LEECH LAKE, Minn. - An aging oil pipeline is set to be removed from tribal lands east of Bemidji.
Enbridge Inc. agreed with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe leaders to remove the company's existing Line 3 oil pipeline from the reservation if or when it gets the go-ahead to build a replacement. The new pipeline would circumvent the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.
The agreement between the multinational energy company and the band was negotiated this fall and filed with state regulators Thursday. It also establishes some emergency plans for the removal project and includes a broad commitment from the company to work with the band on green energy projects.
"We get it out of the ground," said Lenny Fineday, an attorney for the band, of the existing Line 3. "From 2012 and '13, when Enbridge first approached us about the pipeline deteriorating, that has been our No. 1 goal."
The replacement Line 3 project has drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists and American Indian activists. It's set to replace the existing 50-year old line and carry 760,000 barrels of oil daily from Alberta, Canada, to Superior.
The company negotiated a 20-year, $10 million right-of-way agreement with the band for the six pipelines that run through the reservation, including Line 3, in 2009.
Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission granted the oil and gas giant a "certificate of need" for the replacement project on the condition - one of five - that it remove the existing Line 3 pipe if property owners asked it to, and Leech Lake did.
"Leech Lake has basically been a pipeline superhighway for the past 50 years," Fineday said. "To us, the big thing is we got Line 3 out and it's not gonna be on the reservation anymore. And now, how do we look to the next one to get that one off the reservation?"
Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said the company and band will work to develop specific programs and projects under the removal agreement.
In August, Enbridge reached a separate agreement with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which owns land through which the company wants to build the new Line 3. An alternate proposed route would have gone through territory the band ceded in the 1800s. A few days before that agreement was announced, Tribal Chairman Kevin Dupuis said there was no ideal outcome there.
"All options threaten the environment for all and livelihood of the indigenous people of Minnesota," he said.
The Leech Lake agreement was filed the same day utilities commission members unanimously denied a petition to reconsider the new Line 3 pipeline's 338-mile route through Minnesota. Petitioners argued the line's route permit would damage the environment by creating a new pipeline corridor in the state.
The commission was responsible for considering the project's route permit and certificate of need. It officially granted the certificate in September after giving initial approval at a contentious meeting in June. Petitions to reconsider the certificate were denied last month.
Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, an American Indian-led environmental group opposing the pipeline, said in a statement the utilities commission "continues to act as a rogue public body, ignoring the will of state agencies, tribal interests and Minnesota citizens. More astonishing - and pathetically - its final approvals come sandwiched between two recent major climate studies - including one from the Trump administration - warning of the imminent, dire threats of adding more carbon into the atmosphere."