Minnesota Regulators Approve Environmental Review for Oil Pipeline Replacement

Published April 16, 2020

The Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved the environmental review of a proposed replacement for Enbridge Energy’s aging, corroded, and cracking Line 3 crude oil pipeline.

The PUC’s February 3 decisions brings the long-sought replacement line one step closer to reality by approving a court-ordered environmental review by Enbridge and reinstating two key regulatory approvals the company needs to proceed with the project.

Big Pipeline, Court Delay

Calgary, Canada-based Enbridge plans to spend $2.6 billion on the new pipeline to run from Alberta’s oil fields through northeastern North Dakota and across northern Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, across the St. Louis River from Duluth. It would replace the current pipeline, which was built in the 1960s and has deteriorated to the point where it operates at 51 percent of its capacity. The new pipeline would have the capacity to transport twice as much oil as the current pipeline.

The PUC initially approved Enbridge’s environmental review of the project in March 2018, but environmental groups filed a legal challenge to the review and the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent it back to the commission, saying the document inadequately addressed the potential risks of a spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce subsequently conducted additional modeling and concluded there was little evidence any spill from Enbridge’s proposed replacement pipeline could reach the lake. With this assurance in hand, PUC approved Enbridge’s revised plan.

Additional Permits Needed

PUC’s approval of Enbridge’s environmental impact statement clears the way for the company to seek the remaining federal and state permits required before construction can proceed.

Those permits would come from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the state Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Enbridge hopes to begin work on the pipeline later this year. The pipeline would be one of the largest construction projects in recent Minnesota history. Enbridge says the pipeline will produce thousands of construction jobs and will be safer than the aging one currently in use.

“After nearly five years and thousands of hours of study, environmental review, and regulatory process, it’s good to see Line 3 Replacement Project move forward,” the company said in a statement. “It is a $2.6 billion investment in the state’s critical energy infrastructure that will better protect communities and the environment.”

‘Significant Environmental … Benefits’

The replacement pipeline will reduce the risks inherent to the delivery of valuable oil supplies, says Craig Rucker, president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).

“Pipelines have long been the target of environmental activists who object to any real improvements in U.S. energy infrastructure,” Rucker said. “In this case, replacing an outdated pipeline with one that is state-of-the-art would have significant environmental and public safety benefits.

“The alternative is to shut down the current pipeline and replace it with nothing,” Rucker said. “Dismantling America’s industrial base in the name of saving the planet is a fool’s errand.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with CFACT.