Commission to once again decide on contentious Enbridge pipeline replacement project

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The fight over a $2.6-billion crude oil pipeline took center stage before the Minnesota Public Service Commission Friday.

The Commission listened to hours of public comment on the controversial replacement project of the pipeline Friday.

"The last thing we should be doing is putting another pipeline into the ground," declared one opponent. 

"Stopping the pipeline will do nothing to fix our climate crisis," said a supporter. 

The commission approved Enbridge Energy's Line 3 project in 2018, but last summer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the project needed a revised environmental study to move forward.

The current Line 3 pipeline has been transporting oil since the 1960s, and Enbridge says the replacement is critical.

"This is a safety and maintenance-driven project," says Barry Simonson, an Enbridge Energy spokesperson. "Line three has been in service since the 1960s and it's time to replace the project with a new pipeline."

More from KSTP: 

No major impacts on Lake Superior found from Line 3 pipeline

Minnesota regulators restart Line 3 pipeline review process

"This is the most studied pipeline project in Minnesota's history that will grow great jobs, help our communities and protect the environment," said Mel Olson, who supports the project.

Environmental groups say the new pipeline could put lakes and rivers at risk. 

"This the most toxic and heaviest form of crude that's available," says Allen Richardson, with Minnesotans For Pipeline Cleanup. "You could spend a billion dollars cleaning up one of those spills, and still be left with cancer-causing benzene and so forth in your waterways." 

"Climate change is a health emergency," says Laalitha Surapaneai, a Minnesota internist who was first in line to testify against the project. "The carbon footprint of this line would be equal to the pollution that fifty coal plants would produce." 

"Stopping this project will do more for water quality protection and climate protection than we can do in lifetimes of environmental research," Christy Dolph said.

Organized labor made its presence felt at this packed meeting, with dozens of union members sitting in rows facing the PSC commissioners.  

Labor groups say the project could mean putting 1000 people to work.  

"Our real concern is it's a deteriorated pipeline that needs to be replaced," says Kevin Pranis, a spokesperson for LIUNA, the union representing construction laborers. "This would be a bigger project for laborers than the US Bank Stadium. It's a huge deal, especially in northern Minnesota where there's not a big surplus of family-supporting jobs."

Then there are landowners like Ben Groeschl, who owns up to ten acres in Carlton, some of it used as a tree farm. 

The old pipeline runs through a corner of his property. He wonders what the future will bring. 

"I want to hunt on it, I want to fish on it," he says. "I don't want any more leaks. I don't want any more trees cut. My biggest thing is that they want to cut more and more trees, instead of planting trees."

Enbridge provided the following statement to KSTP:

It's good to see the process moving forward. Public participation has been a strong point of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's process to date with many opportunities for individuals and organizations to provide input and have access as this important safety and maintenance-driven project advances.

After nearly five years of regulatory and permitting review, and numerous public comment opportunities, including 68 public meetings, the replacement of Enbridge's Line 3 is the most studied pipeline project in Minnesota history. It is a $2.6 billion private investment in the state's critical energy infrastructure that will better protect communities and the environment. Today is the 68th public meeting about the project. 

Late last year, the MPUC directed the Department of Commerce to revise Line 3's 13,500-page Environmental Impact Statement regarding spill modeling in the Lake Superior Watershed as required by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Spill modeling confirmed that in the unlikely case of a spill on the Line 3 replacement segment, oil will not reach Lake Superior.

This hearing, and two others in the coming week, could be the final chapter in a five-year legal and regulatory battle.