Groups question Enbridge's plans for proposed oil pipeline project

Two environmental groups are asking state regulators to retrace some steps in the evaluation of a controversial proposed oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

In a motion filed Monday with the Public Utilities Commission, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Friends of the Headwaters argue that Enbridge has made inconsistent claims about plans to replace the company's Line 3, a 1,031-mile pipeline that carries crude from the Oil Sands region of Alberta across the northern third of the state.

Since Enbridge first announced the Line 3 project in 2014, the Canadian firm has touted it as a replacement project, saying the nearly 50-year old line needs to be replaced with a new pipeline to maintain safety and reduce future maintenance needs.

A new pipeline would also allow Enbridge to boost capacity from 390,000 barrels a day to 760,000 barrels per day.

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But a recent proposed settlement between Enbridge and the U.S. Department of Justice over a major 2010 oil spill in Michigan appears to allow the company to reuse the original Line 3, even after it builds the second, brand new pipeline.

"They're telling the state one thing, that they'll permanently deactivate the existing pipeline — leave it in the ground — and they're telling the federal government an entirely different thing," said Kevin Lee, staff attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

MCEA and another group, Friends of the Headwaters, are asking the state to initiate a new scoping period for the environmental impact statement for the Line 3 project, to allow the public to comment on "the true and accurate dimensions" of the project, according to the motion filed with the state PUC.

The groups also allege the Line 3 project has changed since Enbridge decided to drop the proposed Sandpiper pipeline in northern Minnesota a few weeks ago. That project would have carried oil from North Dakota's Bakken region.

Enbridge wanted Sandpiper and the new Line 3 to share a proposed new pipeline corridor that would begin at the company's hub in Clearbrook, then run south to near Park Rapids, before turning east to Enbridge's facility in Superior, Wis.

State regulators had combined the environmental review process for the two proposed pipelines, after the Minnesota Appeals Court sided with the environmental groups last year that an environmental impact statement must be completed on the Sandpiper proposal.

They then held a series of meetings around the state to gather input on what the environmental impact statement should cover, and released a scoping document last week.

If state regulators grant the environmental groups' request and call for a new scoping period, it would likely be impossible to meet the one-year approval process Endbridge wants.

"We're thankful for the agencies' effort to prepare the draft scoping document for the Line 3 Replacement Project's Environmental Impact Statement," said Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little.

"We look forward to the Environmental Impact Statement work getting underway for this important project."

Enbridge points out that it's already been 17 months since the company first submitted its applications.

"We're sort of painted as delay mongers, but this is because of what Enbridge has done themselves," said the MCEA's Lee.

"They're the ones that have changed the project, that have been telling one thing to the federal government, one thing to the state. That's the reason why this has to be accommodated in the public process."