With the next step in a northern Minnesota pipeline decision drawing near, opponents of Enbridge Energy's preferred route took to their horses this week.
Tribal activists in the group Honor the Earth are fighting Enbridge's "Line 3" route, saying it would threaten some of the country's finest wild rice beds and other pristine waters near the source of the Mississippi River.
What's "Line 3?"
Enbridge Energy, which is based in Calgary, already sends crude oil from Canada through northern Minnesota in an existing pipeline to a refinery in Superior.
But that line dates back to the 1960s and Enbridge says it's due for an upgrade. The $2.9 billion project they've proposed is the biggest in the company's history, Enbridge says.
The new line – three feet in diameter – would follow the same route as the existing one from Canada as far as Clearbrook, Minnesota. There's a debate about where it should go from there.
Enbridge wants to take a route to Superior that would send the pipeline past Park Rapids and through the Mississippi headwaters area. Critics say that's an environmentally sensitive region where an oil leak or spill could do lots of damage.
State regulators decided four other possible routes for the pipeline should be studied, too. On the map below the black line (the "Applicant's Preferred Route") is the one Enbridge wants.
Where are they in the process?
A draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that looked at the effects of the possible routes is finished and a comment period on it has ended.
State officials got more than 2,800 comments and have been trying to respond to all of them as they pull together the final version of the EIS. That document was originally supposed to come out this week but Governor Dayton gave the Commerce Department an extension until next Thursday.
After the final EIS comes out there will be public hearings on it with an administrative law judge presiding over them. The judge will make a recommendation to Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to make a final decision on the proposal next spring.
The Commerce Department has lots of background on the project here.