Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Lake spill risk snarls Enbridge pipeline project after many delays

Jun 19, 2019 07:30AM ● By Editor

Enbridge Energy's plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota has hit another obstacle. Photo:  Jim Mone, File/The Associated Press

From CBC News - June 19, 2019

Enbridge Energy's plan to replace an aging crude oil pipeline that runs through northern Minnesota hit another obstacle this week when two state agencies said they would hold up approval of the project's permits until problems with its environmental review are resolved.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday that they can't take final action on the permits for the Line 3 project until the independent Public Utilities Commission (PUC) addresses the deficiencies cited in a state appeals court ruling this month, including that the project's environmental impact statement failed to address the possibility of a spill into the Lake Superior watershed.

That means the two state agencies won't release the draft permits as scheduled July 1, though they said they will continue reviewing the applications.

Calgary-based Enbridge said in a statement that the PUC will have to determine how to address the court's objections. The commission has not yet laid out a process or timetable for doing that.

Procedural delays and other court rulings have pushed back the project schedule several times.

"We believe the actions required to address the spill modelling in the Lake Superior watershed can be completed efficiently," the company said.

Winona LaDuke, executive director of the Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, which is an official party to the case, praised the pollution control agency and the natural resource department for making "a prudent decision to suspend their permitting process for a new pipeline that was never needed in the first place."

The $2.6-billion US replacement pipeline would carry Canadian crude from Alberta across northern Minnesota to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wis., which sits near the westernmost tip of Lake Superior.

Enbridge wants to replace the current Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, because it is increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking, and runs at only about half its original capacity for safety reasons.

Opponents warn of oil spill risks

Environmental and Indigenous groups fighting the project argue that it risks oil spills in pristine areas of the Mississippi River headwaters region where Native Americans gather wild rice, and that the Canadian oilsands oil that the line would carry accelerates climate change.

The Court of Appeals actually rejected most of the plaintiffs' objections to the environmental review, but they have until July 3 to seek further review from the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Other appeals are also pending, including one from the state Commerce Department, which has challenged the PUC's approval of the project, saying Enbridge didn't provide legally adequate demand forecasts to establish the need for the project. The PUC and Enbridge say the company did.

Jobs for Minnesotans, a coalition founded by business and labour groups, called on the PUC and other agencies "to work expeditiously through the final steps of the review process and move the Line 3 Replacement Project forward to construction."

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the CBC News website.

Read the Joint Statement from the Minnesota DNR and PCA below:

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are committed to a fair, efficient, and thorough review of Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement Project applications. 

After reviewing the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ ruling regarding the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Line 3 project, both agencies have determined that, consistent with state law, they may not take final action on the applications pending before them until the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) addresses the EIS deficiency identified in the court’s remand.

Recognizing that state law both allows and encourages simultaneous work on environmental review and permit applications, the two agencies will continue their work reviewing the Line 3 applications. The court’s decision, however, does have implications for how this work will proceed.

Most notably, the MPCA will not be releasing draft permits and the 401 water quality certification on July 1 as previously scheduled. This schedule adjustment will allow MPCA to consider the additional PUC environmental review analysis before initiating its public comment process.

More generally, both agencies will fully review any additional information that becomes available through the PUC’s EIS revision process, including public input to the PUC, prior to making decisions on the pending applications. Neither agency will take final action on the Line 3 Replacement license and permit applications until there is an approved EIS.

Once the scope and timing of the EIS revision process are established by the PUC and/or courts, the DNR and MPCA will be in a better position to determine whether additional adjustments are needed to their application review processes and timelines.

    Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here