Commerce: Enbridge’s Oil Spill Insurance Inadequate for Line 3 and Mainline System

The flaws in the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) decision to approve the new Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline are becoming more and more apparent. The latest is the PUC buying into Enbridge’s last-minute promise to have adequate insurance to cover a major oil spill.

According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Enbridge’s oil spill insurance coverage is not only inadequate for a new Line 3, it appears inadequate for Enbridge’s entire mainline system through northern Minnesota.

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Pushing Back on the PUC, Part II: State Agencies Criticize Enbridge Line 3 Promises, Seek Changes

This is the second in a series that will review responses to Enbridge’s last-minute promises to improve its Line 3 pipeline project. The PUC adopted these with no pubic scrutiny. This blog looks at the responses from state agencies. The last blog will look at responses from Friends of the Headwaters.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) allowed Enbridge to change its proposal after the official record had closed. Specifically, the PUC accepted Enbridge’s deal sweeteners and voted to approve them without giving regulators or the public a chance to review and critique them.

While Enbridge’s promises might look good on paper that’s no guarantee they will deliver.

In today’s blog, we look at the many questions and concerns raised by state agencies involved with project oversight: the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

These responses show just how little thought Commissioners gave Enbridge’s proposals before giving them the green light.

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Enbridge Tries to Bamboozle the PUC, Minnesota’s Dept. of Commerce Pushes Back

Is the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) being a) hoodwinked, b) hornswaggled, or c) bamboozled by Enbridge, or all of the above?

At the center of the bamboozle is Enbridge’s pledge to provide a “Decommissioning Trust Fund.” It would be a financial reserve to pay for the removal and/or clean up of the newly approved Line 3 once it has outlived its useful purpose.

It’s a little understood proposal — because it’s only been around for a week. After years of debate over Line 3, Enbridge made a last-minute pitch of deal sweeteners to try to woo PUC approval. (Along with the Decommissioning Trust Fund, Enbridge promised to include a Parental Guaranty for Environmental Damages; Landowner Choice Program (for removing old pipeline); Neutral Footprint Program; and General Liability and Environmental Impairment Liability Insurance.)

The problem is, these proposals came in after the contested case hearing was done and the record closed. Line 3 opponents had no chance to review or comment on these proposals. At the time of the PUC vote, Enbridge’s Trust Fund proposal was thin. The PUC told Enbridge to submit more details and on July 16, Enbridge filed its Decommissioning Trust Fund Proposal. The Minnesota Department of Commerce responded days later, seeking significant changes in what appears to be a complicated and inadequate plan.

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Commerce Department Makes Strong Case Against Line 3, Pushes Back on Judge’s Criticism

Photo from the past weekend’s “Block (Line 3) Party at the PUC.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce recommended denying the Certificate of Need for the Enbrdige Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline in a May 9 filing to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Commerce’s filing responds to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report and recommendations on Line 3, issued in April. One issue to emerge from the back-and-forth is a disagreement between O’Reilly and Commerce on the state’s proper role in evaluating Enbridge Line 3’s “need.” O’Reilly’s report criticized Commerce for not providing an in-depth economic analysis of the project. Commerce responded that it was not required to do its own study, only evaluate Enbridge’s analysis to see if it was sound.

To be clear, both Commerce and O’Reilly found flaws in Enbridge’s economic arguments. O’Reilly appears to have wanted more help from the state than she got.

In this case, Commerce got it right. It reviewed Enbridge’s work to see if it was credible, and it wasn’t. End of story. Reject the pipeline.

The PUC is expected to vote on Line 3 in late June.

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Enbridge’s “Safety” Argument to Build a New Line 3 is as Flawed as its Pipeline

Close-up of the corrosion on a section of Line 3’s exposed pipeline. (Photo by John Ratzloff)

One of the main arguments Canadian corporate giant Enbridge uses for building a new Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota is safety. The old Line 3 is pretty much a disaster waiting to happen.

Line 3 is weak Enbridge is only able to operate it at half capacity. Yet just because the old pipeline is unsafe doesn’t mean we need a new pipeline. (We don’t. See the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s media release saying Enbidge failed to make the case a new pipeline is needed.)

And just because Enbridge is making a safety argument doesn’t mean that Enbridge has made safety a top priority. (Based on past performance, it hasn’t.) Enbridge was forced into a federal Consent Decree because of its poor safety record. (More on the Consent Decree in a later post.)

Safety seems to be a useful rhetorical argument for Enbridge more than a corporate commitment.

If Enbridge was truly concerned about Line 3’s safety, it would shut it down regardless of what happens with the new Line 3 permits. It has not. It’s effectively playing a game of chicken with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC): “Allow us to build a new and larger pipeline where we want … or else we’ll keep running this dangerous one.”

This is an attempt to shift the burden of Line 3 safety onto the PUC instead of putting the responsibility where it belongs: On Enbridge itself.

The Anishinaabe of northern Minnesota are at particular risk. They have treaty protected rights to hunt, fish and gather on lands along the pipeline’s route. A major rupture would affect their sacred wild rice as well as pollute waters that all Minnesotans care about.

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MN Dept. of Commerce Reaffirms Line 3 Tar Sands Pipeline is not Needed

Enbridge has not made a case that its proposed expansion and reroute of the Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline is needed, the Minnesota Department of Commerce reconfirmed in testimony filed Monday. The state’s refineries are operating at high levels and couldn’t handle an increase in volume. The regional  demand for gas is not projected to increase.

