is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

People packed the hall in Bemidji to comment on the draft EIS.

For the last installment, let’s look at how the environmental impact statement (EIS) discusses the risks of a major Line 3 pipeline rupture and what impact it would have on recreation areas, clean waters, wild rice areas and Minnesota tribes. That’s covered in Chapter 10 of the EIS where Commerce analyzes spills.

Chapter 10 is highly technical and seems intentionally opaque, failing to provide readers with any kind of a meaningful summary. It does a very poor job of communicating so people can understand what is at stake and effectively engage in the debate.

This is doubling disturbing since the public hearings on the pipeline’s Certificate of Need and Route Plan already are underway around the state.

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Commerce Offers Rushed and Incomplete Responses to Draft EIS Criticisms

Fifth in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. Commerce is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce got swamped with comments to its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Appendix T of the Final EIS chronicles the hundreds of pages of comments received and the hundreds of pages of the Department’s responses.

The final EIS is inadequate because some of the department’s responses do not adequately address the questions and criticisms raised by the public and government officials. Let’s look at a few examples.

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Enbridge Tries to Sneak a Line 3 Expansion Through Under the Guise of a Replacement Project

Fourth in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. Commerce is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

Enbridge’s proposed tar sands crude oil pipeline expansion has a basic contradiction that never gets addressed in the environmental impact statement. Here are excerpts from the first three paragraphs of the Executive Summary:

Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership … has submitted applications to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission … to construct a new 340-mile, 36-inch-diameter pipeline in northern Minnesota to replace the aging 282-mile, 34-inch Line 3 oil pipeline …

The existing Line 3 pipeline has operated for approximately 50 years. It requires extensive maintenance and is currently restricted to a capacity of 390,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Enbridge’s proposed new 36-inch-diameter pipeline would be capable of carrying up to 760,000 barrels of Canadian heavy crude oil per day, which was the original design capacity of the existing Line 3.
If Enbridge’s goal is to have a pipeline that has the same carrying capacity as the old Line 3, why does it propose using a larger pipeline? It’s no trade secret that a larger pipeline can carry more oil. So let’s look at the Enbridge Line 3 Certificate of Need Application. On page 8-3 it says that the project’s full design capacity is 844,000 barrels a day. That’s an 11 percent increase over the 760,000 barrel a day capacity of the original Line 3.

Keep reading on that same page, and the Certificate of Need application says the “ultimate design capacity for the pipeline considering its diameter, wall thickness, steel grade, and crude slate” is an annual average of 915,000 barrels a day. That’s 20 percent more than the old Line 3.

It seems like a basic question, but the EIS does not address why there is a need for a 36-inch pipeline to maintain the capacity of the old 34-inch pipeline. Further, did the Department of Commerce consider spill analysis scenarios with the higher volume carrying capacities? If it didn’t, then the EIS is inadequate.

It seems like Enbridge is using the old sleight-of-hand, “nothing-up-the-sleeve” bumarooski. On one hand, it talks about this as an “replacement project” but in reality it is a larger pipeline with a larger capacity. Once it gets the state OK, what’s to stop Enbridge from cranking up the volume? The EIS needs to address this.

Lastly, since the final EIS came out, Minnesota Department of Commerce submitted expert testimony from its energy consultants saying there isn’t even a need to replace the capacity from the old pipeline. (See earlier blog: Minnesota Dept. of Commerce: Enbridge Has Not Established Need for the Tar Sands Pipeline; Risks Outweigh Benefits.)

There is no reason for the state to approve this pipeline, and there certainly is no reason to approve a larger pipeline.

Environmental Analysis of Tar Sands Pipeline Fails on Readability, Citizen Engagement

Third in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. Commerce is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

People packed the hall in Bemidji to comment on the draft EIS.

For the third installment, let’s look at the opaque and slanted language of the environmental impact statement (EIS) and how its exclusively technical bent prevents citizens from effectively engaging the debate.

The EIS is inadequate in that it provides a flood of data, but very little analysis that pulls it together in a meaningful way. Yes, the detailed technical analysis is necessary, but so are plain English explanations of what it means. Typically, these kinds of reports includes introductions and summaries that help citizens understand the basic context. These are notably absent from the report.

It works to Enbridge’s advantage to have an EIS written in a way that only experts understand.

Compounding the problem, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has started the last round of public hearings on Enbridge Line 3 before it has determined whether the EIS is adequate. The EIS is a critical source of public information.

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Does Minnesota Need a New Tar Sands Pipeline? Commerce Ducks Critical Question in EIS

Honor the Earth map on Enbridge Line 3.

