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Enbridge's proposed $2.6 billion pipeline hits another snag

Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

Enbridge's proposed $2.6 billion oil pipeline across northern Minnesota got another dose of uncertainty -- one that could lead to more delays -- as two state agencies said Tuesday they will revise their permitting schedules because of a recent court ruling.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) said it will not release its draft water quality certification for the proposed pipeline -- a replacement for Enbridge's current deteriorating Line 3 -- on July 1 as previously scheduled. The PCA said it needs to consider an additional environmental review effectively ordered by the Minnesota Court of Appeals earlier this month.

The appellate court reversed the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's (PUC) approval of the environmental impact statement (EIS) for Line 3. The court deemed the EIS "inadequate" because it didn't properly address the impact of a potential future oil spill into the Lake Superior watershed.

The PCA and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued a joint statement Tuesday saying that by state law, they can't take final actions on pending Line 3 permits until the EIS deficiencies are addressed.

"The two agencies will continue their work reviewing the Line 3 applications. The court's decision, however, does have implications for how this work will proceed," the statement said.

The PUC approved the EIS for the controversial pipeline in March 2018. Environmental groups and some Ojibwe tribes appealed, and the court essentially ordered the PUC to fix the EIS, which was conducted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Redoing even a small part of the voluminous EIS could take several months. The PUC or Enbridge -- or both -- could petition the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn the appellate court decision. The deadline to do so is July 3.

New Line 3 would ferry Canadian oil from Alberta across northern Minnesota to Enbridge's big terminal in Superior, Wis. Opponents say the new pipeline -- initially proposed about five years ago -- would open up a new region of Minnesota's lakes and rivers to degradation from possibility oil spills.

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Calgary-based Enbridge says the new pipeline is needed to replace the aging and corroding current Line 3, which can ship at only 51% of its capacity due to safety reasons.

The PUC in June 2018 -- three months after approving the EIS -- unanimously awarded Enbridge a "certificate of need," the key permit needed to build new Line 3. The company expected to be shipping crude on new Line 3 by late this year.

But in early March, Enbridge announced that the pipeline's opening would be delayed a year because the Minnesota permitting process was taking longer than expected. Enbridge said in March that it expects permitting to be done by November.

The company said in a statement Tuesday that it is in "ongoing discussions" with state agencies to coordinate the permitting process. Enbridge declined to speculate on whether Tuesday's announcement by the PCA and DNR will lead to more delays.

(c)2019 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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