Minnesota regulators vote to move Enbridge pipeline project forward
State utility regulators Monday declined to reconsider their approval of Enbridges controversial new oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, setting the stage for a court appeal by pipeline opponents.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) also Monday unanimously agreed that Enbridge had met several conditions it imposed when it unanimously approved the $2.6 billion pipeline in June. The move came despite concerns over the projects insurance coverage by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and pipeline opponents.
The conditions included insurance and a guarantee by Enbridge Inc. to cover damage from any oil spills from the new pipeline, a replacement for the aging and corroding Line 3.
Environmental groups, some American Indian tribes and the Minnesota Department of Commerce had asked for the PUC to reconsider its June decision.
The PUC approved new Line 3 in June after a highly detailed review, what is possibly the most extensively vetted review I have seen in my five years on the commission, said PUC member Dan Lipschultz.
The PUCs vote not to rescind its decision was expected. Some pipeline opponents are now expected by years end to ask the Court of Appeals to overturn the decision.
Bill Grant, deputy commissioner of energy and telecommunications for the commerce department, said its not clear yet whether the department also will appeal. The commerce department is commissioned with representing the public interest in matters before the PUC.
While the PUCs approval is the primary regulatory blessing for new Line 3, Calgary-based Enbridge must still get several state and federal environmental permits for the pipeline that will carry oil from Canada to Superior, Wis. The company expects to begin construction in the first quarter of 2019.
The pipeline would run along current Line 3s route to Clearbrook, Minn., but then jut south to Park Rapids before it heads east to Superior. Enbridges current Line 3 runs at only 51 percent capacity due to safety concerns.
Pipeline opponents say the new route opens a new region of pristine waters to environmental degradation from oil spills, and that the fossil fuel pipeline will contribute to climate change.
Mondays PUC meeting was a continuation of a September meeting that was postponed midway through after protests erupted against the pipeline. The earlier meeting, like almost all PUC meetings, was held at the commissions rented offices in downtown St. Paul.
Mondays meeting was moved to the Minnesota Senate Building, which can accommodate more spectators and has a lot more security at its disposal. Eight state troopers stood watching in the Senate hearing room, while at least eight more were outside the room nearby.
Immediately after the PUC voted 5-0 Monday not to reconsider its June approval, four protesters stood up and individually denounced the project. One shouted Line 3 is and immediate climate change disaster and noted a recent United Nations-sponsored report declaring that global warming is accelerating.
They then left the room and joined other protesters outside.
Enbridge, in a press statement, said it was pleased with the civil discussion and orderly meeting as the [PUC] stood by their decision. For four years we have been working through an extensive state regulatory process.
Mike Hughlett 612-673-7003