Enbridge’s Line 3 Pipeline was built in the 1960s and is one of six separate pipelines comprising the northern portion of Enbridge’s Mainline System which connects Alberta, Canada’s Tar Sands to the U.S. Midwest for refining and coastal regions for overseas export, with much of the tar sands crude ending up as transportation fuel or single-use plastic products.
In 2014 Enbridge began a permitting process in Minnesota to build a new and larger Line 3 pipeline to “replace” the corroded and deteriorating pipeline which at the time, according to the PUC docket, had more than 900 “structural anomalies”.
Background photo by Lucas Mullikan, @NowLiveFrom
Instead of “replacing” Line 3 in the same trench, during the permitting process Enbridge proposed an entirely new corridor be constructed across 337 miles of what we now call northern Minnesota. The proposed project involved snaking the pipeline through Manoomin (wild rice) beds, rivers, lakes, wetlands and other sensitive ecosystems and places which are sacred and culturally significant to the Anishinaabe way of life.
Despite strong opposition from many Ojibwe tribes & environmental groups, the project received more than two dozen permits from State and Federal agencies including the PUC, DNR, and MPCA. Construction began December 1st, 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The interactive map displayed on this page is courtesy of WatchTheLineMN.org, an all-volunteer effort which monitored construction of Line 3.
Line 3 is designed to carry up to 915,000 barrels per day of a heavy crude called “DilBit”, or “Diluted Bitumen” from Alberta’s tar sands, one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuels on the planet due the amount of energy it takes for its extraction & refinement. Tar sand “oil” is essentially asphalt (bitumen) attached to small particles of sand below the surface. This sand is mined with open pits or underground bore holes and then pulverized with steam to liquify and detach the bitumen particles. At this point it is still too thick to transport via pipeline, so a proprietary blend of chemicals are used to dilute the bitumen so it can be transported by pipeline, which is the only economically viable method for its pathway to market.
“Replacement” has been in quotations throughout this overview because this pipeline was NOT a “replacement” or a maintenance project as it was often referred to in Minnesota news & press. After construction was completed, the new pipeline corridor was staked with signs that read, “Line 93” – a nod to the fact that this was not a “replacement” but an investment in 30-50 years of additional fossil fuel extraction as the planet teeters on the brink of ecological collapse.
For more about the Line 3 / Line 93 pipeline, visit StopLine3.org.
Background Photo Credit: Syncrude Mildred Lake Plant via Wikimedia
10 Things to Know About Line 3
1. Reserved Treaty Rights
Regulators turned a deaf ear to Indigenous Nations who argued Line 3 violated the treaties because construction and oil spills threatened to harm sacred waters, sensitive wetlands, and the treaty-reserved rights to hunt, fish, gather, and hold ceremonies that rely on these precious resources. Line 3 construction has already had a detrimental effect on Manoomin (wild rice) harvests in the region, and other long-term damages are being revealed through the persistent monitoring of citizen scientists as part of groups like Waadookawaad Amikwag.
2. Minnesota’s leaders ignored Native Nations’ other legitimate concerns
The state failed to take seriously the human trafficking risks associated with such a large-scale infrastructure project. Projects like Line 3 attract workers from around the country and offer temporary housing called “mancamps.” Proximity to these mancamps historically increases incidences of violence and disappearances of Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit peoples, men, boys and relatives. The full extent of the harm caused by this aspect of construction is unknown because although Enbridge was denied the use of traditional “mancamps,” these workers were dispersed throughout the local communities in hotels, campgrounds, and short-term rentals. There was no requirement for Enbridge to report any arrests or problems (such as the four Enbridge subcontractors arrested in a sex trafficking sting). Further, Line 3 construction began as the COVID pandemic was just getting started – before a vaccine was available. The State ignored Tribal Nations’ requests to delay construction until a vaccine was available, triggering an influx of potentially infected out-of-state workers into northern Minnesota.
