Enbridge: On track to put new Line 3 into service next year

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The hearing room was tense as commissioners explained their problems with - and, ultimately, their support for - the pipeline, which will cross about 340 miles of northern Minnesota on its route from Alberta to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wis. Mark Dayton called for calm after a regulator cleared the way for the start of the permitting process of a new Enbridge oil pipeline. "It feels like a gun to our head that compels us to approve a new line ... but the gun is real and it's loaded".

As the Public Utilities Commission nears a vote, Tania Aubid leaves the room and tells commissioners, "You have just declared war on the Ojibwe people". Brent Murcia, of the group Youth Climate Intervenors, added: "We will not let this stand".

Referring to protests that drew thousands of people to the Standing Rock reservation in neighboring North Dakota in 2016 and 2017 to rally against the Dakota Access pipeline, she says, "This is Minnesota's Standing Rock".

Others welcomed Thursday's vote, including Bob Schoneberger, founder of Minnesotans for Line 3.

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In a statement Thursday night, Enbridge President and CEO Al Monaco said the company is "pleased" with the commission's decision. "Not only will Line 3 bring great benefits to Minnesota workers and our state's economy, it is critical to supplying our entire region with affordable, reliable energy". "The PUC's decision is not the final approval of this pipeline", he said.

The path of a short stretch near Fond du Lac reserve will be determined by negotiations between the tribe and Enbridge.

After the commission issues a formal written order in the next few weeks, opponents can then file appeals.

Several commissioners said the issue was hard. Commissioners Lipschultz and Katie Sieben voted against the route. The 1,000-mi Line 3 project would help carry about 370,000 more bbl of heavy and light crude a day from Hardisty, Alberta, to a storage hub in Superior, Wisconsin.

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Much of the debate has focused on whether Minnesota and Midwest refineries need the extra oil. The pipeline replacement is necessary for Enbridge as it now can transport only half of its capacity.

Opponents are concerned about the need for new fossil fuel infrastructure and the danger of an oil spill near vulnerable ecosystems in Minnesota, including areas where Native Americans harvest wild rice, which is sacred to the Ojibwe. The company said they would continue running the existing unsafe pipeline if a replacement was not approved, The Associated Press reported. Lange said earlier this year that the dispute was likely to end up in court, regardless of what the commission decides. Construction is underway on the short segment that crosses northeastern North Dakota and on the longer section from Alberta to the USA border, and Enbridge plans to continue that work.

Analysts say the approvals remove a negative overhang on Enbridge's business plan as the project is the largest part of its $22-billion capital growth program over the next two years.

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