The Line 3 oil pipeline project: What you need to know

Demonstrators and sheriff's deputies face off.
Demonstrators stand off with sheriff's deputies at an Enbridge Line 3 construction site along the Shell River in Menahga, Minn., in July.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Updated: Oct. 1

This story is updated periodically, but may not have the very latest information. For the newest updates on the Line 3 pipeline project click here.

Where things stand

  • Enbridge says that the upgrade and expansion of the Line 3 pipeline across Minnesota is complete and will become operational on Friday.

  • Minnesota courts dealt several setbacks to pipeline opponents in August.

What is the Line 3 project?

Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, built an oil pipeline running southeast from Canada's oil sands region to Lake Superior's western tip near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The pipeline replaces Enbridge's current Line 3, but with a larger line along a different route.

Enbridge says the existing Line 3 pipeline, built in the 1960s, needed to be replaced because it's corroded and cracked and requires extensive ongoing maintenance. As a result, it can't carry as much oil as it once could. It also means the line can't carry heavier grades of crude that come out of the oil sands region. 

The company built along a new route that avoids the reservation of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, which opposed locating the new line across its land. Find a map of the current route here.

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A map of the permitted route for the Line 3 pipeline
A map of the permitted route for the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project.
Jiwon Choi | MPR News

What's the argument for replacing Line 3?

Enbridge has long said that the rationale for building a new Line 3 is driven by safety and maintenance concerns. The company says it’s much safer to build a new pipeline, using modern construction methods, than operating an aging, corroding pipe with a history of significant leaks. 

Line 3 supporters also point out that society's demand for oil is still huge, and that pipelines are a safer option for transporting crude than trains or trucks.

Originally, Line 3 could carry 760,000 barrels of oil a day. But as the line has aged, it can only handle about half that amount. A new Line 3 would boost capacity back to its original level.

What are the arguments against it?

Demonstrators on horseback and in canoes gather at a river.
Demonstrators gather in canoes and on horses in the Shell River before going onto an Enbridge Line 3 easement that will be used to drill under the river in Menahga on July 15.
Tim Evans for MPR News file

Environmental groups, activists and some northern Minnesota Ojibwe bands argue that a new Line 3 opens up a new part of the state to the possibility of an oil spill, which could threaten lakes, rivers and wild rice waters. The new pipeline corridor crosses several waterways, including the Mississippi River twice.

The nation's biggest inland oil spill happened in 1991 on the current Line 3 near Grand Rapids, Minn. The line has leaked crude other times, too.

They also say the project would exacerbate global climate change. They argue that by allowing the operation of the new Line 3, we are locking in the transport and use of more carbon-intensive oil for decades to come. They say blocking Line 3 would keep that oil in the ground, reducing carbon emissions.

An environmental review conducted for the project found the societal costs of climate change that might result from Line 3 could reach $287 billion over the next 30 years. 

But in approving the project, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission found that not building Line 3 would not significantly reduce demand for Canadian oil. Rather, the PUC said more crude would likely be shipped “via more dangerous means such as rail.” 

Lastly, opponents also say the project threatens Native American rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice on land outside reservation borders where tribal members have retained those rights, as outlined in several treaties with the U.S. government.

Construction platforms across a river.
Construction padding for the Line 3 pipeline approaches the Mississippi River where the pipeline will cross underneath the river southwest of Bemidji on June 8.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

What’s the expected economic impact?

Enbridge promised that the project would create about 4,200 construction jobs in Minnesota over the two-year construction period. It expected to fill about half of those locally.

The company also has said the Line 3 project would inject millions of dollars into local economies through the payment of property taxes, the purchase of local materials and workers staying in hotels and eating at restaurants.

The actual economic impact isn’t yet determined. Line 3 opponents point out that the pipeline is expected to create only about 20 permanent jobs.

Where does the oil go?

Once reaching Superior, oil is moved via other pipelines down through Wisconsin or Michigan. It is ultimately transported around the Midwest, eastern Canada and the Gulf Coast, where some of it will likely be exported to other countries.

It's worth noting that Line 3 is part of a larger network of pipelines that carries Canadian oil through northern Minnesota. Some of that oil is diverted at the Clearbrook Terminal and piped south to the two refineries in the Twin Cities. So while some of the oil Enbridge ships is used here in Minnesota, most of it goes elsewhere.

What happened in the courts?

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Aug. 31 affirmed a decision by state pollution regulators to issue a water quality certification for the pipeline.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the MPCA was required to certify whether the project met state and federal clean water standards. The MPCA concluded in November 2020 that it did. That certification cleared the way for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue the remaining federal permit for the pipeline replacement less than two weeks later.

It was the latest setback for opponents who are trying to stop the project.

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Aug. 24 declined to hear an appeal by opponents of Enbridge Energy's Line 3 oil pipeline, letting stand a key decision by independent regulators to allow construction on the project to proceed.

The Court of Appeals declared that the state's Public Utilities Commission correctly granted the project a certificate of need and route permit. The court also backed the commission's approval of the environmental review for the project.

The Supreme Court's decision dismayed the opponents, who cited the impacts of climate change being felt around the world and the drought in Minnesota.

What’s happening with protests?

At the beginning of June, hundreds of Line 3 protesters, who call themselves water protectors, gathered at pump stations and river crossings.

Opponents focused on blocking the rebuilding project along its route. Some strategies included blocking roads and locking themselves to construction equipment.

Several celebrities — including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Fonda and Danny Glover — joined the cause by urging President Joe Biden to cancel the project.

People sit on top of a machine.
Activists sit on construction equipment while others are arrested and escorted out of an Enbridge Line 3 pump station near Park Rapids on June 7.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

They also staged protests outside the state Capitol and the governor's residence in St. Paul.

What other concerns do people have about the project?

Opponents of Line 3, including Indigenous groups, raised concerns about a potential rise in sex trafficking in the region as the state was debating whether to approve the project.

In June, local and state officials arrested six men during a sting operation to combat human trafficking in Beltrami County. Two of the men arrested were working for a subcontractor on Line 3.

Two pipeline workers were arrested in a different sex trafficking sting in Itasca County earlier this year.

Enbridge says the workers were fired, and all workers are required to complete human trafficking awareness training.

What do you want to know about the Line 3 pipeline project?

The Associated Press contributed to this report.