MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Department of Commerce kicked off a comment period Monday that will include 22 public meetings as it released a draft environmental review of Enbridge Energy's proposed replacement for its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
The draft environmental impact statement, which numbers 1,894 pages not counting appendices, does not recommend Enbridge's preferred route or four alternative routes that were also studied. It's meant instead to provide data for regulators to use in deciding whether to approve a certificate of need for the project and which route it should take.
Environmental and tribal groups oppose the project because of the risks of oil spills in sensitive areas of northern Minnesota, including the Mississippi River headwaters region and lakes where Ojibwe bands harvest wild rice. They also oppose the project because it would carry Canadian tar sands crude, which they say contributes more to climate change than other oil.
The report says it's not possible to determine which route option is best from an environmental justice perspective because each would have "a disproportionate and adverse effect" on tribal resources and members. The review also says differences are not very pronounced for the potential effects on surface water quality because the routes all pass through areas that contain some of the highest quality water resources in the state. And it says the impacts on fish and wildlife habitats vary only slightly.
The $7.5 billion project would replace a deteriorating pipeline from the 1960s that is now restricted to operating at just over half its original capacity. Enbridge plans to spend $2.6 billion on the 364-mile U.S. section to bring its capacity up to 760,000 barrels per day, which was Line 3's original capacity.
The Calgary, Alberta-based company says Line 3 is a vital link in its pipeline system, and the replacement would help it meet the demand for Canadian crude. Project supporters also tout the more than 1,500 construction jobs it would create in Minnesota.
Line 3 begins in Alberta and clips the northeastern corner of North Dakota before crossing Minnesota on its way to an Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge wants the replacement to follow the same corridor as far as its terminal in Clearbrook in northwestern Minnesota, then take a more southerly path until reconnecting with the existing corridor near Carlton in northeastern Minnesota.
The Commerce Department has scheduled 22 public input sessions along the preferred route from June 6-22. Written comments are due by July 10.
According to the draft, the department hopes to release the final version in August and hold public hearings in this fall that would shape the recommendations of an administrative law judge, whose report would be due around February. The state Public Utilities Commission would then decide, possibly next April, whether to let the project move forward, and along which route.
The project already has regulatory approval in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin. It will also need additional approvals from various federal, Minnesota and local agencies, and potentially tribal governments, depending on the route.
Project opponents said they would carefully scrutinize the massive document.
"The fact remains that it's never a question of whether a pipeline will spill but when," Margaret Levin, director of the Sierra Club's North Star Chapter, said in a statement. "Enbridge's dirty plan to expand and reroute Line 3 will increase the severe risks to Minnesota's communities, pristine waters, and climate."