Last week, in northern Wisconsin, protesters succeeded again in temporarily halting construction of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline.
Also last week, in St. Paul, the Minnesota Department of Commerce offered its debatable opinion that not only is a new Line 3 not needed, "Minnesota would be better off if Enbridge proposed to cease operations of the existing Line 3."
All in all, not a great week for Enbridge and its work to replace aging infrastructure via what really ought to be a routine and welcomed improvement project. Instead, embroiled in politics and the target of environmental extremism, Line 3 has been made into just the latest front in what has become a war against fossil fuels.
Never mind that our nation is moving steadily away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy and going greener. And never mind that we aren't completely there yet and that strong demand and need remain for petroleum products, everything from gas for our cars to home heating oil to nail polish to electrician's tape. The persistent and not-always lawful opposition to Line 3, like the Dakota Access Pipeline protests last year, makes clear that any oil industry activity will be met with determination and, too often, ugliness. That's just where things seem to be.
Yes, corporations, like the rest of us, have to follow laws and regulations, and when they don't, they do deserve to be called out, protested, and punished. Right now, however, even when they do everything right, they're being attacked.
But here's another reality. State and federal law remains on the side of projects like the Line 3 upgrade. There are pathways written into statutes and the regulations so such projects - that the vast majority of Americans want and need, on which our economy depends, and that once were seen as unremarkable and a matter of course - can be completed.
"The reality is we need energy for a host of reasons, but we also have to be very cognizant about environmental protection," Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said in a meeting in August with the News Tribune Editorial Board, a conversation that explored the current state of energy and fossil-fuel affairs.
"We all know that there is a transition to a lower-carbon economy. That's going to take time to happen, though," Monaco said. "In the meantime we're focused on making sure people have energy today. We're doing it well and doing it in a sustainable way."
Critics who vilify and demonize Enbridge and its oil pipelines might be surprised to know that 50 percent of its assets are in natural gas. Or that it has been doing wind projects for 15 years. Or that it currently has 23 renewable projects in solar, geothermal, and wind energy.
Or that there are about 550 Enbridge employees living, working, raising families and spending their salaries in the Twin Ports. The company has been a responsible corporate citizen here since 1949.
"I think we have a great relationships with the community and a pretty good track record. The No. 1 priority for us is safety and reliability," Monaco said. "It really translates into something probably very much more important, which is public trust. And in our business ... to gain the public trust to operate well and effectively and to give us license to do what we do, we need to be top notch in safety."
That commitment to safety and to being environmentally responsible is a huge part of the drive behind replacing Line 3. Like a beater car, the 50-year-old line increasingly needs fixing. An estimated 6,000 maintenance activities are forecasted in Minnesota alone in the coming 15 years. The line has to operate at only about half its capacity due to its age.
The alternative to pipelines is transporting oil by train, a less-safe option that includes oil tankers rolling through our cities.
Replacing Line 3 is $7.5 billion project, including $1.5 billion of direct spending and 4,200 construction jobs in northern Minnesota. Indirectly, the project is expected to generate $500 million of additional economic activity in our state, including 2,800 retail and hospitaly jobs and 1,600 manufacturing and construction supply jobs.
With so much economic benefit and with the need to meet our nation's demand for energy and petroleum products, the Line 3 replacement is seen by Enbridge as absolutely necessary.
"We see this as a critical infrastructure replacement project, just like you would see the renewal of bridges, roads, airports, and railways; we see this in the same light," Monaco said. "The renewal will essentially result in the most up-to-date technology used in energy transportation today, including the type of steel, the quality of that steel, the welding practices, the construction practices, the coating processes that we use. All which will effectively result in a material upgrade to existing infrastructure. The current line is safe, obviously. But we think that in order to minimize the disruption of future maintenance activities on the community and to renew this infrastructure, we have to move forward with the project."
That means protests - even if what's being protested isn't always the project itself but the the continued use of fossil fuels overall.
"The people who are, let's say, concerned about the legitimate issues and the things that come up with these types of projects have an opportunity to speak up in the process," Monaco said. "We can't prevent those that may ultimately want to protest. ... Whenever there is information that tells us there will be protests, we offer to engage with people, and we offer to talk to them about it. We're not going to shy away from that."
Moving forward also means continuing to follow and abide by Minnesota's robust and thorough environmental-review and regulatory process. The final environmental impact statement for the project was released in August. Comments on its adequacy are due Sept. 25. A new round of public hearings, on top of more than 60 already held, begins next week. And court-like evidentiary hearings are scheduled in St. Paul in November.
The Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a final determination by April 30 to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the project.
"I don't want to say what we would do (if it's denied) or whether there's a plan B because we're focused on executing the plan," Monaco said. "The process is such that if there was an issue with some particular part of the line, maybe there's a water crossing (that's a concern), we would easily go back and remedy that. People have had that opportunity to give us their input. We're open to making changes."
And to following the statutes and regulations that include a pathway to approval.