Second in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. This project threatens the Mississippi River and wild rice areas, violates treaty rights, and is unnecessary for the state’s energy security. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

The Line 3 environmental impact statement (EIS) is inadequate because Commerce fails to look at whether or not this project is needed, given the environmental risks it will create.

Commerce released its draft EIS in May, triggering an avalanche of public comments. Some critics questioned the need for the project, offering testimony that Minnesota’s petroleum sales are down 19 percent since their 2004 peak.

In the final EIS, Commerce argues that the questi0n is outside the scope of the EIS. Here is how it responded to citizen criticism (Appendix T, page T-3).

… this EIS does not assess the overall project need. Instead, the EIS evaluates the environmental impacts associated with the range of reasonable alternatives to aid the Commission’s evaluation of the need criteria set forth in Minnesota Administrative Rules.

This is a head smacker. First, Chapter 5 dedicates 646 pages to: “Existing Conditions, Impacts, and Mitigation – Certificate of Need.” I am confused about how Commerce can dedicate that much analysis to a Certificate of Need without finding it necessary to “assess the overall project need.” Most ordinary people would expect a conversation on the Certificate of Need to discuss “Need.”

Second, the EIS saw fit to include informati0n on petroleum supply but it ignored demand (that is, the need for the project). Nothing prevented Commerce from including this information. The PUC needs the information. It is relevant to the debate. Citizens have raised the issue and provided the data.

Lastly, the Introduction, page 1-5, says the EIS would help the PUC decide whether denying the Certificate of Need: “would adversely affect the future adequacy, reliability, or efficiency of energy supply to the Applicant, to the Applicant’s customers, or to the people of Minnesota and neighboring states.” Further, the PUC needs to address whether the social impacts of granting the Certificate of Need “are more favorable than the consequences of denying the certificate.”

The EIS does not include that analysis. The EIS does not consider a “No-Build”option, so the PUC has no way of comparing the difference between approving and denying the Certificate of Need.

The EIS does, however, include an analysis of Line 3’s job creation and potential property tax benefits. If Commerce wants to take an expansive definition of environmental impacts to include jobs and tax implications, surely it could include an analysis of project need.

Being selective in the facts it chooses to present is a form of bias.

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Commerce Takes Enbridge Assumption as Fact, Low Balls Impact of New Tar Sands Pipeline

First in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. This project threatens the Mississippi River, wild rice areas, and Anishinaabe treaty rights. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

Today, let’s critique the debate over the useful lifespan of a new crude oil pipeline. The EIS assumed the new Line 3 would only last 30 years. Anyway, Enbridge told the Department of Commerce it would operate for 30 years and Commerce did not challenge the assumption, even though current pipelines have lasted much longer.

Commerce had the lead role in writing the EIS on Enbridge Line 3 and its goal was to be a neutral arbiter of the facts. As it states in Appendix T (page T-i): “an EIS does not advocate, recommend, or state a preference for a specific alternative. Instead, it analyzes and compares alternatives so that citizens, agencies, and governments can work from a common set of facts.”

This is one example where Commerce — by accepting Enbridge’s assumption and ignoring public criticism — is showing bias favoring the pipeline. This is one reason the final EIS is inadequate and needs to be redone. Continue reading

Deeply Flawed Environmental Analysis of Tar Sands Pipeline Needs to Go Back to Square One

The state has released a deeply flawed final environmental impact statement (EIS) for a proposed tar sands crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, a project known as Enbridge Line 3.

The 5,000 page document ducks the issue of treaty rights. It spends a scant 28 pages on issues of environmental justice, and much of that is unintelligible bureaucratic language. It leaves important questions unanswered.

Enbridge wants to install a three-foot wide tar sands pipeline through 337 miles of northern Minnesota, crossing the Mississippi twice and threatening wild rice areas. It will connect Alberta’s tar sands fields with a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.

The public responded loudly when the draft EIS was released in May. Many individuals and organizations flooded public hearings with comments and criticisms. Many believe the process is being rushed.

Media analysis is coming in. The Star Tribune headline read: Report: Enbridge Line 3 options all would have negative effect on American Indians. MPR went with the neutral headline: Line 3 oil pipeline environmental review released.

Missing from media analysis and from the EIS is an analysis of whether we need this pipeline.

The answer is no. This pipeline has nothing to do with U.S. energy independence; it has everything to do with corporate profits from gas exports to developing countries. Two important facts. First, Minnesota’s refined petroleum sales (gas, diesel, jet fuel, etc.) is down 19 percent from our 2004 peak. Second, the United States is now a net exporter of refined petroleum products and our exports are growing annually. We don’t need more tar sands crude.

The pipeline threatens our environment and treaty rights and gives the state and nation no long-term benefits.

I am just starting to go through the EIS, but here are some early takes. Continue reading