A court-ordered do-over of Enbridge Energy's Sandpiper pipeline environmental review, now paired with the company's Line 3 review, is underway in earnest with public hearings by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
Hearings were held Thursday morning and evening in Carlton as supporters and opponents engage in another round of debate on whether the oil pipelines should be built across northern Minnesota and, if so, where they should go.
Last year the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered the new environmental review for Sandpiper, ruling the Commerce Department and Public Utilities Commission didn't follow state law in developing the first one.
It will take most of 2016 to come up with a draft decision on whether Minnesota needs the pipelines and, if so, what route they should follow. Yet another round of public input is planned for early 2017 with more hearings later that year and a final route decision late in 2017.
If approved, Enbridge hopes begin construction in 2018 and have the Sandpiper line moving oil by 2019, Enbridge spokeswoman Shannon Gustafson said Thursday.
Sandpiper is an all-new pipeline proposed to move Bakken oil field crude from North Dakota to refineries in the Midwest and South. Enbridge wants the 30-inch pipeline to run from Clearbrook in northwestern Minnesota across Polk, Red Lake, Clearwater, Hubbard, Wadena, Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin and Carlton counties in Minnesota and on to Superior, where the company has a major storage and transfer facility.
The Line 3 Replacement Project would do just that - replace an old pipeline that the company says is nearing the end of its practical life moving Canadian oil into the U.S. Enbridge proposes following the existing Line 3 from the Minnesota-North Dakota border to Clearbrook and then following the Sandpiper line across the state and into Superior - about 337 miles within Minnesota.
Because the lines will follow the same path, the Court of Appeals ruled in September that their combined impact needed to be considered in a new environmental review. The state Supreme Court declined to change that ruling.
The so-called scoping hearings now underway are aimed at developing the major issues to be studied in the environmental review.
Supporters say the pipelines are the safest way to move oil still in demand by consumers and that their approval already has been needlessly stalled. The new pipelines will help ensure abundant fuel for Minnesota consumers, farmers and businesses, they say.
"They've been delayed far too long," said Mike Franklin of the Minnesota Ag Energy Alliance of gas stations, trade unions, utilities and other businesses, calling them "vitally important projects."
Franklin said the projects will pump $2.3 billion into the state economy during construction and add $25 million annually to county, city and school district coffers through added property taxes.
But critics of the pipelines questioned their need Thursday, saying the U.S. already is awash in cheap oil that's spurring faster global warming. More oil pumped, refined and burned will only make the problem worse, they said.
"The effects of climate change require a decrease in reliance on fossil fuels," said Linda Herron.
Opponents also questioned the route across and along the Northland's many lakes, rivers and wetlands, saying the potential harm of any future oil spill outweighs any benefits. Others said the lines should be aimed south, away from the Northland, and instead run across farmland and developed areas.
"We are not anti-pipeline. We are anti put the pipeline in a bad place," said Steve Schulstrom of the Carlton County Land Stewards group.
Harvey Goodsky Jr. of rural McGregor said his Anishinaabe people have been sustained by the region's land and water for centuries and that a single oil spill could cause catastrophic damage to wild rice and clean water.
"Once you put those chemicals in the water, what does it take to get them out?" Goodsky asked. "Food and water is what (is important to us) to survive. Not how much gas is. If you put this oil this close... you will deny our way of life. Take it where there is no water to destroy."
Opponents have asked the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to name a new responsible government agency, other than the Commerce Department, to oversee the new environmental review.
Additional public hearings to set the scope of the environmental review are set for Monday in St. Paul, Tuesday in Bagley and Wednesday in McGregor. Written comments will be accepted through May 26 online at www.sandpiperline3.us. They also can be emailed to Pipeline.Comments@state.mn.us; mailed to Jamie MacAlister, Environmental Review Manager, Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 Seventh Place East, Suite 500 St. Paul, MN, 55101; or faxed to (651) 539-0109.