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Minnesota DNR grants 2 approvals for Line 3 pipeline

The Enbridge pipeline replacement project would replace a crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.
The final route for the Line 3 replacement project.

The final route for the Line 3 replacement project.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has granted two of the 10 required DNR permits for the proposed Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline replacement project in northern Minnesota.

The DNR on Monday issued approvals for the Gully 30 Fen Calcareous Fen Management Plan and the Gully 30 Fen Water Appropriation Permit, both located in Polk County, near Trail, in northwestern Minnesota.

“The DNR conducted a thorough review of these applications, and has determined that these two approvals, as conditioned, meet the requirements of state statutes and rules,” DNR Assistant Commissioner Jess Richards said in a statement. “The DNR carefully considered all comments and other input in making these decisions.”

According to the DNR, the Gully 30 Fen Calcareous Fen Management Plan approval establishes the requirements Enbridge must follow to protect the area during construction, including construction at the safest time of year, practices to protect the fen and establishes construction and post-construction monitoring requirements to ensure impacts are minimal.

Meanwhile, the DNR's approval of the Water Appropriation Permit allows temporary dewatering to facilitate construction and sets the pumping rate and volume restrictions necessary to ensure sustainable use of local groundwater. 

The DNR is still considering eight other Line 3-related applications from Enbridge, as well as a request from the company for short- and long-term leases for state land so it can use the land for construction access/staging and ongoing operation and maintenance. 

The DNR's role in the project is focused on avoiding and minimizing adverse impacts associated with building, operating and maintaining the new pipeline on the 337-mile route across northern Minnesota, the DNR said. 

Construction won't begin on the pipeline replacement project yet, though. In addition to the other DNR approvals, Enbridge still needs regulatory approvals from other state, tribal and federal agencies, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some of these approvals are expected by sometime in November.

Enbridge officials have said they hope to begin construction before the end of 2020, according to MPR News, noting it'll take 6-9 months to build.

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A years-long process

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the route and a certificate of need for the project in May (the second time it approved the project).

For this project, Enbridge is proposing to replace its existing Line 3 pipeline, which is nearly 60 years old and deteriorating, with a new, larger pipeline along a different route that connects the tar fields in Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, via northern Minnesota.

This has kicked off a years-long approval process that's been delayed by appeals and lawsuits. The state has approved this project twice – most recently in May, when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the route and a certificate of need for the project.

However, the Minnesota Department of Commerce in August filed an appeal against the PUC approval, claiming the approval didn’t take into consideration a possible drop in oil demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. This marks the third time the Commerce Department has appealed the pipeline since the approval process began in 2015, and it ended up costing the department's commissioner his job.

Throughout the approval process, proponents of the pipeline say it is needed and will create jobs, while opponents, including Native American tribal members and environmental groups, have been fighting against it in court, saying the pipeline will usurp Indigenous treaty rights and contribute to climate change.

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