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There is a better way: The preferred route for a necessary pipeline

PUC staff agreed in a recent report that Enbridge’s new route would have the least impact on the environment.

Harry Melander

Sometimes what appears to be the path of least resistance is anything but.

At issue is the route to replace a 60-year crude oil pipeline from northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. Should we replace it along the same route or find a better way?

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must decide soon.

The first option was the recent recommendation of Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly to the PUC: Replace the aging Line 3 pipeline across northern Minnesota along the existing trench. She argues this is most economical and minimizes the impact on human settlements, natural environment and natural resources.

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Enbridge Energy, the owner and company investing in replacing the pipeline, proposes a different route that follows the existing corridor from Canada to Clearbrook, then dips south to Park Rapids and east to its terminal facility in Superior. While the final decision lies with the PUC, its staff agreed in a recent report that the company’s new route would have the least impact on the environment.

Why change a route that was good enough for 60 years? There are myriad issues with pulling out existing pipeline and replacing it along the exact same route.

Risky process. Removing and replacing the old line, instead of capping and burying it (the standard approach), is a complex and challenging undertaking in a corridor with five other pipelines, and potentially far more hazardous to workers than building along Enbridge’s recommended route. With that, Enbridge has worked with the tribes and communities, agreeing to remove the old Line 3 in segments where it makes sense due to environmental or other factors, and now it has committed to working with each individual landowner to do the same.

Doug Loon

A damaging shutdown. The replacement-in-route would shut down the line for up to 16 months, doing unnecessary harm to the state’s economy and creating unnecessary risks for its people. Oil would have to be shipped on 10,000 rail cars per day or 24,000 tanker trucks per day, creating significantly higher risks to people and the environment. Meanwhile, the shutdown would put jobs at risk and pressure local gas prices to rise.

Tribal rights infringement. The in-trench replacement would also infringe on the rights of tribes to decide which developments will be allowed on their land.

Meanwhile, there are many reasons the new route makes more sense:

An economic boon. The two-year project will be good for the state and local economies, creating 6,500 construction and spinoff jobs in the state and more than $2 billion in economic impact, according to a University of Minnesota Duluth study. The pipeline will generate $19.5 million more in property taxes each year, above and beyond the $30 million currently paid for the pipeline.

Robust review. The route went through an extensive environmental review with more than 1,500 local stakeholder meetings; in all there were more than 72,000 public comments submitted and 43 public hearings over four years. The final environmental impact statement also states that the preferred route lessens potential environmental impacts.

Strong support. About 94 percent of the private landowners along the preferred route have signed agreements with Enbridge allowing the pipeline to go through. Native American tribes whose land will be affected by sticking with the same route also support the preferred route.

While we disagree over the best route, we strongly agree that a new pipeline is needed. As Judge O’Reilly states in her recommendation, our society is going to need oil pipelines for the foreseeable future. Canadian and Wisconsin regulators also recognize the need for a new pipeline, and the Wisconsin segment is already complete.

The aging Line 3 pipeline now can operate only at half-capacity. Keeping the line safe would cost about $30 million to $40 million per year. Replacing the line with modern materials will bring it back to capacity, 760,000 barrels per day. It will help the North American economy and support our nation’s energy and economic security while reducing reliance on oil from less friendly nations.

When they meet this week, the PUC commissioners will have the opportunity to approve the project as applied for along the preferred route.

Their approval will mean our region will benefit from a safer, more sensible route that’s better for Minnesota jobs, economy and environment.

Harry Melander is president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council. Doug Loon is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.


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