Enbridge, Fond du Lac Band reach deal to route Line 3 through reservation

Wild ricers on the Fond du Lac reservation.
Wild ricers on the Fond du Lac Indian reservation come to the shore of Birch Lake.
Dan Kraker | MPR News file

Enbridge Energy and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have reached an agreement to build the Line 3 replacement oil pipeline through the band's reservation near Cloquet in northeast Minnesota.

The financial terms of the deal are confidential. But the agreement provides Enbridge with easements through 2039 for the six existing oil pipelines that cross the reservation. The easements were scheduled to expire in 2029.

Enbridge will construct the new pipeline in an expanded right-of-way next to the existing pipeline corridor. The Calgary-based company will also remove the old pipeline from the reservation after the new line is built and in service.

Enbridge plans to replace the existing, degraded Line 3 pipeline with a new line that will be able to carry nearly twice as much Canadian oil across northern Minnesota. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a certificate of need and route permit for the Line 3 project in June.

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The new pipeline will follow a different route across the state than the current oil pipelines Enbridge operates. It will follow the existing corridor from the Alberta tar sands to just outside Clearbrook, Minn., but will then move south toward Park Rapids, Minn., before veering east toward the company's pipeline terminal in Superior, Wis.

Enbridge Energy's proposed Line 3 replacement
Enbridge Energy's Line 3 pipeline replacement route takes a winding path to the oil depot in Superior, Wis.
William Lager | MPR News graphic

The new route avoids the reservation of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, which refused to allow the new pipeline to be built on its land.

But now it will rejoin the existing pipeline corridor just west of the Fond du Lac reservation, before continuing on to the company's hub in Superior.

The Fond du Lac band has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Line 3 project. It argued that the state didn't need the new pipeline's additional oil capacity, and that it would threaten tribal resources.

When state regulators approved the line, they gave the band two months to decide whether it would prefer to have the new pipeline cross its reservation, or travel south of the reservation, but still within the 1854 treaty territory, where band members retain rights to hunt, fish and gather.

Band leaders said that put them in an impossible position. "As a sovereign nation, we are confounded that we are being forced to choose between two evils as both routes pass through our lands," said tribal council chairman Kevin Dupuis Sr.

Ultimately, the band decided that allowing the new pipeline to be built through its reservation best protected its interests. The band said the agreement will protect wild rice waters and other resources in the 1854 ceded territory; will repair existing lines traversing the reservation; and will compensate the band for the costs of having the pipelines located through the reservation.

"The benefits to the band far exceed those of potential alternatives, and the agreement was the result of months of extensive consideration and strong advocacy on behalf of the band," Dupuis said.

Enbridge has operated pipelines on the Fond du Lac Reservation for the last 68 years, the company said in a statement, "and looks forward to continuing engagement that supports continued safe operation of the Enbridge Mainline System."

Separately, the company also submitted documents to state regulators that provide more details for a plan to create $100 million in jobs and economic benefits to tribal communities as part of the Line 3 project.

The Public Utilities Commission required the investment as a condition of its approval of Line 3 in June.