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Tar sands pipeline proposal risky and unnecessary, state agency says

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Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 project — an effort to replace and expand an oil sands pipeline through Minnesota — hit a roadblock Monday when the state’s Department of Commerce said that the project is environmentally and economically risky and that the company has failed to show that the pipeline is even needed at all.

“Enbridge has not established a need for the proposed project; the pipeline would primarily benefit areas outside Minnesota; and serious environmental and socioeconomic risks and effects outweigh limited benefits,” the Department of Commerce said in a statement announcing its filings to the Public Utility Commission (PUC). The PUC is evaluating the project in advance of issuing — or denying — a Certificate of Need and a Route Permit. Public hearings will be held between September 26 and October 26, followed by additional filings and hearings. The PUC is expected to make its final determination at the end of April 2018.

In order to get approval from the PUC, Enbridge must show that the project is both necessary and beneficial to the people of Minnesota. According to the Department of Commerce’s analysis, which was conducted by external oil market experts, the Line 3 project is neither.

“The Commerce Department testimony is really damning and really well reasoned,” Aaron Klemz from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy told ThinkProgress. “They seem to have taken a really hard look at the facts and made a decision on them rather then just taking the company’s word for it.”

Enbridge’s application would relocate and expand a pipeline, already known as Line 3, which carries Canadian tar sands oil from the border to refineries in Wisconsin or to other pipelines. Opponents to the project say the new route will carry oil through sensitive wetlands, including some of the only wild rice marshes in the world. They also say that building more fossil fuel infrastructure now — oil sands is one of the dirtiest fuels in the world — is antithetical to efforts to transition to clean energy, reduce climate change, and keep air and water clean.

“This is a key moment,” Klemz said. “We are in the middle of a transformation in our energy systems. It makes no sense to invest billions of dollars in new energy infrastructure.”

For its part, Enbridge says not only does it need a bigger pipeline — doubling its capacity to 760,000 barrels per day — but the old pipeline is falling apart. According to the company’s own testimony, the current Line 3 is deteriorating. “There are no feasible technology or operational changes that can arrest or reverse the external corrosion on Line 3 and/or remove the defects that were inherent in the way the pipe was originally manufactured,” Laura Kennett, Enbridge’s supervisor of pipeline asset integrity projects, told the PUC.

But acknowledging the current Line 3’s problems may backfire on the company. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, a legal organization, filed a petition in July with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), citing Enbridge’s own testimony and calling for action to inspect the line and prevent leaks or shut it down.

“There is good cause to believe that Line 3 is a threat to environmental health, water and soil resources, and potentially public safety. It is PHMSA’s responsibility to conduct inspections if there is any reason to believe that a pipeline is not at par with safety standards,” senior staff attorney Leigh Currie wrote in the July 10 correspondence.

In its testimony, the Department of Commerce echoes calls to shut down the current line, saying, “in light of the serious risks and effects on the natural and socioeconomic environments of the existing Line 3 and the limited benefit that the existing Line 3 provides to Minnesota refineries, it is reasonable to conclude that Minnesota would be better off if Enbridge proposed to cease operations of the existing Line 3, without any new pipeline being built.”

In addition to being energy-intensive to extract and refine, tar sands oil presents a particular concern in waterways, if it spills. Tar sands oil is heavier than water and thinning agents (chemicals) are added when it is transported via pipeline. The current and proposed Line 3s cross several waterways in Northern Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes.

A request for comment from Enbridge was not immediately returned Tuesday.

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