Enbridge had been beefing up its pipeline security long before it got the green light this week for its new Line 3.
And the Calgary-based company has already been talking with the state law enforcement agencies about possible unrest over the new pipeline that will cross northern Minnesota.
Still, while anti-pipeline groups have talked about large protests as early as this summer, Enbridge needs several more permits and is several months away from any construction work.
About 20 protesters gathered Friday morning just south of Jay Cooke State Park, where Enbridge has a pipeline drilling pad near a rail line that traces the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. They included American Indians and others concerned about the environment and climate change.
Honor the Earth, an indigenous environmental activist group, has called upon pipeline opponents everywhere to come to Minnesota to protest Line 3. The group's leader has invoked the huge protests in North Dakota two years ago against the Dakota Access pipeline.
Enbridge has already been "actively engaged" with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, county sheriffs and tribal police to make sure that "situations" don't occur, and if they do, how to cope with them, Guy Jarvis, executive vice president of liquid pipelines and major projects, said on Friday.
"If a protest emerges, we are de-escalating," Jarvis said. "We are going to stop work and remove our people and our contractors from the site."
He also said Enbridge doesn't "expect to have private security firms to supplement or take place of law enforcement in places where we are doing business."
Gov. Mark Dayton met with sheriffs last week at Camp Ripley. He declined to comment on the meeting and referred calls about security plans to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which said to contact individual sheriff departments along the route. No one responded to messages left with the Carlton, Aitkin, or St. Louis County departments.
The possibility of civil unrest and resource concerns for law enforcement came up during deliberations before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The panel on Thursday gave Enbridge its blessing to build a new pipeline, citing the condition of the current 1960s-vintage Line 3, which is corroding and operating at only 51 percent capacity due to safety concerns.
The PUC also approved Enbridge's proposed route for the new Line 3, which follows the company's corridor of six pipelines — including the current Line 3 — to Clearbrook, Minn., then jogs south to Park Rapids, before heading east to Superior.
Environmental groups, Indian tribes and other opponents say the new route exposes a new region of lakes, rivers and wild rice waters to degradation from oil spills.
Over the past years, new oil and natural gas pipelines have been a lightning rod for opposition across the country. Protests have ranged from two activists tampering with a valve on an Enbridge pipeline in northern Minnesota to mass demonstrations over the Dakota Access pipeline.
Winona LaDuke, head of Honor the Earth, was asked in a Facebook video Friday to distinguish between the Line 3 resistance and protests that stalled construction of a small piece of the Dakota Access under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation. The protests in 2016 drew thousands of people and occasionally resulted in clashes with law enforcement, but the line ultimately was finished.
LaDuke said one difference is that unlike the bulk of Dakota Access, the portion of the Line 3 replacement in Minnesota has not yet been built.
"We will be out on this line and we will stop this in the regulatory process, and we will stop this in the legal process and we will stop this with our bodies," she said. "This is Minnesota Standing Rock."
Enbridge has seven storage yards full of pipe along the proposed Line 3 route, LaDuke said. "None of those pipe yards are going to be able to move anywhere," she predicted.
Enbridge does not expect work on the pipeline to begin until it gets all of its permits, ideally at October's end, Jarvis said. The company still must get several state permits and authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Also, pipeline opponents are likely to appeal the PUC's decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which could cause delays.
Jarvis said Enbridge doesn't plan on doing any pre-construction work — including clearing vegetation and forested areas — until the permitting process is completed. When it is, the company plans to begin staging equipment on the route.
"We don't want the state and communities to believe we are "front-running," Jarvis said. "We don't want to start staging equipment on the [pipeline] right of way before we have our permits. It won't be until the early part of next year until you see heavy equipment doing construction work."