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Minnesota regulators restart Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline review process

In this June 29, 2018 file photo, pipeline used to carry crude oil is shown at the Superior terminal of Enbridge Energy in Superior, Wisc.
In this June 29, 2018 file photo, pipeline used to carry crude oil is shown at the Superior terminal of Enbridge Energy in Superior, Wisc. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Jim Mone

Minnesota state utility regulators on Tuesday unfroze the approval process for Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, directing a state agency to fix the deficiencies identified by a court in the project’s environmental review.

The Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously during a hearing that lasted just 12 minutes to ask the state Commerce Department to conduct a further analysis of the potential effects of oil spills in the Lake Superior watershed and report back within 60 days.

Opponents of Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, protest Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, in St. Paul, before a state Public Utilities Commission meeting on the project.
Opponents of Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, protest Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, in St. Paul, before a state Public Utilities Commission meeting on the project. AP Photo/Steve Karnowski

The decision represented the first forward motion on the project in months while legal challenges by environmental and tribal groups played out in court. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld most of the environmental review in June except for the inadequacies regarding Lake Superior.

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The Minnesota Supreme Court declined last month to hear challenges by the opponents to the environmental review on other grounds. But further appeals from opponents are possible.

READ MORE: Line 3 pipeline setback more bad news for Canadian oilfield workers: CEO of industry group

Line 3, which was built in the 1960s and is increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking, runs from Hardisty, Alberta to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, near Lake Superior.

Calgary-based Enbridge wants to replace the pipeline because it can run at only about half its original capacity.

The Enbridge mainline system.
The Enbridge mainline system. Enbridge

Environmental and tribal groups have been fighting the project, saying it would aggravate climate change and risk spills in pristine waters where Native Americans harvest wild rice.

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Enbridge has completed the new segments in Canada and Wisconsin, but has had to hold up construction of the $2.9 billion segment in North Dakota and Minnesota until it clears the final hurdles in Minnesota.

READ MORE: Enbridge says Mainline contracting delayed, not dead, after regulator ruling

Once the department completes the revised environmental review, there will be a public comment period before the commission decides whether the update is adequate.

The commission would then decide whether to reissue two key approvals it granted over a year ago — the certificate of need and route permit. That whole process is expected to take at least until sometime early next year.

READ MORE: Enbridge spent $11M lobbying Minnesota over Line 3 pipeline in 2018

Other potential delays could come from court challenges to the certificate of need and route permit that remain pending. The delay on finalizing the environmental review has also held up permits from other agencies .

Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said the company isn’t currently projecting a date for when construction might begin or when the Minnesota portion of the project would go into service.

READ MORE: U.S. agency readies decision on Enbridge proposal to install underwater oil pipeline supports

The Enbridge mainline system.
The Enbridge mainline system. Source: NEB