Ipso facto: No need for an expanded Line 3.

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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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Dayton Remains Noncommital on Tar Sands Pipeline — Keep the Pressure On!

Governor Dayton remains publicly noncommittal about a proposed expansion of a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota, in spite of news that broke yesterday that global energy consultants say the project is not needed. MPR ran a story today headlined: State better off without Enbridge oil pipeline, Dayton agency says, which quotes Gov. Dayton’s official response:

“This document will arouse considerable controversy. That discord should be recognized as part of the wisdom of the process,” Dayton said in a statement, adding that he would wait for the “complete record” before offering his personal views.

So, yes, we still have work to do to stop Enbridgeg Line 3 and protect Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, wild rice beds and Anishinaabe treaty rights. Here are two upcoming events, Sept. 27 and 28, where you can be heard.

Thursday, Sept. 28, March, Rally, and Public Hearing on Enbridge Line 3

Join many indigenous, environmental, and youth organizations to send a clear message to the Governor, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and our elected representatives: Minnesotans stand together to HOLD THE LINE to protect what we love and say NO to Line 3 and other pipelines that threaten our water, climate, and communities.

  • 4 p.m. Capitol Rally: Jingle Dress Dancers and Speakers
  • 5 p.m. March to the PUC Public Hearing, Intercontinental Hotel, 11 East Kellogg, St. Paul
  • 6 p.m. Voice your opposition at the hearing!

Here is a Facebook event page.

Wednesday, Sept. 27, Governor’s Water Summit Town Hall Meeting

Governor Dayton has declared 2017 the “Year of Water Action in Minnesota” and has been holding a series of town hall meetings around the state to get citizen ideas on how to improve the state’s water quality by 25 percent by 2025. The Minneapolis Town Hall meeting will be:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 27, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the Minneapolis Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Ave. N.

According to the Governor: “We have a shared responsibility to protect Minnesota’s precious lakes, rivers, and streams for future generations. That starts with fostering an ethic of water conservation in our communities. Throughout the next year, we must raise awareness of the challenges facing Minnesota’s waters and highlight ways that Minnesotans can take action.”

Attend the Town Hall meeting and let Governor Dayton know that denying permits for Line 3 is critical to protecting our “precious lakes, rivers and streams for future generations.”

The PUC, not Dayton, will make the final vote on the project this spring. But the Governor’s opinion, and bully pulpit, matters

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Minnesota Dept. of Commerce: Enbridge Has Not Established Need for the Tar Sands Pipeline; Risks Outweigh Benefits

In a tremendous victory for Anishinaabe tribes and those concerned about the environment and clean water, the Minnesota Department of Commerce announced today that energy transportation company Enbridge has not established a need for its proposed tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota. Further, it said the environmental risks to Minnesota outweigh the economic benefits.

The announcement doesn’t stop the project, but it sets a very high bar for it to receive approval. Here are a few key paragraphs from Commerce’s media release:

Oil market analysis indicates that Enbridge has not established a need for the proposed project; the pipeline would primarily benefit areas outside Minnesota; and serious environmental and socioeconomic risks and effects outweigh limited benefits. …

… the comprehensive 338-page testimony concludes that Enbridge has not established a need for the proposed project in Minnesota as required under state rules. …

The analysis also notes that Enbridge did not provide a sufficient analysis of future demand, and independently finds that “Minnesota demand for refined products appears unlikely to increase in the long term.” …

The testimony also reviews other existing and planned pipelines in Canada and the U.S. and finds that they might be reasonable alternatives to a new Line 3, if a need is demonstrated. …

The testimony also recommends that if a certificate of need is issued, regardless of its decision about removal of the existing Line 3 for its entire right-of-way, the PUC should (where it has regulatory authority) require Enbridge to remove all 223 segments (8,496 feet) of exposed pipeline in Minnesota.

In addition, the testimony analyzes what conditions the PUC [Minnesota Public Utilities Commission] should require if it does issue a certificate of need. These include a stronger emergency response plan; a more secure backup control center; thicker pipe throughout the length of the route; back-up power for shut-off valves; and insurance coverage and financial protections for clean-up of a major release and for decommissioning the pipeline at the end of its useful life.

Comment: The recommendation that Enbridge use a thicker pipe through the length of the route is very significant. Enbridge already has staged pipeline along the route, apparently assuming it would get approval. It appears that this pipeline would not meet standards. It would be very costly to Enbridge to scrap the current pipeline and order new pipe.

Next steps: The final PUC vote on the project is not expected until April 30. The PUC will continuing to hold public hearings around the state on Enbridge Line 3’s route permit and certificate of need. There are two back-to-back hearing in the metro area, both Thursday, Sept. 28, 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. at St. Paul Intercontinental Hotel, 11 E. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul. Please attend and let your voice be heard. Today’s announcement from Commerce is very encouraging, but we still need to show up and speak out.

Multiple groups are organizing a march and rally in between the two St. Paul public hearings. The rally will start at 4 p.m. at the Minnesota State Capitol. Here is a Facebook Page for the event, sponsored by Stop Line 3, Youth Climate Intervenors, Young Peoples Action Coalition, Honor the Earth, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, MN350, Sierra Club (North Star Chapter), Climate Generation and Power Shift Network.

Commerce also 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. In November, the review process shifts to a more judicial format.

Keep reading for the full statement.

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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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