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Environmental review released of proposed northern Minnesota pipeline replacement project

Minnesota regulators on Monday released the long-awaited environmental review of Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project, kicking off months of public meetings and comments on the proposed line and the new route it would take across northern Minnesota.

The draft environmental impact statement didn't make a recommendation for the $7.5 billion pipeline, which would run more than 1,000 miles between Alberta and Superior. It did indicate that each of the five routes under consideration would have some environmental impacts, including Enbridge's preferred route, but that the difference between them is minimal.

"Impacts on fish and wildlife habitats would vary only slightly among the applicant's preferred route and route alternatives," the report concludes.

The environmental impact statement is one of many steps toward the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission deciding whether to let Enbridge replace its aging Line 3 pipeline that carries Canadian tar sands oil to the company's Superior terminal. The PUC must determine if the new pipeline is in the best interest of state residents.

The PUC also decides which route the line should take.

While Enbridge's proposed route crosses slightly more wild-rice lakes, for example, the environmental review found that any potential oil spill along that route would have less impact on natural and cultural resources. It also avoids crossing any Native American reservations.

Enbridge's preferred route would also open a new pathway for oil pipelines between Clearbrook and Superior "that could ultimately result in accumulation of multiple pipelines within the corridor," according to the review.

The Minnesota Departments of Commerce and Natural Resources, along with the Pollution Control Agency, prepared the draft environmental impact statement. Public comments will be accepted through July 10, with 22 public meetings scheduled in June across the potential pipeline routes.

Following the completion of the environmental review and yet another round of hearings, an administrative law judge will submit a report to the PUC with findings of facts, conclusions of law and recommendations. The Commission is expected to decide on Enbridge's certificate of need and route permit applications in the spring of 2018.

Enbridge officials have said the replacement project is needed to upgrade and improve the pipeline while restoring capacity to its original volume; the line has been running at about half its capacity, 390,000 barrels per day, since 2008. The new Line 3 would carry 760,000 barrels of oil — nearly 32 million gallons — every day.

"Enbridge looks forward to the next step for this important system modernization project and advancing the regulatory process," John Swanson, Enbridge vice president of major projects, said in a statement Monday.

The company hopes to have oil moving in the new Line 3, a pipeline 36 inches in diameter, by 2019.

The new pipeline would follow the existing Line 3 from the North Dakota border to an Enbridge terminal in Clearbrook. From there the proposed pipeline would follow a largely new right-of-way, south of the existing Line 3 and other Enbridge pipelines, and end at the Superior terminal.

The old Line 3 would be left in the ground and "deactivated in place," a proposal property rights groups are fighting. It would cost Enbridge $1.28 billion to completely remove the old line, according to the environmental review, as opposed to $85 million to clean out and close off the pipe. The review warns that taking out the old line runs the risk of damaging other nearby pipelines, which could cause an oil spill.

Critics of the pipeline — including residents along the proposed routes, environmentalists and tribal rights groups — focus on two main issues, namely the prospect of a heavy oil spill into the region's pristine waterways and the increase in climate-changing carbon dioxide created when the oil is burned as fuel. The environmental review studies both issues at length.

"One of the things we're seeing is it does contain all the information that's necessary for the Public Utilities Commission and the administrative law judge to conclude that this project is not in the best interest of the citizens of Minnesota," said Andy Pearson, an organizer with environmental group MN350. "The preferred route is going to be most damaging to wild rice beds and ... oil moving through the line is going to contribute to global climate change."

Activist Winona LaDuke said Minnesota tribes and her group, Honor the Earth, remain opposed to the pipeline project.

"We don't think there's a need for the line," she said.

Supporters say pipelines are far safer than moving crude by rail or truck to Midwestern refineries, and they say the the 1,500 construction jobs created for the 337 miles of pipeline crossing the state would be a boost to the state's economy.

"The release of the draft environmental impact statement for the Line 3 Replacement Program is an important milestone for safe energy transportation in our region," said Nancy Norr, Jobs for Minnesotans board chair and Minnesota Power's director of regional development.

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Enbridge Line 3 replacement

The draft environmental impact statement can be found at mn.gov/commerce/energyfacilities/line3 or at the Duluth Public Library.

Written comments on the document will be accepted through July 10 and can be sent to Pipeline.CommentsJamie MacAlister, Environmental Review Manager, 85 7th Place East, Suite 280, St. Paul MN 55101-2198.

There will be 22 public hearings across the state regarding the project, including one in Floodwood on June 8 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Downtown Fair Building and at Fond du Lac Community College in Cloquet on June 13 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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