Minnesota judge to rule on Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 project

MINNEAPOLIS _ An administrative law judge faced a Monday deadline for recommending whether Minnesota regulators should approve Enbridge Inc.’s proposal for replacing its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The proposal has drawn strong opposition because the line would carry oilsands crude from Alberta across environmentally sensitive areas in the Mississippi River headwaters region where American Indians harvest wild rice and hold treaty rights.

Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report on whether the line is needed and whether it should follow the company’s preferred route or some alternative is expected to guide the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission when it makes its final decision in June. O’Reilly’s recommendations won’t be binding on the commission, but they’re the product of an extensive public hearing and comment process and voluminous filings, so they’ll be hard for the commissioners to disregard. Commission Chair Nancy Lange acknowledged at a hearing last month that whatever the commission decides, the dispute is likely to end up in court.

If the project is approved, some opponents have threatened a repeat of the protests in North Dakota near the Standing Rock reservation that delayed work for months on the Dakota Access pipeline, in which Enbridge owns a stake. Similar concerns over the role of oilsands crude in climate change, and Indigenous rights, have fuelled opposition to Kinder Morgan’s proposal to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to an export terminal in British Columbia.

Calgary-based Enbridge says the Line 3 project is necessary to ensure the reliable delivery of crude to Midwestern refineries. The company says the existing line, which was built in the 1960s, is subject to corrosion and cracking and can run at only half its original capacity because of its accelerating maintenance needs. The Jobs for Minnesotans coalition of business, labour and community leaders backs the project, saying it will create 8,600 well-paying jobs with a total economic impact on the state of US$2 billion.

Line 3 carries crude oil 1,097 miles (1,765 kilometres) from Hardisty, Alta., through North Dakota and Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge says the replacement would restore its original capacity of 760,000 barrels per day. Enbridge wants to replace the 282-mile (454 kilometre) stretch in Minnesota with a 337-mile (542 kilometre) pipeline following a partially different route. Enbridge estimates the cost of the project at $5.3 billion for the Canadian section and US$2.9 billion for the U.S. stretch.

Enbridge has already begun work in Canada and Wisconsin. Construction sites near Superior have been the scene of protests and several arrests.