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Lawsuit challenging Enbridge could have consequences for future pipeline projects

MINNEAPOLIS -- A lawsuit filed by environmentalist groups against the federal government is expected to have broad implications on several oil pipeline development projects in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Oral arguments will be heard by federal judge Michael Davis in Minneapolis on Thursday morning in the lawsuit filed by Honor The Earth, MN350, the Sierra Club and others against the U.S. State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The plaintiffs allege Kerry and the State Department have allowed Alberta-based pipeline company Enbridge to illegally circumvent the presidential permitting process for pipeline construction across the U.S.-Canada border.

Enbridge currently moves tar sands oil -- a type of crude oil more difficult to refine than the sweet crude found in the Bakken oil formation of North Dakota and Montana -- from Alberta to its terminal in Superior, Wis., in the Line 67 pipeline.

But, when Enbridge expanded the Line 67 (also known as the Alberta Clipper) from 450,000 barrels per day to 800,000, the company would have needed a presidential permit with approval from President Barack Obama to increase the amount of oil the pipeline takes across the international border.

The oil from the Alberta Clipper is currently moved to the nearby Line 3 as the lines cross the border near Gretna, Manitoba, then back into the Alberta Clipper line southeast of Neche, N.D.

A release from the Sierra Club said the goal of the lawsuit is to get Kerry and his department to conduct a full environmental review of the project before any further expansion of Line 67 occurs.

"The only thing worse than dirty oil is dirty oil backed by dirty tricks. This is the fossil fuel equivalent of money laundering,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, another of the named plaintiffs. “The Obama administration should be ashamed of itself for letting Enbridge illegally pump more dirty tar sands oil into the United States.”

Attempts to reach representatives of the U.S. State Department and Enbridge for comment were unsuccessful.

Further complicating matters is Enbridge’s planned replacement of Line 3, which was constructed in the 1960s and predates the presidential permitting process.

Enbridge has maintained the 1,031-mile replacement project falls under the same rules as the original Line 3, which will be pumped full of inert gas and brought out of use after its replacement is built. Opponents say the line should fall under current regulations -- including undergoing a full environmental review and obtaining a presidential permit -- because the replacement line will follow a new route.

The Sandpiper project received its certificate of need this summer from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, one of two final hurdles before construction can begin on the 616-mile pipeline from near Tioga, N.D., to Superior. The route permit, yet to be granted by the PUC, has a strong influence on the Line 3 expansion, as it will follow much of Sandpiper’s route through northern Minnesota.

Enbridge estimates the cost for the Line 3 expansion and Sandpiper to be nearly $5 billion.

Robb Jeffries

Robb Jeffries is a news coordinator for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and previously served as a reporter and copy editor for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.