In a defeat for pipeline builder Enbridge Energy, Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday declined to speed up the procedure for reviewing two proposed crude oil pipelines across the state.
Enbridge, the Calgary-based company proposing to build the two lines, had complained that the state’s process would unreasonably delay the projects, which would carry oil from North Dakota and Canadian oil fields.
“This is not a minor event in Minnesota. This is significant,” said Minnesota Public Utilities Commissioner John Tuma, who opposed changing the timetable. “We are going to be moving a lot of oil through the state — very dangerous. We want to get it right.”
In December, the commission ordered completion of a final environmental impact statement before beginning the trial-like regulatory process and public meetings required for both projects. On Thursday, the five-member commission declined to change the timing.
Enbridge challenged that as unreasonable, hoping to shave several months off the timetable if regulators launched the evidentiary process as soon as a draft environmental study was completed. A motion to do so failed to get majority support of the commission, however.
One of the pipelines, Sandpiper, would carry oil from North Dakota while a second project would replace a 1960s-era Line 3 from Canada. Both are proposed on the same route from Clearbrook, Minn., a site of existing oil terminals, then southeast toward Park Rapids before turning east to Superior, Wis.
Under a timetable released Thursday, a state agency in charge of the environmental review said it expects to issue its draft report in February 2017. Many other details of the schedule are being left to an administrative law judge who will preside at public and evidentiary hearings.
The pipelines are opposed by environmental groups and Indian tribes who fear that a crude oil leak could harm pristine northern waters, including wild rice lakes and the Mississippi River headwaters.
Environmentalists won a legal victory last September when the Minnesota Appeals Court ruled that the commission needed to do an environmental study right away, rather than wait until later in the process. That forced the commission to restart its review process, which began two years ago.
The commission also denied a request by the White Earth Nation, a northern Minnesota Indian tribe, to join three state agencies in preparing the environmental study.
David Shaffer • 612-673-7090 • @ShafferNews