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Activist groups sue over Enbridge pipeline

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tribal and environmental groups are suing the U.S. State Department for approving a plan by a Canadian pipeline company to increase the flow of crude oil from Alberta into Minnesota.

The Sierra Club, the White Earth Nation and other groups filed the federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking an injunction to halt the project, according to the Star Tribune newspaper. The State Department approved, without first reviewing environmental effects, Enbridge Energy’s plan to construct and operate a pipeline that crosses the U.S.-Canada border, according to the lawsuit.

Enbridge won regulatory approval from Minnesota in August to complete a $200 million upgrade of the company’s 1,000-mile Alberta Clipper pipeline, boosting its flow by adding pumping stations. The line carries heavy crude from the Alberta oil sands region across the state, supplying refineries across the Midwest.

Part of the upgrade is finished, but the State Department has not approved a presidential permit for Enbridge to increase cross-border oil shipments.

In July, the State Department approved Enbridge’s plan to increase its cross-border oil flows by shifting the crude into Line 3, an underused pipeline that already had a presidential permit to operate at higher volumes. The line also carries Canadian crude to Midwest refineries but operates at a reduced flow for safety reasons.

The 1960s-era Line 3 is corroded and has ruptured several times. Enbridge officials said the company plans to rebuild the pipeline by 2017.

To facilitate the switch, Enbridge replaced a 17.5-mile segment of Line 3 at the border so the pipe could operate at capacity and installed valves linking it to the parallel Alberta Clipper. The flows of the two lines are switched at that point, but after the crude enters the U.S., valves send it back into the newer Alberta Clipper line.

The State Department decided the switch was legal under Line 3’s existing permit.

The Alberta Clipper extends from Hardisty, Alberta, across northeastern North Dakota and northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. The line can transport up to 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day, but Enbridge wants to increase capacity to 800,000 barrels per day.

According to the lawsuit, that kind of increase requires environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, and the State Department must sign off on the plan, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.

“It’s very, very worrisome that the State Department is allowing Enbridge to refuse to go through the standard U.S. environmental review process,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups bringing the lawsuit.

State Department officials said the agency does not comment on litigation, according to the Star Tribune.

Officials from Enbridge, which is not a defendant, said they believe the State Department has acted lawfully, according to a statement Wednesday.

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