The final environmental impact statement for Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project says it is not possible to determine whether the Canadian company's proposed route would be the best option for American Indians in northern Minnesota.
That's because Enbridge's route and four alternative paths would all have disproportionately negative effects on the bands, according to the report compiled by the state Department of Commerce. The report, released Thursday, also repeats some environmental concerns raised in a draft EIS released in the spring.
But it does not make a recommendation on which route is best for the $2.9 billion project, just comparisons for regulators to weigh. Still, it is a significant development in Enbridge's nearly three-year quest to replace its 1960s vintage pipeline that runs from northwestern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.
After the draft EIS was released in May, at least four of Minnesota's Ojibwe bands submitted comments to the commerce department opposing the proposed Line 3 replacement options. The bands are against any new Line 3 pipeline.
"There are no good routes," said Rep. Peggy Flanagan of St. Louis Park, who's a member of the White Earth band. She was one of 32 DFL representatives and four DFL senators who jointly filed comments critical of the commerce department's draft EIS.
"This sort of tale is as old as time, that native people are disproportionately affected by companies who want to access natural resources," she said. "What happened at Standing Rock — with people standing up for their rights and camping and protesting — that is a very real possibility here in Minnesota. There are already groups of folks camping along the [proposed Line 3] route."
Opposition to the multistate Dakota Access pipeline ignited large protests in North Dakota last year, led by members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe who were concerned about damage to their drinking water from oil leaks.
The EIS report concludes that Enbridge's proposed route for replacing its pipeline would expose fewer sensitive environmental and cultural areas to oil spill risks than other proposed routes that track the current Line 3.
Still, reiterating conclusions from a draft EIS, the report found that Enbridge's proposed route would cause more wildlife habitat loss than the other four paths.
The Calgary-based company wants to build a new 340-mile pipeline that would follow Line 3's current route to Clearbrook, but would then jog south toward Park Rapids through an area known for pristine waters and wild rice lakes.
From Clearbrook to Park Rapids, the new line would run parallel to another crude oil pipeline, one that's not owned by Enbridge. After turning east near Park Rapids, the new pipeline would follow power-line rights of way for about 110 miles.
The final decision, which isn't expected until April 2018, is up to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Enbridge said in a statement that it's "pleased to have reached this step in the regulatory process." The company added that "the time is now to replace and modernize Line 3 with the newest, safest pipeline technology."
Enbridge's current Line 3 requires much maintenance to cope with corrosion and other integrity issues; it's running at only 51 percent capacity for safety reasons. The new Line 3 would restore full capacity.
"Line 3 has 10 times as many anomalies per mile as any other pipeline in the mainline corridor," according to the final EIS.
Line 3 is part of a huge complex of six pipelines — Enbridge's "mainline" — that together carry 2.4 billion gallons of crude oil daily across the state and on to several U.S. markets.
The EIS study takes into account cultural resources and "environmental justice," as well as effects on wildlife, lakes and streams.
While the current Line 3 runs through two Indian reservations, Enbridge planned its new route around tribal land. Still, there is a dispute between the White Earth band and the company over whether the new route would cross a small area that the tribe claims, the EIS says.
Enbridge's preferred route also would cross territories ceded by tribes in the 19th century, but where they retain hunting and fishing rights.
"Each of the five route options would cross one or more census tracts with a meaningfully higher minority population than that of the surrounding county," according to the final EIS. "Any of the routes would have a disproportionate and adverse effect on tribal resources and tribal members, even if the route itself does not cross near residences."
Enbridge's current Line 3 passes through the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations, but the company said it would be difficult to secure long-term land-use approvals from either of the Indian bands, the report said.
During the comment period, the Leech Lake band also indicated it would not approve a new Line 3 through its lands, the report said. Two of four alternative routes traverse the reservation, including replacing Line 3 on its current route.
The EIS also brings up questions of what happens to the remnants of the current Line 3 and the land it is on if Enbridge's preferred route is chosen. Enbridge proposes to permanently abandon the old Line 3 but not dismantle it, a process guided by federal safety regulations; the company would continue to maintain the pipe and land.
"Some potentially significant effects are associated with abandoning the existing Line 3," the report said. There could be "undiscovered legacy contamination" around it, "as well as potential hazards associated with the aging of the abandoned pipe."
However, dismantling Line 3, the report said, could damage one of the nearby pipelines, causing a spill.