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Enbridge oil pipeline Line 3 public meetings open near Bagley

From left, Ferd Halverson, of Shevlin, visits with Suzanne Steinhauer, of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and Michele Walker, of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Tuesday, June 6, during an environmental impact study meeting on the Enbridge Line 3 replacement near Bagley. Maggi Stivers / Forum News Service

BAGLEY, Minn.—The first in a series of 20-plus public meetings on Enbridge Energy's proposed Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project was Tuesday, June 6, at the Rice Lake Community Center near Bagley.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce is conducting the 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.

Tuesday's meeting, attended by about 100 people, 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 against the new pipeline. State staff also collected written comments.

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.

EIS findings

According to a summary of the EIS provided Tuesday, 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.

Company response, public concerns

Shannon Gustafson, Enbridge communications and public awareness supervisor, was at Tuesday's meeting. He said the company has experience with pipeline abandonment.

"Enbridge has deactivated pipelines before in Minnesota, Wisconsin and most recently in Michigan," Gustafson said. "We haven't had any significant issues with deactivation and it's the preferred method with decommissioning."

While the pipeline will get deactivated, Gustafson said that the former Line 3 would be maintained the same as active pipes, with corrosion protection and monitoring even after it's been cleared of oil.

Despite the assurances and plans submitted by Enbridge, residents expressed concerns Tuesday regarding both the abandonment of the former Line 3 and the potential for a new pipeline.

Those sentiments were shared by members of the environmental advocacy organization Honor the Earth, which was also present Tuesday.

"They're not even doing a good job in maintaining the corridor as it is and once there's no oil running through there, they're going to have even less of a reason to keep track of it," said Honor the Earth Research Director Nicolette Slagle. "We don't see the use of rail or trucks as real alternatives, either. The only alternatives we see are shifting away from fossil fuels."

The process ahead

There will be public meetings Wednesday, June 7, in Park Rapids and Cass Lake. 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.

A copy of the EIS draft is available at the Bemidji Public Library, located at 509 America Ave. NW. 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

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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