Oil and water: The Line 3 debate

Line 3 opponents file federal suit to try to block the pipeline

About 20 people gathered for a small protest against the Line 3 project.
About 20 people gathered for a small protest against the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project outside Bagley, Minn., where the pipeline route crosses the Clearwater River earlier this month.
Dan Kraker | MPR News file

Opponents of the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project have filed a federal suit seeking to halt construction on the project, arguing that a key water quality permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in November failed to consider several environmental impacts.

The White Earth and Red Lake Nations, along with the Sierra Club and Honor the Earth, filed the complaint on Christmas Eve in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

It seeks to overturn a permit that the Army Corps issued in November that allows Enbridge to discharge dredged and fill material into rivers and streams.

That was the last permit Enbridge Energy needed to begin construction on the controversial project, a 338-mile long, $2.6 billion pipeline which crosses more than 200 water bodies and 800 wetlands in its path across northern Minnesota.

The lawsuit also asks for an injunction to halt construction of the pipeline, which began in earnest on Dec. 1, shortly after the Army Corps issued its permit.

The plaintiffs argue that the permit violates several federal laws and treaties, that the government ignored the project's environmental effects — including climate change and potential spills of heavy Canadian oil known as bitumen — and should have conducted a comprehensive environmental review, called an environmental impact statement, or EIS.

Enbridge said it’s reviewing the complaint. In a statement, the company noted that the Army Corps permit review “included robust public participation, including consultation with 30 tribes.”

More than 3,000 skilled tradespeople work on Line 3 currently. The workforce is expected to grow to over 4,000 jobs. Proponents say the additional tax revenues would flow to northern Minnesota in a slow economy.

The project aims to replace an existing Enbridge pipeline that’s corroding and requires regular repairs, with a new pipe along a different route across the state.

Enbridge has billed the pipeline’s replacement as an “integrity and maintenance driven” project, arguing that a newer pipe would be less likely to leak and therefore more protective of northern Minnesota’s waterways.

Opponents contend it would substantially exacerbate climate change by nearly doubling the amount of oil the current pipeline could carry. They also say it opens up new areas of the state to potential spills, and violates tribal treaty rights.

They’ve filed several additional lawsuits in state court, challenging the project’s approvals by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, and permits issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Opponents are also expected to ask the Minnesota Court of Appeals for a halt on construction until those lawsuits can be heard.