Minnesota oil pipeline approval could ultimately increase flows through St. Croix River headwaters

Permits could cause pressure to build more pipelines through watershed in Wisconsin.

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Line 61 crossing under the Eau Claire River, a tributary of the St. Croix.
Line 61 crossing under the Eau Claire River, a tributary of the St. Croix. (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

The state of Minnesota announced yesterday it is approving several permits for Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 replacement project crossing the state from the Canadian border to Duluth. It will nearly double the amount of oil capacity of the existing pipeline.

The pipeline does not cross the St. Croix River watershed, although earlier route proposals would have directed it across the upper Kettle River, a wild tributary of the St. Croix. The approved route avoids the St. Croix, but does cross other significant waterbodies including the Mississippi and St. Louis Rivers, as well as many of the state’s valuable wild rice lakes.

“The MPCA has used sound science and thorough analysis to ensure that necessary safeguards are in place to protect Minnesota’s waters. The 401 certification requires Enbridge to meet Minnesota’s extensive water quality standards instead of lower federal standards,” said MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop.

But Line 3’s impacts may not be limited to Minnesota. The pipeline is is part of a system of Enbridge pipelines in the western Great Lakes region, and its expansion could still impact the St. Croix without even crossing the river basin. That’s because the new pipeline’s increased capacity may mean new pipeline proposals crossing the St. Croix.

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)

Currently, Enbridge operates Line 61 in a corridor with other lines, passing under the upper St. Croix and tributaries the Eau Claire, Totogatic, and Namekagon Rivers, as well as uncounted other streams.. Line 61 was constructed in 2009 and expanded significantly in 2014.

Enbridge has been in the early stages of surveying and planning a new line to follow the Line 61 route, currently dubbed Line 66/67, that would be able to handle increased oil transportation demands.

“The MNPCA has clearly avoided a hard scientific look at the cumulative impacts from Line 3 on 212 stream crossings and thousands of acres of wetland crossings, and water quality,” said Winona LaDuke, co-founder and Executive Director of Honor the Earth.

MPCA staff work on a clean-up of an Enbridge pipeline oil spill in 2002, which released 250,000 gallons of crude oil near Cohasset, Minn. (MPCA photo)

Oil pipelines passing under rivers and streams have caused numerous spills in recent decades, killing fish and other aquatic life, and coating riverbeds in oil. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan ruptured and contaminated 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River, forcing a complete closure of the river for two years during clean-up.

Pipelines owned by other companies caused two catastrophic spills in the Yellowstone River in Montana in the last decade.

Construction on Line 3 could begin later this month, though several environmental and indigenous groups are considering legal action to prevent it. If the project moves ahead, stay tuned for what it might mean for the St. Croix River and its tributaries.


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One response to “Minnesota oil pipeline approval could ultimately increase flows through St. Croix River headwaters”

  1. Lee Lewis Avatar
    Lee Lewis

    It is ALL interconnected. I suspect the next phase of Line 3 will be the type of actions that took place on Dakota Access Pipe Line at Standing Rock and that Enbridge will have to find a way to move the tar sands out of Superior. Thanks for making the connections so your readers are informed.

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Minnesota oil pipeline approval could ultimately increase flows through St. Croix River headwaters