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Enbridge says delaying Line 3 oil pipeline not a serious issue

An overflow crowd of more than 200 people watch a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission meeting Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, as commissioners consider delaying reports on a northern Minnesota oil pipeline project. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Commissioner John Tuma of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission asks questions of opponents of a replacement northern Minnesota oil pipelne during a Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, meeting. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL—A replacement crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota could be completed by the end of 2019, even with a delay approved by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The PUC on Tuesday, Jan. 9, bumped back the date it wants to receive a report from March 30 until April 23. While some pipeline supporters said that would mean pipeline construction could not start next year, Shannon Gustafson of pipeline owner Enbridge said even with the delay the pipeline could be done by its deadline.

However, Enbridge still must win PUC approval before it can proceed with construction and that is not certain.

Gustafson said Enbridge thinks the PUC can approve the pipeline by the end of June, but that does not take into account potential lawsuits that could be brought by environmental groups and American Indian tribes that oppose the company's plans to rebuild and partially reroute Line 3 that stretches from North Dakota into Wisconsin.

All five PUC commissioners voted in favor of the delay on Tuesday.

The vote means the commission does not expect a report from an administrative law judge until April 23. The judge traveled the state last year collecting testimony about the Line 3 proposal. She and state Commerce Department officials said they could not meet earlier deadlines, which had the PUC making a final decision in April.

Enbridge attorney Eric Swanson suggested the April 23 deadline to "get the process back on track." He also suggested several other deadlines for the PUC, which commissioners did not approve.

Project opponents said the April deadline would not give them enough time to react.

Besides, Joe Plummer said, there is no urgency to approve the Line 3 project.

"They have 2.6 billion barrels a day capacity right now," said Plummer, an attorney for the White Earth and Red Lake bands, adding that Enbridge already has six pipelines in the area.

Tuesday's hearing was attended by more than 200 people: a combination of American Indians and environmentalists who oppose the pipeline, and union workers and others who support it.

Commissioners said they have not decided whether to approve Line 3, and called Tuesday's debate simply one about process.

Commissioner John Tuma said he was not comfortable telling the judge she had to have her report in by April 23 because he did not want to micromanage her schedule. Commissioners also said the judge is not bound by a PUC-instituted deadline.

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.