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Enbridge pushes back timeline for pipeline projects

ST. PAUL — Enbridge Energy has pushed back the timetable for completing two oil pipeline projects in northern Minnesota, saying this week that its Sandpiper and Line 3 projects won’t be ready until early 2019.

The two projects — Sandpiper would be a new pipeline, while the existing Line 3 would be replaced — had been targeted for completion in 2017. Enbridge attributed the delay to the state permitting process in Minnesota; the news had opponents of the projects declaring victory.

The proposed 616-mile Sandpiper pipeline from the North Dakota Oil Patch to Superior was expected to cost $2.6 billion and initially was slated for completion this year, before that was pushed to 2017 and now 2019. The replacement of Line 3, a 1,031-mile line from northern Alberta to Superior, would increase its capacity and was estimated to cost $7.5 billion, with the American portion costing $2.6 billion.

The reason behind the delay in the projects is the slow regulatory process the pipelines are undergoing in Minnesota, Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said Wednesday. December’s decision by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to require a fully completed environmental impact statement to be done by state agencies before either project gets approved probably will drive the cost of both projects higher, the company said in a news release. Little confirmed costs were likely to rise, but said she did not know exactly what the new price tags would be.

“It really has all to do with the written orders we’ve received” from the Public Utilities Commission, she said. “We filed our petition for reconsideration (of the December decision)… but we don’t have an exact schedule that says ‘these are the next steps.’”

The commission has 60 days to consider Enbridge’s petition.

“We support (an EIS),” Little said, but the issue is “that they’re requiring it to be in its final form, and that’s not typical.”

In past applications, the PUC has allowed an EIS to be developed while other steps of the regulatory process have been worked on, Little said.

The requirement of the final EIS is a victory, said Richard Smith, president of Friends of the Headwaters, which has stood in opposition of the projects’ routes through northern Minnesota’s lakes country. Enbridge has proposed that Sandpiper and Line 3 follow a shared corridor from Clearbrook in northwest Minnesota to Superior.

“Our position from the beginning is that if projects of this magnitude (are) going to be done, a complete EIS needs to be done,” Smith said. “Had the company embraced that in the first place, it’s possible the company may have completed construction of their pipeline by now. It may not have been on the route they wanted, but it may have been over with.”

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that if the PUC needs more staff to deal with the two Enbridge projects, he will ask the Legislature for more money when he submits a revised budget to lawmakers next month.

He told reporters he can support adding staff if the commission needs it "in order to keep things moving along (on) that project, or any project, on a timely basis." He said he already made that offer to the commission.

"These are huge projects," Dayton said of the pipeline plans.

Attempts to reach PUC Executive Secretary Dan Wolf on Wednesday regarding Dayton’s offer were unsuccessful.

Dayton said there is little more he can do to speed up pipeline construction. State law requires "hands off by the governor and the administration" in making pipeline permitting decisions. "I support that."

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has blamed the Dayton administration for slowing progress on pipelines and Northeastern Minnesota copper-nickel mines.

The delay of the Enbridge pipelines is “a win for pipeline opponents, and a win for (the regulatory) process,” said Andy Pearson of MN350, an environmental group which has staged regular protests across the state against oil extraction and transportation.

Pearson questioned the need for added oil pipeline capacity.

“The only thing you need to do is open up the newspaper or turn on the TV,” Pearson said. “What’s happening in the Bakken right now, with so many companies pulling out of production … demand for that oil is drying up. Enbridge has to be hearing this internally.”

North Dakota oil production has been slipping, but remains above 1 million barrels per day; the number of drilling rigs operating in the state has gone from more than 170 to just over 40.

“If collectively, we avoid construction of a project that is risky, and ultimately not needed, that’s a win for the state and those who would have had to work on (constructing) a dangerous project,” Pearson said.

Forum News Service reporter Don Davis contributed to this report.

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 rjeffries@forumcomm.com and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.

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