BEMIDJI, Minn. — A length of pipe that has been hauled across the state of Minnesota made its final pit stop in Bemidji, Minnesota, on Friday, Aug. 20, before it's added to the Line 3 replacement project.
Hosted by LaValley Industries in Bemidji, the Safest Way Tour concluded after stops in rural Minnesota and in front of the state Capitol building in St. Paul. The tour was supported along the way by the organization Minnesotans for Line 3.
Owned by the Canadian oil company Enbridge, the Line 3 project is an effort to replace an oil pipeline put in the ground in the 1960s. Because of its age and condition, the existing pipeline is operating at half capacity.
To install the new Line 3, Enbridge is investing $2.9 billion. Once finished, the new pipe will carry an average of 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton, Alberta, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.
In total, Line 3 is about 1,000 miles and in Minnesota, it extends 337 miles. Portions of the pipeline in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin are already finished, while the Minnesota section is 90% completed.
The project slowed down in spring because of seasonal conditions, with the workforce going down to about 900. But work picked up again with the warmer weather and the workforce on the pipeline went back up to around 4,000.
"It was going to take a community to get this project approved and get us out in the field," said Leo Golden, Line 3 project vice president. "One of the great joys of the last seven months has been giving that value back to our community, to our great supporters. To help out at a time that we could really make a difference to the community."
During Friday's event, LaValley Industries CEO Jason LaValley said the company appreciated being the host of the tour stop.
"This started a few years ago and it didn't seem like it would ever get going, but it did, and we benefited from the pipeline being here through our area," LaValley said.
Both the original and replacement pipeline take a route from Canada to North Dakota and then go through northwest Minnesota until it reaches Clearbrook, about 40 miles northwest of Bemidji. From there, the original pipeline takes a direct path east, going through the Leech Lake Reservation.
The new route, meanwhile, is being built to go south from Clearbrook to the border of Hubbard and Wadena counties. Then, the pipeline extends east to Wisconsin.
In his comments, Enbridge Tribal Liaison Roland Hill discussed how the project has benefitted Indigenous people across the state. Hill said Enbridge initially planned to invest $100 million in tribal communities, but has committed more over the last several years.
"The $100 million has been two to three times that," Hill said. "It's been great with Indigenous businesses, people and communities. The number of Indigenous people on this project has been over 600. I've worked for tribes since 1991, and I've yet to see a company do what Enbridge has done with a diversity, equity and inclusion type of strategy, especially for an Indigenous population."
From its permitting to its current construction phase, the project has been met by opposition from Native American communities and environmental organizations. Those opposed argue that it violates Native American treaty rights and that there are risks of contaminating water with oil spills.
Litigation took place after the needed permits were approved, with opposing parties hoping to halt the project. However, in mid-June, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Enbridge demonstrated a sufficient need to build a replacement line during the permitting process to receive a certificate to move forward.
Those challenging Enbridge included the Red Lake, White Earth and Mille Lacs bands, as well as the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Honor the Earth, the Youth Climate Intervenors, Friends of the Headwaters and the Sierra Club.
Opponents also had hoped that President Joe Biden would step in to halt the project after the administration canceled the Keystone XL pipeline's permit in January. But in June, Biden's administration defended a federal permit for the replacement, indicating it wouldn't oppose the project.
Protesters made their voices heard the day before the Safest Way Tour event. On Thursday, Aug. 19, protesters marched in Duluth, across the state border from Superior where the pipeline's terminal is located.
During the event, protesters marched from the St. Louis County Courthouse to the city's famous Aerial Lift Bridge, with a stop at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office. At the bridge, the protesters halted traffic and occupied the infrastructure for about 30 minutes. According to Duluth Police Department spokesperson Mattie Hjelseth, no arrests were made during the protest.
While the project has been met with opposition, it has also garnered support, including from politicians. At Friday's event, District 1B Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, was present to back Line 3 and described efforts she made in supporting the project at the Legislature.
Kiel said she spent the last several years explaining the economic value of the pipeline and that it was a safer way to transport oil.
"This took a lot of people, a lot of Minnesotans, to get this done," Kiel said. "I think we can show people in St. Paul that rural Minnesota sticks together."
Also making an appearance Friday was Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.
"This should have been a no-brainer, to get this done," Gazelka said. "To replace a 60-year-old pipe with a new pipe and new technology. How can that not be the safest thing to do? If we're going to have it, let's have it be safe."