BAGLEY, Minn. — After eight years of regulatory review and construction, Enbridge's new pipeline is set to start sending oil from Canada, through Minnesota, to Wisconsin.
On Wednesday, Sept. 29, the Canadian energy company announced that the Line 3 replacement project has reached substantial completion, and that it will be in service Friday, Oct. 1. The completion meets the timeline set by Enbridge, as officials estimated it would be finished for the fourth quarter in 2021.
The new pipeline is replacing the original Line 3, installed in the 1960s. Because of the original pipe's age and condition, it has been operating at half capacity for the past several years.
Both the original and replacement pipelines take a route from Canada to North Dakota, and through northwest Minnesota, until they reach Clearbrook. From there, the existing pipeline takes a direct path east to Superior, Wisconsin, going through the Leech Lake Nation.
The new Line 3, meanwhile, goes south from Clearbrook, to the border of Hubbard and Wadena counties, and then routes east to Superior. The new route was designed to avoid both Red Lake and Leech Lake nations.
From its starting point in Canada to Superior, the new Line 3 is more than 1,000 miles long, with a 337-mile section in Minnesota. The project received its permits to move forward in late 2020 and construction has been ongoing since then.
Once the oil starts flowing, the $2.9 billion pipeline will be able to carry on average 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton, Canada. As the new Line 3 is brought into operation, the old pipe will be deactivated.
As part of the deactivation, Enbridge will remove the oil, send a cleaning solution through and then disconnect the infrastructure and seal it. Enbridge will continue to be responsible for monitoring the old pipeline.
"We are pleased that Line 3 is complete and will soon deliver the low cost and reliable energy that people depend on every day," Enbridge President Al Monaco said in a release. "From day one, this project has been about modernizing our system and improving safety and reliability for the benefit of communities, the environment and our customers."
According to the release, the Line 3 project had 71 public comment regulatory meetings and 3,500 community engagement meetings.
"Line 3 was developed and executed with the most state-of-the-art approach to design, construction and environmental management," Monaco said. "We're also very proud of the relationship of trust we've built with communities along the right-of-way in both Canada and the United States. Our goal is to continuously live up to the trust that all of our stakeholders have placed in us."
According to Trent Wetmore, Enbridge director of Midwest operations, Enbridge has eight pipelines in Minnesota and have been operating in the state for 70 years.
"We're in this transitional period, where we've accepted the assets and preparing for our big day," Wetmore said during a digital construction meeting Wednesday evening. "For us, this is something we've been in this area since we started in about 1950. We've grown up with the region."
Enbridge's announcement brought praise from both northern Minnesota members in the U.S. House of Representatives.
On Twitter, Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-MN7, said, "this is great news for northern Minnesota. The Enbridge Line 3 project was a boost to local economies, and will improve safety and decrease reliance on rail for the transport of oil."
In a statement, Congressman Pete Stauber, R-MN8, called the project's completion a "major accomplishment for our state."
"This would not have been possible without the hard work of the union members, contractors and tribal members who successfully and safely managed its construction as well as those who staunchly advocated for this replacement project," Stauber said. "This is a win for every Minnesotan, and I am looking forward to seeing Line 3 positively impact our state's economy and environment for many years to come."
District 5 Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, released the following statement celebrating the completion of the pipeline.
“The completion of the Line 3 pipeline is a huge win for the people of northern Minnesota,” Eichorn said. “Line 3 protects our environment, creates good-paying jobs and invests in our region. This project has been a huge undertaking and I’d like to thank all of those who have worked tirelessly to get Line 3 done.”
The response from organizations opposing the Line 3 project was swift Wednesday. In a statement, the Indigenous Environmental Network wrote, "the Line 3 fight is far from over, it has just shifted gears."
"It's with a heavy heart we receive the news that the U.S. has tragically failed once again to honor our treaties and protect the water that sustains all life on Mother Earth," IEN stated. "Do not think we are going to go quietly into the night, we will continue to stand on the frontlines until every last tar sands pipeline is shut down and Indigenous communities are no longer targeted, but our right to consent or denial is respected.
Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, also released a statement after the announcement.
"Line 3 is a crime against the environment and Indigenous rights, waters and lands, and it marks the end of the tar sands era — but not the end of the resistance to it," LaDuke said. "Enbridge has raced to build this before the Federal court has passed judgment on our appeals about the line, but the people have."
In addition to organizations, opposition to Line 3 has included Native American tribes and elected officials. The opposition to the project has been ongoing for several years and continued during construction.
A few months ago, an appeal was filed by the Red Lake, White Earth and Mille Lacs bands, Honor the Earth, the Young Climate Intervenors, Friends of the Headwaters and the Sierra Club against Enbridge's certificate of need for the project. The Minnesota Court of Appeals held up the certification in June, though.
The Court of Appeals also held up Enbridge's water quality certification in August, after many of the same entities filed a separate appeal. Opponents were dealt another setback the same month when the Minnesota Supreme Court announced it would not take up the appeals.
Opponents of the project continued in September, even getting support from politicians from across the country. On Sept. 4, Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Ayanna Presley and Rashida Tlaib visited Bemidji and the surrounding area, calling on the White House to halt the project.
Over the course of the project's construction, around 900 people have been arrested during protests. Most have been cited with misdemeanors, but many have been charged with gross misdemeanors or felony charges.
The number of legal cases has reportedly strained resources in northern Minnesota counties where the protests have taken place. Some of the arrested protesters have waited months for a public defender.
In recent weeks, opponents of Line 3 have cited two environmental issues caused by the project's construction. One was the breach of an artesian aquifer near Clearbrook.
On Sept. 17, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced that Enbridge had breached the aquifer in January. An artesian aquifer is a confined aquifer containing groundwater, surrounded by layers of impermeable rock or clay.
Instead of digging an 8- to 10-foot deep trench as planned, the company dug an 18-foot trench and installed a sheet piling to a depth of 28 feet. The action breached the aquifer's confining layer and caused an uncontrolled flow of groundwater into the trench.
Enbridge then failed to notify the DNR, and it wasn't until June when it was determined the company had not followed its original plans. In response, the DNR fined Enbridge $3.32 million for the action and referred the matter to the Clearwater County Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution.
"We're asking people to come out and stand against this right now," White Earth Attorney Frank Bibeau said during a news conference in Bagley. "We still have a chance to make them stop. They've probably made a permanent problem right there. The DNR, the governor and the PCA need to come out and stop this."
During the construction meeting, Enbridge Director of Mainline Construction Barry Simonson said the company worked in August, in coordination with the DNR, on a remediation plan. Enbridge is pumping water out of the area and plans to continue working with the DNR as it hires a contractor to seal the breach.
Another issue has been the inadvertent release of drilling fluid, often a mud-like material, by construction equipment. In August, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency stated there had been 28 inadvertent releases of drilling fluid at 12 construction sites along the pipeline route.
Enbridge has said the drilling fluid was contained and then cleaned up under the supervision of environmental inspectors and independent monitors. In response to the releases, the MPCA stated they're investigating for possible violations of Enbridge's permit requirements.
Enbridge plans restoration and cleanup operations to continue and be finished in 2022.
When in operation, Wetmore said the Enbridge control center in Edmonton, Alberta, will be able to monitor the pipeline 24 hours a day. At the control center, Enbridge can stop and start pumps, as well as close valves as needed.