Enbridge pipeline hits snagAlong a 1,000-mile Enbridge Energy pipeline proposed to move Canadian crude oil to Superior, one 13-mile stretch through the Fond du Lac Indian reservation has proven the most difficult to plot.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune , Pine Journal
Along a 1,000-mile Enbridge Energy pipeline proposed to move Canadian crude oil to Superior, one 13-mile stretch through the Fond du Lac Indian reservation has proven the most difficult to plot.
Enbridge and Fond du Lac officials have been unable to negotiate a settlement on the crossing in recent months, leading Enbridge to propose a
21-mile detour around the reservation.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission denied Enbridge that detour, at least for the time being.
PUC commissioners, meeting in St. Paul, agreed to delay final action on the pipeline route until a deal is reached or until an ongoing federal Environmental Impact Statement is completed by the U.S. State Department, probably in May.
The pipeline detour around the reservation was opposed by environmental groups, the Fond du Lac Band and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. They said the best route would run through the reservation — alongside an existing Enbridge pipeline — to have less impact on the environment.
Sara Van Norman, attorney for the Fond du Lac band on the issue, did not immediately return messages from a reporter.
Lorraine Grymala, community affairs manager for Enbridge, said the PUC decision won’t necessarily delay the pipeline project — if a final decision comes quickly.
“We’re disappointed. But this could still work out assuming the commission can take quick action when the federal EIS is approved,’’ Grymala said.
Enbridge and Fond du Lac have failed to find an agreeable price for a 20-year easement to cross the reservation. Short of that deal, Enbridge would need an act of Congress to cross the property without Fond du Lac approval, PUC staff said. While the PUC can use eminent domain to run pipelines across other lands, the state does not have that right on tribal land.
Enbridge officials say they offered Fond du Lac “25 times the fair market value" for all 13 miles of the route through the reservation, even though the Fond du Lac Band actually owns only 1.5 miles of the route.
The Houston company said the detour around the reservation is the best possible option to keep the project moving ahead.
“We’re at an impasse," Grymala said. “We’ve been negotiating for two years and we simply can’t meet the band’s financial demands."
The PUC approved the overall pipeline project last year despite opposition from environmental groups that said the route would threaten wetlands and that the oil refined would increase carbon dioxide pollution, a primary greenhouse gas blamed for contributing to global warming.
The $1.2 billion U.S. segment of the pipeline is part of an $8 billion system expansion that will bring oil from Alberta into the U.S. through Minnesota into Wisconsin. From Superior, the oil could either be refined at the Murphy Oil facility or piped another 450 miles to Illinois on another leg of the pipeline.