Enbridge Energy has failed to establish the need to replace its aging Line 3 crude-oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Commerce said in September. The department added that shutting down the line would be a better option.
Wisconsin environmental activists cheered the development, which could impact Enbridge’s tar sands expansion in the state.
“This is a key turning point,” said Mary Beth Elliott, spokeswoman for the environmental group 350 Madison.
The proposal by Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge to replace Line 3 — which was built in the 1960s to carry Canadian crude Superior, Wisconsin — has generated strong opposition from tribal and environmental groups. That’s partly because the company’s preferred route cuts through the Mississippi River headwaters region and pristine lake country where Ojibwe bands harvest wild rice. And the new pipeline could carry tar sands oil, which is dirtier than light crude and puts more wear on the pipes.
Business and labor groups back the $7.5 billion Enbridge project.
On the record in Minnesota
In filings with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Sept. 11, the agency said refineries in Minnesota and the upper Midwest already have sufficient supplies of crude oil and little capacity for processing more of it.
The commerce department also said Minnesota’s demand for gasoline and other refined petroleum products appears unlikely to increase over the long term. And Enbridge’s proposal carries serious environmental and socio-economic risks that outweigh the benefits to the state.
“In light of the serious risks of the existing Line 3 and the limited benefit that the existing Line 3 provides to Minnesota refineries, Minnesota would be better off if Enbridge proposed to cease operations of the existing Line 3, without any new pipeline being built,” said the filing by Kate O’Connell, manager of the department’s Energy Regulation and Planning Unit.
The final decision on whether to grant a certificate of need in Minnesota is up to the commission, which is independent of Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration. But the Democratic governor appointed all five commissioners.
The commission must also decide on a route.
Enbridge wants to begin Line 3 at the start of the existing corridor, but then take a more southerly path for the rest its path.
In April, the commission is scheduled to decide the issues raised after further proceedings and more public input.
Dayton called the commerce analysis “very comprehensive,” but said he would wait for the “complete record” to emerge from the 30-day response period before declaring his view on the project.
He said he was confident the commission would make a decision in the state’s best interests.
“This document will arouse considerable controversy,” the governor said in a statement. “That discord should be recognized as part of the wisdom of the process.”
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican, called the filings “yet another example of (Democrats) siding with extreme environmental activists while putting Minnesotans’ jobs and safety at risk.”
In a statement, Enbridge said it disagreed with the state agency’s filings and is reviewing the evidence.
The company called the infrastructure critical, adding that it would be “replaced with the most advanced materials, most up-to-date technology and under superior construction methods.”
The company will have a chance to file a formal response with the commission within 30 days.
But Enbridge previously said it needs to replace Line 3 because it has had to sharply restrict the volume the pipeline carries to just over half its original capacity of 760,000 barrels per day.
And it said the old pipeline’s maintenance needs continue to grow. It calls Line 3 a vital link for meeting the demand for Canadian oil from refineries in Minnesota, Wisconsin and elsewhere. The replacement would have a capacity of 844,000 barrels per day, the commerce filings said.
Impact on Wisconsin
Commerce said if the PUC approves the project, it should require a stronger emergency response plan, thicker pipe and other safety measures, as well as more insurance coverage and other financial assurances for cleaning up major spills and decommissioning the pipeline when it reaches the end of its useful life.
And 350 Madison said if Minnesota rejects the new Line 3, there could be a direct impact on Wisconsin.
According to the activists — but contrary to public statements from the energy company — Enbridge has been conducting survey work for the construction of a Line 66 between Superior and Delavan.
To reach a new Wisconsin line, the tar sands oil would need to come from Canada across Minnesota in Line 3.
Elliott, of 350 Madison, predicted there would be no Line 66 if Line 3 is rejected by Minnesota.