The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe on Tuesday slammed a judge's recommendation that Enbridge's proposed new Line 3 oil pipeline should follow the current Line 3's route, which crosses the band's reservation.
Administrative Law Judge Ann O'Reilly issued a report Monday saying that Enbridge should be allowed to build the controversial new Line 3, but not on the company's proposed new route. Rather, O'Reilly recommended that the new Line 3 be built along the same corridor that hosts six Enbridge pipelines running across northern Minnesota.
She also recommended that Enbridge remove the aging and corroding old Line 3 and essentially drop a new pipeline in its place.
The Leech Lake band has been adamantly against a new Line 3 on its land.
"The judge has made this horrific recommendation without even holding a single hearing on the Leech Lake Reservation and gave a recommendation on a route that has not had the same environmental review [as Enbridge's preferred route]," the band said in a statement.
O'Reilly's recommendation, the band added, "further drives the message that it is OK to put pipelines on reservations and that risk is acceptable."
The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is scheduled in late June to decide the fate of the $2.6 billion new Line 3 project, as well as its route. However, pipeline right-of-way issues on Indian reservations are governed by federal law, so it's unlikely the PUC could force an on-reservation solution.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge has declined to comment on O'Reilly's routing recommendation, but it's likely not happy, either. First, the company has rejected the notion of extracting the old Line 3, an expensive proposition. And second, Enbridge chose its new route partly because it doesn't cross any Indian reservations.
Leech Lake said in the statement that it rejected an Enbridge overture in 2012 to build a new pipeline on its land. In November, the Leech Lake Tribal Council passed a resolution that, among other things, warned that "any attempt to cross the Leech Lake Reservation [with a pipeline] will lead to conflict."
Enbridge's proposed route for new Line 3 would follow the current pipeline corridor to Clearbrook, Minn., but then jut south to Park Rapids before heading east to Superior, Wis. Environmentalists and Indian groups oppose the new route, saying it exposes a new region of lakes, rivers, and wild rice waters to degradation from oil spills.
O'Reilly essentially acknowledged that argument, saying that while Enbridge had demonstrated its need for a new Line 3, the company hasn't proved that the new route's "consequences to society" would be outweighed by the benefits.
In her report, O'Reilly acknowledged the opposition of both the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac bands to a new Line 3 crossing their reservations. The current Line 3 traverses 46 miles of Leech Lake and 11 miles of Fond du Lac.
Both tribes signed new landmark right-of-way agreements with Enbridge in 2009, when the company built two new pipelines across Minnesota. Historically, tribes received a pittance for pipeline rights of way: Enbridge's corporate predecessor in 1962 paid $6,400 for a 50-year easement across both Leech Lake and Fond du Lac, according to the judge's report.
In the 2009 agreements, which established new 20-year easements, Leech Lake received around $10 million and Fond du Lac is believed to have received about $17 million. Fond du Lac did not respond to a request for comment.
In her report, O'Reilly wrote that under the 2009 Fond du Lac agreement, Enbridge has the right to replace its existing Line 3 within its right of way until 2029. But no such clause exists in the Leech Lake agreement.
O'Reilly wrote that Enbridge will have to renegotiate tribal rights of way for all of its Minnesota pipelines by 2029, so it could include bargaining for a new Line 3. She acknowledged the difficulty of such a task but wrote that it's not "an impossibility."