Another court blocks attempt to stop Line 3 construction

A person in a machine uses their phone.
A construction worker watches as protestors obstruct work on the Line 3 pipeline north of Aitkin, Minn., on Jan. 9, 2021.
Ben Hovland for MPR News

Updated: 5:20 p.m. | Posted: 4:40 p.m.

A federal judge says Enbridge Energy can proceed with construction on its contentious Line 3 oil pipeline, less than a week after a state appellate court panel also denied a request from Minnesota tribes and environmental groups to temporarily block work on the project.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, the Sierra Club, and the Native American-led environmental group Honor the Earth filed suit in federal court in December, seeking to overturn a key permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the same time, the groups asked the court for an injunction to suspend construction on the pipeline until their lawsuit could be heard, citing “irreparable harm” if work on the project was allowed to proceed.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied the request yesterday, writing the plaintiffs failed “to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits and that they will suffer irreparable harm.”

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A pipe is lowered into a ditch.
Protesters interrupt construction on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline North of Aitkin, Minn., on Jan. 9, 2021.
Ben Hovland for MPR News

The judge agreed that the construction of the 340-mile Line 3 across northern Minnesota will destroy wetlands and could result in other environmental harms.

But she said delaying construction also causes safety risks, because that would result in the continued operation of the existing Line 3, which is corroding and requires extensive maintenance. Enbridge Energy is seeking to replace the old line with a new, larger one along a different route across the state.

“Overall, the Court finds the balance of harms and public interest considerations to be a close call,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

“Plaintiffs offer numerous examples of potential environmental harms stemming from the project’s construction. But the Corps presents persuasive evidence that delaying construction …also causes ongoing environmental harm and safety risks.”

The judge cited an estimate from Enbridge that delaying construction for six months would result in a $322 million economic hit. The company says more than 5,000 people are currently working on the project.

“We’re pleased with this decision that acknowledges the thorough, inclusive and science-based review of the Line 3 Replacement Project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which included robust public participation and consultation with 30 tribes,” Enbridge said in a statement.

It’s the second defeat in the past week for opponents seeking to block the ongoing construction of Line 3, which began in earnest on Dec. 1. Last week a state appellate court panel rejected a similar request for a construction stay from the Red Lake and White Earth Bands.

Enbridge has estimated it will take six to nine months to finish work on the $2.6 billion pipeline in Minnesota, which crosses more than 200 water bodies and 800 wetlands in its path across northern Minnesota, and could transport nearly 800,000 barrels of oil every day from Canada to the company’s terminal in Superior, Wis.

“We’re disturbed that the court would not at least temporarily stop Enbridge from destroying the water and wetlands we have used and depended on since time immemorial,” said Red Lake Band of Chippewa Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr. “But we will not stop fighting.”