MINNEAPOLIS -- Enbridge announced Wednesday that construction on the upgrade of its Line 3 crude oil pipeline across Minnesota is “substantially complete” and that the company will start filling it with oil later this week.
The Canadian-based company's president and CEO, Al Monaco, said in a statement that the pipeline “will soon deliver the low-cost and reliable energy that people depend on every day.”
The project was completed despite stiff opposition from tribes, environmentalists and others who argued that the 1,097 mile (1,765-kilometer) pipeline — including the 337-mile (542-kilometer) segment across Minnesota — would violate treaty rights, worsen climate change and risk spills in waters where Native Americans harvest wild rice. They note it would carry oil from Alberta's tar sands, a heavier crude that consumes more energy and generates more carbon dioxide in the refining process than lighter oil, making it an even bigger contributor to climate change.
Line 3 opponents promised to keep fighting, though their legal options going forward are fading. And they vowed to hold President Joe Biden and other politicians accountable for failing to stop the project. More than 900 people have been arrested or ticketed at protests along the route since construction began in December.
”This is not the outcome we hoped for, but the fight to stop Line 3 has always been a fight for climate justice and a future free from fossil fuels, and that fight will not stop just because Enbridge has succeeded in building this pipeline,” Margaret Levin, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
A leading face of the opposition, Winona LaDuke, executive director of the Indigenous-based environmental group Honor the Earth, paid tribute to the many people from across the country who came to Minnesota to protest.
“Your brave efforts about Enbridge’s Line 3 have reshaped the world’s views on the climate crisis we are in, the Treaty Rights of the Anishinaabe, and the escalating divestment in fossil fuels around the world and here at home," LaDuke said in a statement. "You are the true heroes of this tragic saga.”
At a news conference later, LaDuke called on Biden to stand by his promise to be a “climate president.” But she said they’re pinning their hopes on the federal courts, which she noted have made rulings against the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, and on the White Earth Ojibwe tribal court in northern Minnesota.
The main remaining tasks are cleanup and restoration along the route, Leo Golden, an Enbridge vice president in charge of the project, said in an interview. Some parts have already been completely restored with crops and native grasses growing on them, he said. But construction mats still need to be removed from wetlands and other cleanup and restoration work will continue through next summer.
“We're not done restoring until we go to the landowners and we walk the land with them and they say ‘Yes, you’re done' and sign off," Golden said.
Enbridge said the project was necessary to replace a deteriorating pipeline built in the 1960s, which could carry only half its original volume of oil, and to ensure the reliable delivery of crude to U.S. refineries. Enbridge expects to start running the pipeline at its full capacity of 760,000 barrels per day in mid-October.
Line 3 starts in Alberta, Canada, and clips a corner of North Dakota before crossing Minnesota en route to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. The Canadian, North Dakota and Wisconsin segments were finished earlier and the Canadian and Wisconsin legs are already in service. The process of filling the line starts in North Dakota on Friday, Golden said. Enbridge puts the cost at $5.3 billion Canadian dollars for the Canadian section and $4 billion U.S. dollars for the work in the U.S.
Opponents have challenged the pipeline's permits in court to no avail so far. They've also unsuccessfully sought to persuade Biden, who canceled a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline soon after taking office, to intervene.
A challenge is still pending in federal court to a permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but that case didn't block construction. Opponents can still ask the state Supreme Court to review a clean water certification granted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Also, a novel “rights of nature” lawsuit is pending in the White Earth tribal court. It names Manoomin — the Ojibwe word for wild rice — as one of the plaintiffs. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has asked a federal appeals court to block that case.
“We are confident that the (tribal) court will hold that the rights of wild rice should supersede the rights of the Canadian multinational. ... And we will ask the federal government to uphold the decisions that are made in our court,” LaDuke told reporters.
But LaDuke was vague when asked whether future protests and civil disobedience are planned.
“We will see what our communities do," she said. "We will see.”