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Enbridge hopes to see Line 3 pipeline installed next year

Map of Line 3 replacement pipeline (photo courtesy of Enbridge)

While it's not exactly clear sailing, it's at least choppy sailing for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project, which got the go-ahead in June from the Minnesota Public Utilities commission.

Construction is expected to start early next year, and the pipeline is expected to be up and running by the end of the year.

While there are still court battles to be fought, a host of lesser permits to be obtained, and protests that have been promised by opponents, Enbridge hopes to replace an existing crude oil pipeline from Canada to Superior, Wis., with thicker, larger pipe that can move up to 760,000 barrels of oil per day.

The project cost is set at $2.9 billion and it will provide about 8,600 jobs over two years, many of them well-paying union jobs, with about three-quarters of them local.

The existing pipeline is running at half-capacity and roughly follows Highway 2 from Bemidji to Wisconsin, running through the Leech Lake Reservation, which has said the pipeline is no longer welcome.

So the Line 3 pipeline will follow a new route to avoid Leech Lake, running from Clearbrook into Hubbard County, where it will skirt the western border with Becker County and then turn and skirt the southern border with Wadena County.

From there it goes through Cass and Aitkin counties to link up with the existing route just before entering the Fond du Lac Reservation, which reached an agreement in August with Enbridge to allow replacement on the existing route.

Opponents fear the new pipeline will eventually leak oil into the porous soils and shallow aquifer in Hubbard county. The White Earth Tribal Council, for one, strongly opposes the project.

"Clearly, any benefit the pipeline will provide for its Canadian owners is outweighed by the risks the tar sands pipeline will present to the residents, the environment, the waters, the wild rice, and many other things that we value," the council said in a news release. White Earth also strongly questioned whether the pipeline meets the criteria of being "needed" in Minnesota, since it will be capable of moving far more oil than the state's refineries need.

Enbridge says new pipeline will be safer because of thicker pipe and better pipe coating. The existing pipeline was built in 1968 and construction involved a tape-like product that was wrapped around pipe in the field. It hasn't held up well, said Juli Kellner, communications specialist with Enbridge.

Pipeline built in 1950 with an older, messier, labor-intensive sealing method has actually held up better, she said. The new Line 3 pipeline uses a different, epoxy-bonded sealant (seafoam green) that comes with the pipe.

The new pipeline route will follow the existing MinnCan pipeline route in places and will follow transmission line corridors for much of the rest of the route, Kellner said.

Land restoration and deactivation of the original Line 3 are expected to continue through 2020 and beyond as needed. Landowners get the option of leaving the old pipeline or having it pulled up and the remaining segments capped.