Enbridge Energy's plan to replace its "Line 3" pipeline across northern Minnesota is a golden opportunity to get rid of an old, corroded oil conduit, creating thousands of construction jobs in the process.
Or it's a potential menace to the environment — through oil spills — as the new pipeline wends its way through the Mississippi headwaters region, including wild rice lakes sacred to American Indians.
Both views of the proposed $2 billion-plus project were on display Tuesday at dueling news conferences before a public meeting on the topic at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront hotel. The meeting was the 11th of 22 citizen input meetings statewide on the 337-mile pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Alberta to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wis. Attendance has ranged from 35 to 250 people at the first 10 meetings, with 325 at the St. Paul meeting, officials said.
Calgary-based Enbridge, North America's largest pipeline operator, wants to build a pipeline that would follow the current Line 3 route across northern Minnesota to Clearbrook, but then would jog toward Park Rapids through an area known for pristine waters. The Line 3 replacement is being considered by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a process that will go into 2018.
"We get four real positives for one project from the business community's standpoint," said Bill Blazar, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's senior vice president of public affairs and business development, during a news conference that laid out business support for the Enbridge project.
Enbridge will inject money into the economy and create jobs, he said. Plus, because the pipeline is old and has had some problems, the project also will improve safety along the pipeline and lower the environmental risk of a spill.
Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council, said the pipeline project will create a couple of thousand construction jobs that could last up to nine months.
Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul and a pipe fitter, said state regulators need to look at the merits of the project, not the type.
"The system is now being used just to say no to any petroleum project," he said.
However, Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton and of Standing Rock Lakota descent, said tribal governments have not had a proper voice in the process thus far.
"If a new line is really [built], shouldn't those tribal councils decide where it goes, not a foreign corporation?" Kunesh-Podein said at a news conference representing Indian tribes' concerns. "This pipeline threatens our sacred land in Minnesota lake country."
Winona LaDuke — executive director of Honor the Earth, a national environmental nonprofit based on the White Earth Reservation — said the tribes need to "speak for the water for future generations."
"This is the only place where we can live as Anishinaabe people," she said. "This is where the creator put us, and this pipeline will cut through the heart of our territory."
LaDuke also pointed out that thousands who protested the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota live in Minnesota.
Rose Whipple, a sophomore at Harding High School and of Ho-Chunk and Santee descent, is one of 13 young climate activists who officially filed to intervene on the project with the PUC.
"I do not want the wild rice that I and every other Native American eats every day to vanish," she said.
Enbridge's Line 3, which was built in the early 1960s, can move up to 760,000 barrels per day, but it's been operating at only 51 percent of capacity since 2008 because it suffers from corrosion and cracking. Enbridge's filing said the new pipeline would have a capacity of 915,000 barrels a day, but the company said it wants to operate the new Line 3 at the 760,000-barrel capacity that the old one had at its prime. If the company wanted to increase capacity, it would require separate PUC approval.
The public meetings were scheduled after the publication last month of a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The draft EIS looked at four alternative routes for Line 3, which have been proffered by state regulators and citizens (from an earlier round of public meetings). The EIS made no recommendations, but noted that all of the routes, including Enbridge's preferred route, carried some environmental risks.
The draft EIS also said that any of the routes across northern Minnesota would have a "disproportionate and adverse effect on tribal resources and tribal members, even if the route does not cross near residences." The final environmental impact statement, due out later this summer, will incorporate comments from the 22 public meetings.
Line 3 is one of six Enbridge pipelines that run along the same corridor across northern Minnesota. For over 70 percent of its trip through the state, Enbridge's new Line 3 would run along existing utility rights of way, either for Enbridge's own pipelines; another company's oil pipeline; or high-voltage power lines.