3. State leaders made false promises to Native Nations
At the outset of their administration in 2019, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flannagan issued an executive order promising meaningful consultation with Native Nations. This never happened on Line 3. One example: Enbridge needed to do a lot of dewatering so workers could trench through wet areas. The DNR quietly allowed Enbridge to increase its dewatering request from 510 million gallons of water to nearly 5 billion gallons of water. White Earth leaders sought “meaningful consultation” on this change, noting the dewatering increase was happening during a drought with instream flow at 10% of average. White Earth received no meaningful consultation.
4. Minnesota leaders ignored Line 3’s climate damage
Line 3 will create $287 billion in climate damage worldwide in the next 30 years, according to the state’s environmental impact statement. The PUC dismissed that analysis and approved the project. Both Gov. Walz and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) said climate damage was a top priority. They failed to act on their priority. Furthermore, as of March 2023, Governor Walz’ climate subcabinet has failed to submit an updated report to the Governor since its first edition in 2020.
5. The state didn’t follow its own rules
The state didn’t follow its own rules: One example: Minnesota Rule 6135.1100 says pipeline routes should avoid wetlands, streams, and areas with high water tables, especially if construction requires excavation. (Line 3 involved excavation.) More than 20 percent of Line 3’s route (or 78 miles) crosses wetlands. It crosses more than 200 water bodies. Enbridge told state regulators it couldn’t meet state environmental standards. Apparently rules aren’t rules, but a starting point for companies to negotiate with state regulators.
6. Minnesota’s oversight of Line 3 construction was compromised
The PUC allowed Enbridge to hire and train the “Independent Environmental Monitors” to work on behalf of state regulators such as the MPCA and the DNR. A number of these independent monitors had worked for Enbridge in the past, raising questions about their “independence.”
7. Law enforcement around Line 3 was biased
The PUC allowed Enbridge to reimburse state and local public safety officials for providing Line 3 security. It created a bias against water protectors. Enbridge ultimately paid $8.5 million to public agencies to intimidate, surveil, and crack down on any Line 3 opposition. The DNR, which was supposed to be overseeing Line 3 construction, was the largest single recipient of Enbridge’s largess, getting $2.2 million.
8. As warned, Line 3 construction damaged the environment. Enbridge hasn’t been held accountable
We now know that Enbridge workers ruptured at least three aquifers during Line 3 construction, releasing hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater, violating state law and permits. Enbridge failed to notify the state about one of these aquifer breaches for more than four months when it should have been reported right away. Enbridge also had a number of “frac-outs” where workers released “drilling mud” into the environment, another permit violation. The company has faced minimal fines. Citizen volunteers are now monitoring Line 3 finding more environmental problems that the MPCA and DNR have missed and/or refused to make known to the public (reference 6 & 7 above).
9. Minnesota leaders blew through Line 3 stop signs
An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) handled the contested hearing on behalf of the PUC, taking public and expert testimony and making recommendations. The ALJ said, as Enbrdige proposed Line 3, the costs outweighed the benefits. The PUC approved the permits anyway. The PUC’s mission statement says it is supposed to make decisions in a manner “consistent with the public interest.” The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Division of Energy Regulation and Planning unit intervened before the PUC – acting on behalf of the public interest. The Division said Enbridge had failed to show the new pipeline was needed, and recommended the PUC reject Line 3 permits. The PUC ignored that recommendation, too. (P.S.: The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate fired the Commerce Commissioner for doing his job and filing the lawsuit.)
10. Enbridge failed to meet job promises and wasn’t held accountable:
Some of the PUC Commissioners were falling over themselves to approve the project because of the local jobs Line 3 would create. Enbridge promised 50 percent of the jobs would go to Minnesotans. In Enbrdge’s compliance filing covering jobs through 2021, Minnesota workers only got 37 percent of the jobs, and worked 32 percent of total hours. Enbridge faces no penalties for missing its promise by such a large amount.