Enbridge Line 3 hearings to start in Minnesota

September 24, 2017 2:43 pm

Minnesota kicks off public hearings this week on whether to allow Enbridge Energy to replace its Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The replacement would have higher capacity than the existing pipeline and run along a new route in some areas.

Canadian regulatory approval has already been given for the Line 3 replacement. Work started in Western Saskatchewan and Alberta this year and will start in eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba next year.

The Enbridge Line runs through Langbank, north of Wawota, through Maryfield, and to Cromer.

Enbridge wants to replace Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, because it now runs at just over half its original capacity of 760,000 barrels per day and the costs of maintaining it are growing.

The pipeline runs from Hardisty, Alberta through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, crosses a small corner of North Dakota, and crosses Minnesota on its way to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.

The replacement would follow much of Line 3's current corridor, although Enbridge wants to use a more southerly new route across much of northern Minnesota.

Enbridge's project manager for Line 3, Barry Simonson, said the new pipeline would use state-of-the-art technology and stronger steel to ensure safety, which he said is Enbridge's paramount concern.

Hearings will be conducted in nine Minnesota cities this month and next, starting Tuesday in Thief River Falls. The state Public Utilities Commission will consider the testimony as it decides whether the replacement is needed and, if so, whether it should follow Enbridge's preferred route or an alternative path.

An administrative law judge will hold several additional days of more formal hearings in November, using a trial-like format in which the official parties to the case can cross-examine witnesses. Separate proceedings will consider whether the environmental review was adequate. The PUC isn't scheduled to make its final decision until April.

The PUC is independent but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointed all five commissioners. Dayton has said he'll await the rebuttals of the Commerce Department's position that project proponents will file before announcing his own views.

Simonson said Enbridge will use the public process to explain why replacing Line 3 is important to Minnesota and surrounding states, and how the new line will better protect the environment. The company hopes that will help overcome opposition, he said.

"I don't think anyone wants another Standing Rock to happen in Minnesota," he said.

Canadian oil shippers and Midwest refineries say they need the added capacity and improved reliability the replacement would provide. Business and labour groups want the construction jobs Line 3 would create.

If Minnesota's PUC blocks the project, Enbridge could be expected to appeal. The company would still be able to use its upgraded pipeline sections in Canada and Wisconsin, although capacity would be constrained by the old Minnesota segment.