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Commission moves ahead with Minnesota pipeline environmental review

The Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 Friday to deny motions by environmental groups to delay the study of a proposed Minnesota pipeline project. Enbridge Energy plans to replace its 60-year-old Line 3 to move Canadian oil through North Dakota and Minnesota to Superior. Jed Carlson/

ST. PAUL — Minnesota officials on Friday rejected environmentalists' requests to delay the study of a proposed northern Minnesota oil pipeline project, but a lengthy environmental review must be completed before approval is given to build it.

The Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 to deny motions by environmental groups. The environmental study will take months.

The Line 3 pipeline would replace a nearly 60-year-old one. The new one would run either in the same area of the existing pipeline or along other utility corridors.

Pipeline supporters were happy, including members of the Laborers International Union of America.

"All we ask is full, fair and timely consideration for a needed, job-creating infrastructure project," the union's Kevin Pranis said. "We were concerned that we have already seen too many avoidable delays in the permitting process for pipeline projects in Minnesota."

The pipeline would connect to one in North Dakota and move Canadian oil through Kittson, Marshall, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, Clearwater, Hubbard, Wadena, Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin and Carlton counties in northern Minnesota. Some oil in the 337-mile, 36-inch pipeline would be diverted south at Clearbrook while the rest would go east to Superior.

About 13 miles of the replacement pipeline would be in North Dakota and 14 miles in Wisconsin. It begins in Alberta.

The pipeline, estimated to cost more than $2.6 billion, would have a 760,000-barrel-per-day capacity. About 3,000 people would be needed to build it.

"A lot of us who live in northern Minnesota are eager to get to work building a safe and environmentally sound pipeline," said laborers' union member Matt Duncombe, who lives in East Grand Forks.

The old pipeline would be abandoned, but not removed from the ground, after the new one begins operating, an Enbridge official said.

The utility commission staff told commissioners that environmental groups' arguments that there was confusion between Line 3 and the proposed Sandpiper pipeline were not valid. The two projects were kept separate at public hearings about them, the staff said.

Enbridge had proposed building Sandpiper in the same area that Line 3 is located, to deliver North Dakota crude oil to a Superior refinery. The company withdrew that plan Sept. 1 after encountering strong opposition.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.