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Sandpiper deferred, but Enbridge is moving forward with Line 3 replacement

A tanker truck passes by an Enbridge storage tank July 7, 2014, near Berthold, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

BEMIDJI, Minn.—The proposed Sandpiper Pipeline through North Dakota and Minnesota may have been put on the back burner by energy company Enbridge, but another area pipeline project still is moving forward.

Enbridge's plan remains to replace its 1,097-mile Line 3 pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada, through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. To maintain integrity with its pipeline system, the company said the project is to decommission the current pipeline and build a new Line 3 that takes a route farther south after it reaches Clearbrook, then east across Minnesota to Wisconsin along the same route as the proposed Sandpiper Pipeline.

"This is a project where we currently have support to replace in Canada, North Dakota and now in Wisconsin," said Shannon Gustafson, Enbridge media relations manager. "We're working with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on regulatory approval to get the support in Minnesota, too."

According to Gustafson, Enbridge is working on scoping documents to prepare for an Environmental Impact Statement for Line 3, a process that will extend into the first half of 2017. Following the EIS, the company will then work to obtain a certificate of need and a routing permit, leading to an estimated timeline to come into service in 2019, Gustafson said.

While a new pipeline will be in place and the former pipeline will be decommissioned, though, the company says it still will monitor the original Line 3, which was put into service in 1968. All together, the project costs a total of $7.5 billion, with the American portion priced at $2.6 billion.

"The deactivation of Line 3 will happen over about a 12-month period after the new Line 3 is in place. The old line will be taken out of service, cleaned of oil and the pipe will be cut in capped at places near facilities," Gustafson said. "After the pipe has been deactivated, we'll continue to monitor it as it's in an active right of way. We would monitor it the same way with an active line."

The shutting down of the former Line 3 will follow Enbridge's most recent deactivation to a pipeline in Michigan. Gustafson said the deactivation and continued monitoring is the most common practice for treating pipelines in cases of replacement.

While the pipeline will have monitoring by the company after deactivation, though, environmental organization Honor the Earth doesn't find the solution sufficient.

"Abandonment is the primary concern. This threat that we have is already a concern, having pipeline spills. When you have abandoned pipelines, you don't know what could happen," said Frank Bibeau, an attorney for the group Honor the Earth. "If it breaks it could siphon the water from one spot to another, or do things to an aquifer that we may not know about. There are a lot of risks."

Honor the Earth's preferred option, Bibeau said, would be to remove the old Line 3 and put the new pipeline in the same corridor.

"They already have everything in place," Bibeau said. "That way, they can still bring jobs to Minnesota for the environment cleanup and putting in the new pipeline and show that they're good stewards."

Sandpiper deferred

While the process for Line 3 is ongoing, Enbridge announced recently to withdraw its applications with Minnesota regulators for the Sandpiper Pipeline project. Moving forward, Enbridge is deferring implementation of Sandpiper beyond the company's five-year planning.

According to a press release from Enbridge, the company chose to defer the project until North Dakota's oil production recovers enough to support the need for the pipeline. If built, the 225,000 barrel per-day pipeline would have transported Bakken oil from North Dakota to a terminal in Clearbrook and then on to Wisconsin.

While the Line 3 pipeline and the Sandpiper would go on the same route in Minnesota, Gustafson said deferring Sandpiper will not have an impact on the process for Line 3.

"We believed it was unnecessary and that it was an environmental hazard that was going to be prevented one way or another," Bibeau said on Sandpiper. "We're very grateful and thankful that they saw the wisdom one way or another to withdraw that pipeline. We hope they can use some wisdom in other processes."

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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