State presents draft EIS on Line 3 pipeline
An estimated 200 people attended Wednesday's meeting in Park Rapids on Enbridge Energy's proposed Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce is conducting 20-plus meetings during the public comment review period for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed pipeline to run across north-central Minnesota. The new pipeline will replace the existing Line 3, which will be deactivated and abandoned.
Wednesday's meeting, held at Park Rapids Area High School, started with an open house format where the public could review information compiled by the EIS. An open comment period followed, with most of the comments centered around opposition to the proposed route through water-rich areas of northern Minnesota, including Hubbard County. State staff also collected written comments.
Louise Miltich was one of many Minnesota Department of Commerce officials presenting information Wednesday and answering questions about the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
"I've dedicated my career to environmental review because I think if it's done really well it's such a valuable opportunity. We've got some really technical issues," she said. "Pipelines, transmission lines, it's complicated infrastructure. It's a big engineering problem. We've got complicated environmental impact but it is something, especially with linear corridors, that impacts the public. You've got the interface of this really complicated engineering and technical environmental impact problem, but it's also really important to get the public engaged and understand their feedback on the project because they're going to experience those impacts. They bear that impact for the rest of society."
Enbridge operates the 282-mile, 34-inch diameter Line 3 pipeline that runs from the North Dakota border to a terminal in Clearbrook and then on to Superior, Wis. Line 3 is part of Enbridge's "mainline system," which ships an estimated 2.9 million barrels of crude oil daily across northern Minnesota.
Line 3 was constructed in 1963 and requires extensive maintenance because of its age. As a result, the flow has been restricted to 390,000 barrels of oil per day.
Enbridge's plan is to construct a new Line 3 pipeline that would follow the same path from North Dakota to Clearbrook, and then take a new right-of-way south of the existing pipeline. The new 36-inch, 340-mile pipeline can carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day and would also run to the Superior terminal.
Enbridge's plan would then be to deactivate the original Line 3 and leave the existing pipeline in the ground.
Enbridge has applied for a certificate of need and a route permit from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The commission ordered an EIS to be prepared by the Commerce Department, with cooperation from the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency, to evaluate potential human and environmental impacts.
With the draft EIS in hand, the state has now opened the public comment period, with 22 meetings in counties where the proposed pipeline or an alternative route is under consideration.
The series of meetings concludes on Thursday, June 22, at the Sanford Center in Bemidji. The final EIS is expected to be prepared in August. After a series of reports and hearings, a final decision on the certificate of need and permits is expected in April 2018.
According to a summary of the EIS provided Wednesday, state personnel researched Enbridge's proposed project as well as alternative options.
Those options include:
• Continued use of the existing Line 3.
• Using other pipelines.
• An alternate conceptual new pipeline that would deliver oil to Joliet, Ill., bypassing Clearbrook and Superior.
• Using rail or trucks.
• Continued use of Line 3 supplemented by rail or trucks.
The EIS states continued use of Line 3 would avoid causing the risks from opening a new oil corridor, as well as the impacts associated with building a new pipeline. But it would also mean ongoing, direct impacts on tribal communities because the existing line passes through the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations.
There are also concerns about integrity issues with the aging pipeline.
The EIS states corrosion has resulted in more than 950 excavations in the past 16 years and since 1990, the pipeline has experienced 15 failures that released more than 50 barrels of oil during each incident. Seven of those failures were in Minnesota.
The EIS also covered alternate oil transportation methods, such as trucks and rail. When measuring the average number of accidental release incidents per year, pipelines had far less than trucks and rail. But the average size of an accidental release in barrels was much higher in pipelines than with truck and rail.
Removing the pipeline entirely also raises issues, according to the EIS, the main one being Line 3 is located in the middle of the mainline system, with pipelines on either side, creating safety risks and construction challenges.
Regarding the abandonment of the former Line 3, the EIS states concerns come from potential environmental risks of any existing contamination surrounding the old Line 3 that would never be discovered or remediated, and impacts associated with the ongoing deterioration of the pipeline.
