The final environmental review of a proposed oil pipeline project across northern Minnesota says all of the routes being considered would hurt the region's American Indian tribes.
On Thursday the Minnesota Department of Commerce released its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Enbridge Energy's plan to replace the old pipeline, which is known as Line 3.
The EIS looks at the effects on cultural resources, as well as on wildlife habitat, lakes, and streams. (More on this below.)
The questions facing the state are: Should a replacement line be approved? And if so, what route should the pipeline take?
The review released Thursday looks at the five possible routes for replacing Line 3. It does not recommend any one route as being better than the others, it just analyzes each of them.
It'll be up to the state Public Utilities Commission to consider all the information and make a decision, probably next spring.
Enbridge says the new line would carry about 760,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
What is Line 3?
The existing pipeline runs from Canada to a refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, crossing more than 300 miles of northern Minnesota. It was built in the 1960s, and the EIS says the age of the current pipeline is causing some problems.
It's corroded and cracked and since 1990 there have been 15 times when it failed and leaked at least 50 barrels of oil.
Enbridge is asking the state for permission to replace the existing pipeline with a line they say will be safer and more efficient.
Enbridge has a preferred route but tribes and environmental groups have opposed it, arguing it would cut through sensitive areas where pristine rivers and wild rice lakes could be spoiled by an oil leak or spill.
The EIS looked at the route Enbridge likes, the existing one, and three other possibilities. On the map below, the existing pipeline route is the green line. The black route marked APR is the new path Enbridge wants.
The review also analyzes moving oil through pipelines versus hauling it on trains or trucks. It says pipelines are much less likely to have a spill. But if they do have one, the amount that gets spilled from a pipeline is likely to be much larger.
Effect on tribes
The existing line runs through two Ojibwe reservations, the Leech Lake and the Fond du Lac. Two of the possible replacement routes would pass through the Leech Lake reservation, as well
But all the routes would move through areas where the Ojibwe kept hunting and fishing rights when they signed treaties turning their land over to the U.S.
The EIS says says pipeline construction would disrupt wildlife habitat, so diminished hunting and fishing is one of the ways the project could hurt the tribes. Others include possibly hurting water quality (especially on wild rice lakes), access to medicinal and traditional plants and foods, and potentially disrupting sites that are spiritually important to the tribes.
Now that the environmental review is finished, the public will have a chance to respond to it. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will probably set up the timeline and process at its next meeting on August 22, the Commerce Department says.
Once the comment period is over, an administrative law judge will pull together a report to help the PUC make its decision next spring.
One of the things that report will look at is whether the EIS was adequate. Winona La Duke, founder of the group Honor the Earth, tells the Duluth News Tribune opponents will argue that the review was not sufficient.
"It's ridiculous such a large project has such a fast-track process," she said.
A spokeswoman for Enbridge told the paper the company is happy to see the process – which has been underway more than two years – moving forward. “The time is now to replace and modernize Line 3 with the newest, safest pipeline technology,” Jennifer Smith said.