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Minn. regulator misjudged in-trench oil line replacement, Enbridge says

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Minn. regulator misjudged in-trench oil line replacement, Enbridge says

Enbridge Inc. took issue with a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission judge's recommendations for how the company could replace its Line 3 crude oil pipeline, arguing in a May 9 filing that the judge downplayed safety and environmental risks and tribal objections.

In recommending that Enbridge's project to increase capacity on the aging Line 3 pipeline system go forward, the administrative law judge had said the company should remove the existing line and put the new one in its place, rather than abandoning the old line where it is and creating a separate corridor for the new project.

Calling the judge's analysis "flawed," Enbridge took exception to the recommendation. Replacing the pipe where it is "increases safety risks by requiring extended construction activity in an already congested corridor, requires extended outages on a system already failing to meet customer demand, ignores tribal sovereignty, crosses 12 more cities and over 150 more High Consequence Areas ... than the [alternative], and imposes more impacts on wetlands, water bodies and previously recorded historic resources than the [alternative]," Enbridge said in its filing.

Enbridge said the judge's report focused too heavily on the potential for spills, taking issue with the judge's position that spills within an existing pipeline corridor would be less problematic than introducing a new pipeline corridor to the state. Spills are a hypothetical concern, Enbridge contended, and the regulator should concern itself more with the potential for environmental damage during construction.

Removing the original pipeline and building a new one would effectively constitute two construction projects, resulting in longer and greater impacts, and would require a wider construction workspace, increasing the disruption to the area, Enbridge said.

"While the report downplays these impacts under the premise that replacing a pipeline in trench will keep things the way they are, the reality is that the resources along this route are, at best, no less important and no less sensitive than those along the [alternative preferred route]," Enbridge wrote.

Enbridge also expressed concern about the safety of working within the existing pipeline corridor. Since Line 3 was installed in the 1960s, more pipelines have been built in the immediate vicinity, sometimes as close as 10 feet to Enbridge's existing pipe. Other pipes also cross over Line 3 at 32 locations, adding to the complexity and risk of removing the line and installing new pipe, Enbridge said.

Testimony in the proceeding had indicated that it is possible to safely execute an in-trench replacement, but Enbridge disagreed and said the safety and environmental risks associated with the in-trench work were significant.

Enbridge cited testimony from Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tribe indicating opposition to in-trench replacement, especially in light of the high-density of pipelines already operating within the corridor. About 10% of Minnesota's fresh water lies within the Leech Lake Reservation, and the reservation is the site of the state's most abundant wild rice resources, Enbridge noted.