Richard Smith, President of Friends of the Headwaters (FOH), provided some history on his involvement and the proposed pipeline process.
"We formed in January of 2014 because we were very concerned about these pipeline projects. From the very beginning Friends of the Headwaters have advocated for a robust, comprehensive environmental impact study to be done on a large-scale, industrial project as this one is. The state didn't agree with us in the beginning," he explained. "The reason that we can be at this meeting right now is FOH made a decision to take the state to court in the fall of 2014."
Nine months later, Smith said, their court case got a unanimous victory by Minnesota appellate court in Sept. 2015, ordering the state to do an EIS. Enbridge appealed and the Minnesota Supreme Court stood by the appellate court ruling.
Smith said the Public Utilities Commission basically was ordered by the courts to conduct an EIS on this process.
"Do we at FOH think this is a perfect document? By no means, but I'll applaud their effort," he said. "They've never done one before. We are working very hard to analyse this report and to notify the state where we think there are problems. We all know the reason why we are here is we're concerned about having tar sands pipelines going through our headwaters country, and we should be concerned."
Smith continued by saying that Friends of the Headwaters is not an anti-pipeline group.
"We don't oppose a pipeline. We just oppose where they want to put it here. We think there's a better place," he said, referring to alternate routes.
Sharon Natzel, president of Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations, like many who spoke up at the meeting, is concerned about oil spills. She believes the proposed route threatens Minnesota's cleanest lakes and freshwater. Natzel said the proposed route could establish a new pipeline corridor just south of Park Rapids to Superior, Wisc., crossing the Mississippi River in multiple spots.
"This a water-rich environment in that new corridor and some of the sandy soils are very permeable, and also some of the aquifers are connected," Natzel said. "Oil spills could pollute and endanger these fresh waters, for our drinking, for our recreation, and for our wildlife during the project's lifetime which we know, because of this replacement project, is at least 50 years. So, this would be 50 years of potential pollution."
Shannon Gustafson, Enbridge communications supervisor, was at Wednesday's meeting and provided a response to some of the public comments criticizing the project and the proposed route.
"Protecting the environment in our communities, and the areas where we operate is our top priority. And a critical part of that commitment is safeguarding water quality. We've developed comprehensive safety measures that focus on preventative maintenance — and we pay special attention to areas with a potentially elevated impact on the public, including drinking water sources and water crossings," Gustafson said. "When it comes to planning and building our projects, we work closely with multiple stakeholders — including government and regulatory agencies, environmental organizations, tribal leadership."
Enbridge maintains the preferred route is not a new route.
"The preferred route follows existing energy infrastructure, including existing oil and/or gas pipelines, transmission or utility lines, and roads, for more than 80 percent of the route. In planning the preferred route, Enbridge focused on a balanced approach that took into account sensitive resources, safety, population centers, accessibility, congestion as well as co-location with existing energy infrastructure. The preferred route underwent extensive engineering and environmental planning to ensure the protection of sensitive resources, strategic placement of permanent valve in accessible locations to ensure safety."
Al Kleinke spoke in favor of the pipeline. His family has owned land in Hubbard County over 50 years and said the viability and affordability of carbon-based fuels is essential and critical to the future of the northern half of the state of Minnesota.
"Carbon-based fuels fuel our agricultural industry, whether it's potatoes, whether it's corn, grain or soybeans. It's absolutely critical that we have carbon-based fuels for the foreseeable future. We're looking out 50 to 100 years at least where we will need that fuel for the northern half of Minnesota. Pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to move crude oil to market."
The process ahead
Written comments will be accepted through Monday, July 10. To submit a comment to the state, residents can send letters to Jamie MacAlister, environmental review manager at the Minnesota Department of Commerce, located at 85 Seventh Place E, Suite 280 in St. Paul, 55101-2198. People can also send comments via email to Pipeline.Comments@state.mn.us.