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No Dakota-type Minnesota pipeline protest--EMDASH--yet

Minnesota Mark Dayton tells reporters on Thursday, July 6, that he has thought about the possibility that the site of a controversial pipeline in the northern part of his state will turn into a seige like what occurred in North Dakota. He said Minnesota has a lot of time-consuming processes to go through before the pipeline could be approved. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
Map of line 3 project (Enbridge graphic)2 / 3
Minnesota leaders say they want to prevent this from happening at a northern Minnesota pipeline project. This photo was taken Oct. 15, 2016, as about 150 Dakota Access Pipeline protesters ended in a stand-off with 100 law enforcement officers in south-central North Dakota. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune3 / 3

ST. PAUL—A controversial northern Minnesota oil pipeline is not about to become the site of a protest like that seen for months in North Dakota.

At least not yet.

"We are still quite a ways away from that," Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday, July 6.

Others agree, but there are no guarantees that if Enbridge receives permission to replace its Line 3 pipeline that everything will remain calm up north.

There has been talk that the Minnesota pipeline will attract Dakota Access Pipeline protesters who set up for months in south-central North Dakota. Thousands protested a pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, a pipeline segment that eventually was finished.

Enbridge wants to replace its aging Line 3, which carries Canadian oil to Superior, Wis. It would go through areas conservationists say are environmentally sensitive and along reservation land.

Nationally known American Indian activist Winona LaDuke has said that "tens of thousands" of protesters will show up if Minnesota approves the pipeline. She belongs to western Minnesota's White Earth Nation and is Honor the Earth executive director.

Line 3 is a 1,097-mile crude oil pipeline built in the 1960s. Enbridge has applied to the state to replace and relocate it, and to allow the new pipe to carry more oil. It would cost $7.5 billion.

Enbridge asked for permission to replace Line 3 in 2014 and on Monday, July 10, the state Commerce Department wraps up accepting comments on a draft environmental impact statement. The report was discussed at 27 public meetings over more than 15 months.

Commerce Department officials will finish its environmental report, and perhaps next year the state Public Utilities Commission could decide whether to allow the pipeline to proceed. Courts already have been involved in the pipeline, and likely would be called in again before construction can start.

President Richard Smith of Friends of the Headwaters said it is too early to predict a Dakota Access-type situation.

"While there are certainly groups and leaders who speculate about the prospects for replicating the Standing Rock protests in Minnesota, it's important for people to understand that the ... situations are very different," he said. "Most significantly, Standing Rock and its supporters did not have an environmental impact statement (ordered by) the courts until DAPL was already in the ground and most permits had been issued."

Enbridge has no permits for its Minnesota project.

Smith's group went to court to get an environmental study required, and the state Supreme Court eventually agreed.

"That is the difference" between North Dakota and Minnesota situations, Smith said.

Friends of the Headwaters is "not an anti-pipeline group," Smith said. It just does not think an oil pipeline should go through such environmentally sensitive areas as Enbridge proposes. The group has proposed an alternative route.

Natalie Cook of the Northstar Sierra Club chapter agreed with Smith and the governor about a Dakota-style protest. "We are not there yet."

Instead, those opposed to the pipeline have rallied and have filled meetings discussing its potential environmental impact. Up to a couple hundred people have attended some meetings, Cook said.

Any massive protest "is a long ways off," she said, adding: "But it also is something people care about."

Sierra and other groups have been working to make sure the Commerce Department has all available information before recommending how to proceed to the Public Utilities Commission.

Any major protest may be months or years away, but Dayton said, "I certainly have thought about it."

"Certainly there are people who are very alarmed by the prospect of the line," the governor said.

He said Minnesota has an "elaborate process established by law" to make sure the environment is protected before permits are issued to build.

Still, Dayton said, "there is no environmentally guaranteed way to transport oil and other forms of energy."

If the new pipeline is rejected, oil trains are the next likely option, he said. "I have seen them blow up."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.