PUC Staff Recommends Line 3 Replacement
The Minnesota Public Utility Commission will meet next week to determine whether Enbridge Energy may go forward with its plan to replace its Line 3 pipeline in that state, and PUC staff last week issued a briefing recommending the project’s approval but disagreeing with an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the new line only be permitted along the exact route of the current one.
The PUC staff’s briefing, like the judge’s ruling, serves as advice for the PUC itself when it makes its decision, expected later this month. Judge Ann O’Reilly recommended in April that the replacement be granted a certificate of need, but that the approval be tied to Enbridge placing the new line on the same route as the old Line 3.
Enbridge has expressed that it would like to use a different route for parts of the new line. The project is opposed by some Native American tribes whose land the line currently crosses; a mandate to keep the pipeline on the same route could open the project up to legal challenges from those tribes. The PUC reportedly cannot require the tribes to allow the replacement on their land, where an easement for six pipelines expires in 2029.
Pipe Size Differences
The PUC staff briefing suggests that the certificate should be issued, and that the PUC should be open to route changes if Enbridge proves their value. The staff also disagrees with the judge’s recommendation that the line be no larger than 34 inches in diameter; the new line being laid as part of the Line 3 replacement in other states is 36 inches, and the PUC staff says in its briefing that the commission should be open to the use of 36-inch pipeline in Minnesota as well.
The Line 3 replacement, the largest project in Enbridge’s history, is already underway in Canada and Wisconsin and would lower the risk for a pipeline breach due to corrosion on the 50-year old pipeline, which is operating at limited capacity because of concerns over its disbonding tapecoat. Replacing the 34-inch line, which cannot be returned to full service capacity, with a new 36-inch line would allow the company to move nearly twice as much oil through the line as it currently does.
LIne 3 runs from Alberta to Wisconsin via Saskatchewan, Manitoba, a small part of North Dakota and Minnesota; Minnesota is the only jurisdiction not to have issued a final permit for the work yet.
The line currently transports 390,000 barrels per day of light, medium and heavy crudes; the new line would convey 760,000 per day, with a design capacity of 844,000 barrels per day.
The PUC meets this Monday and Tuesday to consider the project; if a certificate of need is granted, it would be the final major permit needed for the full replacement to move forward. The project would replace more than 1,000 miles of pipeline at a reported cost of $6.5 billion.