State regulators approve Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement

"After nearly five years of community engagement, environmental review, regulatory and legal review, it's good to see the Line 3 Replacement Project move forward,"

Jim Mone _ AP

Minnesota regulators gave Enbridge Energy the green light to replace its 1960s-era Line 3 pipeline.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 3-1 Monday to approve an updated environmental review for the $2.6 billion project after finding it adequately assessed for potential oil spills.

The PUC also voted 3-1 to approve Enbridge’s certificate of need and route permit for the pipeline.

The PUC previously approved the above permits, which the Minnesota Court of Appeals vacated in June, saying that the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) didn’t adequately assess the effects of a possible oil spill near the Lake Superior watershed.

The DOC later said there isn’t much likelihood of a potential oil spill reaching Lake Superior.

The Enbridge project would replace Line 3’s 337-mile long, 34-inch pipeline in Minnesota, which is operating at 51 percent capacity due to corrosion, with a new 36-inch pipeline.

The replacement would boost average oil flow to 760,000 barrels per day.

Supporters claim the project will create 8,600 jobs. Enbridge says the company would pay around $65 million in Minnesota property taxes in the project’s first functional year.

Critics point to past harmful crude oil spills that contaminated water sources.

Commissioner Matt Schuerger cast the lone vote against Enbridge, citing climate-change concerns and long-term lower demand for crude oil due to electric vehicles.

Commissioner Valerie Means said that replacing the deteriorating pipeline is “the safest and most rational option for protecting the environment and communities, and for protecting the standard of life in the communities.”

“I want to underscore that from my perspective, the continued operation of the existing Line 3 poses a greater risk of environmental damage than the project,” Means said.

Environmental activists have a few weeks to challenge the decision in the courts.

“The PUC has repeatedly ignored unacceptable risks to Minnesota’s clean water and to the communities that would be directly affected by Line 3,” Director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Margaret Levin said. “Now more than ever it is time for Governor (Tim) Walz to lead – to defend Indigenous rights and our climate future, and ensure that this dirty tar sands pipeline is never built. The Sierra Club will continue to fight alongside our allies, including in the courts.”

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy & Finance Committee, called the decision “refreshing.”

He continued: “This project will protect our environment, grow good-paying jobs, and generate billions in economic growth for communities across northern Minnesota; we hope regulatory agencies will allow this project to continue through Minnesota’s stringent review processes as quickly as possible, without additional unnecessary delays or roadblocks,” Fabian said.

Enbridge welcomed the long-awaited decision.

“After nearly five years of community engagement, environmental review, regulatory and legal review, it’s good to see the Line 3 Replacement Project move forward,” Vern Yu, the executive vice president of liquids pipelines, said.

“It is a $2.6 billion investment in the state’s critical energy infrastructure, but from the start of the project has been about improving safety and reliability for communities and the environment. We now look forward to next steps on the project’s remaining permits.”

Enbridge still needs at least two federal and state permits before it can begin construction.

There’s an interactive project map here.