Enbridge on track to put new Line 3 into service next year

An activist opposing the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline dangles from a steel structure erected in St. Paul

That portion of the line was cast into doubt in April after a Minnesota judge recommended that the state's public utilities commission grant the project a certificate of need, but asked that the new line follow the conduit's existing route rather than the company's preferred path.

Pipeline bottlenecks have steepened a price discount for Western Canadian heavy crude this year.

Enbridge convinced the commission that replacing the 1960s-era pipeline, which is increasingly prone to corrosion and cracking, is necessary for safety and to ensure reliable deliveries of sufficient crude oil to Midwest refineries. "Shame on you, you cowards!" one woman shouted before breaking into tears. They also say it risks spills in fragile areas, including waters where the Ojibwe harvest wild rice, which is central to their culture. "I've stood many, many times to make the system work and the system failed the people of Minnesota and failed the Ojibwe yesterday", Winona LaDuke, the executive director of Honor the Earth said.

"It is a very positive and extremely critical step in this whole process", said Chris Bloomer, CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association on Friday.

LaDuke was referring to protests that drew thousands of people to the Standing Rock reservation in neighboring North Dakota in 2016 and 2017 to rally against the Dakota Access pipeline, resulting in sometimes violent skirmishes with law enforcement and more than 700 arrests. It was eventually built.

"It's going to give everybody a real boost", said Bob Schoneberger, who runs a piping contractor business in Duluth, Minnesota.

The company estimates the pipeline will be in service in the second half of 2019, although analysts cautioned it may take until the first quarter of 2020 if substantial civil disobedience delays construction.

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Enbridge has already replaced the short segment of Line 3 in Wisconsin and put it into service. Its replacement would allow it to return to approved capacity of 760,000 barrels per day. "It feels like a gun to our head ... It's just too great a cost", PUC Chairwoman Nancy Lange said in her opening remarks during the meeting, in a reference to the old line.

Opponents of Enbridge Energy's Line 3 crude oil pipeline gathered on the newly approved route where the line would cross the Minnesota-Wisconsin border to say they're prepared for the next round of their battle to stop it.

Commissioners said if the Fond du Lac don't agree, they'll shift the route.

What's unknown is where the route will go after that. The company wanted to depart from the existing pipeline to largely avoid two American Indian reservations now crossed.

After the commission issues a formal written order in the next few weeks, opponents can then file appeals.

Gov. Mark Dayton said that even with the certificate of need the PUC granted Thursday, Enbridge has many more hoops to jump through before construction can start in the state.

"Approvals are by no means assured", he said.

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