Two Ojibwe bands on Wednesday asked state regulators to halt the imminent construction of a new Enbridge pipeline across northern Minnesota, a step needed to eventually ask for a court-ordered shutdown of the controversial project.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe asked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to stay its approval of the pipeline, pending the outcome of a case before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The PUC approved the $2.6 billion pipeline in February for the second time after an appellate court rejected the project's initial environmental impact statement.

The PUC is highly unlikely to stay construction of the 340-mile pipeline across northern Minnesota. But procedurally, the Ojibwe bands must first take their request to the commission before asking for a stay from the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

After winding through Minnesota's regulatory process for six years, the pipeline — a replacement for Enbridge's aging and corroding Line 3 — needs one last routine permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge intends to start construction immediately after receiving the last permit; workers could be deployed as early as next week.

Enbridge said in a statement that the bands' petition "only seeks to delay" the new pipeline. "There is no legitimate basis for this filing. The Line 3 replacement project has passed every test."

The Red Lake and White Earth bands, along with three environmental groups, appealed the PUC's approval of Line 3 earlier this year. The appellate court isn't likely to make a decision until June or July, the tribes said in a PUC filing.

By then, construction of Line 3 could already be completed, the tribes argue in their PUC filing. Enbridge plans to build several sections of the pipeline at once, with the aim of completing it in six to nine months.

"Without a stay, Enbridge will construct and likely finish the project before a court decision, rendering such decision moot and irrelevant," the tribes said in the filing.

The two Ojibwe bands also argued for a stay on Line 3 due to fears that pipeline construction workers — expected to number over 4,000 — will exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 in northern Minnesota.

Environmental groups and Indian bands have said the pipeline — which follows a new route — will open a new region of pristine waters to the prospect of oil spills, as well as exacerbate climate change by allowing more oil production.

The groups also claim that the PUC approved a faulty and overly rosy long-term oil-demand forecast submitted by Enbridge. The state Department of Commerce also has cited Enbridge's oil forecast in its own court appeal of the PUC's approval of Line 3.

Enbridge has said the new pipeline is a critical safety enhancement, an argument that prevailed with the PUC.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003