Oil & Water: Minnesota pipeline proposal could increase oil flows through St. Croix River watershed

Enbridge’s Line 3 would go under the Kettle River headwaters, and increase pipeline demand in Wisconsin.




4 minute read

Kettle River Banning State Park Stacy
Kettle River at Banning State Park. (Photo by Rambling Traveler via Flickr)

A proposed oil pipeline project across northern Minnesota could have significant implications for the St. Croix River watershed.

Enbridge’s plans for Line 3 would make it possible to move large amounts of oil under St. Croix’s tributaries in Minnesota and toward another pipeline across the river’s headwaters in Wisconsin.

Public input is currently being accepted on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, with several hearings scheduled in the next few weeks.

Double the carrying capacity

Use the interactive map above to explore the Line 3 replacement route (red). It would cross under the upper Kettle River near Cromwell.

The project would abandon an old 34-inch pipe and build a new 36-inch pipe through North Dakota and Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. It would cross under or near many prized waters, including the Mississippi River.

Although it would be only two inches larger, the new pipe could carry twice as much oil, at much higher pressure. The aging pipeline is currently approved to carry 390,000 barrels per day. The “expected initial capacity” of a replacement is 760,000 barrels.

Enbridge’s preferred route crosses northern Minnesota through a dense and remote landscape of lakes, rivers, and wetlands. The new pipeline would follow the previous route to Clearbrook, Minnesota, and then head south to Park Rapids, where it would head east to Cloquet.

Along the way, it would cross the upper reaches of the Kettle River, a beautiful and beloved tributary of the St. Croix.

Sturgeon and scenery

Juvenile Sturgeon Credit: Robert Elliott, USFWS)

The pipeline would pass under the Kettle some 75 river miles above its confluence with the St. Croix. In between, the water passes through the scenic and thrilling whitewater of Banning State Park and along the wild edges of St. Croix State Park.

In comments earlier in the environmental review, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources noted that the Kettle River is “one of the most important scenic and recreational rivers in the area,” and that it “supports a very significant population of Lake Sturgeon, a species of special concern within Minnesota.”

The Kettle River’s lake sturgeon population is “very significant” because monitoring and restoration of the fish has been underway since the early 1990s. The fish are “in a more advanced state of recovery than many other populations around the state, therefore increasing the seriousness of impact in the situation of an accidental oil release.”

Under the Kettle’s headwaters and numerous nameless creeks, the new Line 3 could carry about 32 million gallons of crude oil each day.

The St. Croix connection

Whatever the route through Minnesota, once the oil arrives at Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, it needs to keep going to reach refineries.

Increased supply at Superior would go either east, under Lake Michigan, or south – across the headwaters of the St. Croix, the Namekagon, and and many other Wisconsin rivers.

Map of Line 61 pipeline's route across the St. Croix River headwaters
Map of Line 61 pipeline’s route across the St. Croix River headwaters. (St. Croix 360)

That is the route where Enbridge’s Line 61 recently started pumping 50 million gallons of oil per day. Increased oil traveling through Line 3 may ultimately mean a new pipeline will be needed along the same route in Wisconsin.

The company has been considering a new pipeline in Wisconsin for two years, but no official proposal has been made yet. Enbridge crews surveyed the entire 300-mile corridor cutting diagonally across Wisconsin in 2014. The next year, the company’s president of liquid pipelines, Guy Jarvis, told investors that such a line was in the works.

Enbridge stresses that there is no formal proposal and plans are dependent on demand for oil transportation and environmental review.

Indigenous resistance

Ojibwe people, bands, and organizations have been some of the most vocal opponents to the Line 3 project so far.

The proposed routes cross lands on which bands have perpetual treaty rights to hunt, gather, and fish, and pass near the Red Lake, Mille Lacs, White Earth, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, and other reservations.

The native people say the project would put them in harm’s way. All the northern routes would go through what is called some of the best wild rice habitat in America. A spill would devastate natural resources and a way of life.

Winona LaDuke, a renowned activist and White Earth reservation resident, delivered a forceful argument against the project at a recent public hearing:

Enbridge says that “safe and reliable operations are the foundation” of how the company operates.

The preferred route the company has proposed seeks “to minimize impacts on the environment. Environmental impacts related to construction of the pipeline will primarily be related to temporary disturbance to land, wetlands, and waterbodies. Environmental impacts related to operations of the pipeline will primarily be related to maintenance repairs and mowing activities.”

Speak up

There are more than a dozen public meetings around the state scheduled between now and June 22 to provide information and opportunities for public input.

Two meetings are in the St. Croix River watershed: at Grand Casino in Hinckley on Monday, June 12, and in Mora on June 16. Click here for the full schedule and more information (PDF).

Written comments will be accepted through Monday, July 10, 2017. Comments may be sent in via:

  • Email: Pipeline.Comments@state.mn.us
  • Mail:
    Jamie MacAlister, Environmental Review Manager
    Minnesota Department of Commerce
    85 7th Place East, Suite 280
    St. Paul, MN 55101-2198
  • Fax: 651-539-0109
  • Note: Include docket numbers CN-14-916 and PPL-15-137 on all comments.

Learn more


One response to “Oil & Water: Minnesota pipeline proposal could increase oil flows through St. Croix River watershed”

  1. Curt Oien Avatar
    Curt Oien

    Thanks. Message sent.
    It’s time we get serious about getting off the oil addiction. No more pipelines. Invest in sustainable energy. We will destroy all habitats one bit at a time unless we all change to a sustainable lifestyle.


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Oil & Water: Minnesota pipeline proposal could increase oil flows through St. Croix River watershed