By STEVE KARNOWSKI
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State utility regulators on Tuesday unfroze the approval process for Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, directing a state agency to eliminate deficiencies identified by a court in the project’s environmental review.
The Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously during a hearing lasting just 12 minutes to ask the state Commerce Department to conduct a further analysis of the possible effects of oil spills in the Lake Superior watershed and report back within 60 days.
The decision came as the first step forward on the project in months while legal challenges by environmental and tribal groups played out in court. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld most of the environmental review in June except for the inadequacies regarding Lake Superior. The Minnesota Supreme Court declined last month to hear challenges that opponents to the environmental review have made on other grounds. But further appeals from opponents are possible.
Line 3, which was built in the 1960s and is increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking, runs from Alberta to Enbridge’s terminal in the city of Superior. Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge wants to replace the pipeline because it can run at only about half its original capacity.
Environmental and tribal groups have been fighting the project, saying it would aggravate climate change and risk spills in pristine waters where Native Americans harvest wild rice.
Enbridge has completed the new segments in Canada and Wisconsin, but has had to hold up the construction of the $2.9 billion segment in North Dakota and Minnesota until it clears the final hurdles in Minnesota.
Once the department completes the revised environmental review, there will be a public comment period before the commission decides whether the revised study is adequate. The commission would then decide whether to reissue two approvals it had granted over a year ago — the certificate of need and route permit. That whole process is expected to take at least until sometime early next year.
Other possible delays could come from court challenges to the certificate of need and route permit that remain pending. The delay in completing the environmental review has also held up permits from other agencies .
The Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said the company isn’t projecting a date for when construction might begin or when the Minnesota part of the project would go into service.