FLOODWOOD - What began as a discussion about a massive, very technical document quickly turned into a debate over the merits of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement itself during a civil and at times emotional public hearing at the Downtown Fair Center on Thursday morning.
Nearly 50 people showed up for the hearing on the pipeline's environmental review, though only a handful spoke. Of those, most were pipeline opponents who cited environmental, tribal, property and social issues as reasons to deny a new oil pipeline running through the state and the abandonment of the existing Line 3 pipe.
"This is just another corporation coming in with a bad deal, thinking we are too ignorant to recognize it and thinking we are too poor to do anything about it," Laura Eustice told the crowd of local residents, state officials and other guests.
Enbridge is proposing a 1,031-mile pipeline to replace the aging Line 3, which would be deactivated, cleaned out and left in place. The replacement would carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from the tar sands of Alberta to the company's terminal in Superior, establishing a new route between Clearwater and Superior.
Thursday morning's hearing was one of 22 the state is holding over several weeks on the project's draft environmental impact statement. A final version of that document, along with further public and stakeholder input, will guide the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's decision on whether to approve the $7.5 billion pipeline or not. A decision is expected next spring.
The environmental review shows the new pipeline would present less environmental risk than the proposed alternatives, though opponents say the best way to minimize risk is to keep the oil in the ground and remove the old pipeline.
"I think of Enbridge as a guest here. We've invited them; we keep inviting them back," Jeanne Fahlstrom said. "And as guests, they should clean up their mess."
Following the hearing, Enbridge spokeswoman Shannon Gustafson said in response to concerns about the age and state of Line 3 that the existing pipeline "is safe in its current operation."
"Anomalies, referenced in conjunction with this concern, are not leaks," she wrote in an email. "They are potential irregularities in the pipe that are closely monitored and inspected as part of our systematic preventative maintenance activities to ensure continued safe operation."
The best way forward, Enbridge says - and for the company most cost-effective - would be to build a replacement pipeline.
David Barnett, a representative of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, said the project promises good jobs for union workers and that a new pipeline would bring better technology to carry oil across the state.
"If you stepped out of your newer vehicle today and got into your 1960s vehicle, you'd notice a difference," he said. "It's the same with pipelines."
Several speakers said worker camps, like those on the North Dakota oil patch, pose an increased risk of sex trafficking. Barnett said such a thing would not happen on this project - the union workers poised to work on the pipeline would be drug- and alcohol-tested and held to higher standards than the open shops on the Bakken.
Much attention was given to Enbridge's plans to leave the old Line 3 in the ground after taking it offline and cleaning it out. Though the company will monitor the pipeline as it degrades in the ground, many are urging the state to require the company to remove segments at a landowner's request.
"If a property owner who has graciously hosted Enbridge's Line 3 for decades ... wants that pipeline removed from their property, is it on Enbridge or is it the landowner?" asked Allen Richardson with the group Minnesotans for Pipeline Cleanup, urging state agencies to further study the issue before issuing a final environmental impact statement. "We're establishing a precedent here with pipeline abandonment."
Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement
The draft environmental impact statement and a complete list of meetings can be found at the Duluth and Carlton public libraries and online at mn.gov/commerce/energyfacilities/line3.
Written comments on the document will be accepted through July 10 and can be sent to Pipeline.CommentsJamie MacAlister, Environmental Review Manager, 85 Seventh Place E., Suite 280, St. Paul MN 55101-2198.
The next public hearing in the region will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday in Cloquet at Fond du Lac Community College, 2101 14th St.