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Enbridge Line 3 Could Fail for Lack of Business Case, Just Like Keystone XL

This spring, Canadian pipeliner Enbridge is upgrading its Line 3 oil pipeline that crosses northern Minnesota on its way from Edmonton to Superior, Wisconsin. In Minnesota, Enbridge is replacing 287 miles of 34-inch pipe with 337 miles of 36-inch pipe, with a longer reroute to take the pipeline out of the Leech Lake Reservation and pass through the white corridor between that reservation and the White Earth Reservation to the west.

Minnesota portion of Line 3 project, Line 3 Replacement Project Summary, Enbridge, retrieved 2021.03.28.
Minnesota portion of Line 3 project, Line 3 Replacement Project Summary, Enbridge, retrieved 2021.03.28.
Line 3 Reroute, from Minnesota Commerce Department, 2021.03.28.
Line 3 Reroute, from Minnesota Commerce Department, 2021.03.28.

Recognizing that clean water and a livable planet are in everyone’s interests, our Indigenous neighbors are leading the fight against this climate-inimical pipeline expansion. And as was the case with the ill-conceived Keystone XL, if arguments about protecting water and land feel too Red or Green, you can make the conservative argument against Line 3 that there is no economic need for more oil flowing through Minnesota.

The business case argument seemed to resonate with two of the three Minnesota Court of Appeals judges last week as they heard arguments on the certificate of need issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission last month:

Opponents of the pipeline and Gov. Tim Walz’s Minnesota Department of Commerce maintain the PUC erred in granting the proposed pipeline’s certificate of need in February because Enbridge did not demonstrate a long-range demand for oil.

Katherine Hinderlie, an attorney for the Department of Commerce, said Enbridge relied on demand to move crude oil and not actual demand for crude oil. By doing so, “Enbridge shifts the focus of the analysis from the refiners who will consume the crude oil and produce refined products for us all to use. They shift that analysis to the desire of crude oil producers to sell and ship as much oil as they can,” Hinderlie said.

…[B]oth Judge Lucinda E. Jesson and Judge Peter M. Reyes Jr. challenged Marisam on why it seemed to rely on available supply rather than on demand from refineries through 2035.

“You’re talking past history,” Reyes said. “So if I hear what you’re saying by omission is that there is no forecast demand data with respect to refineries.”

…”I just did not see any forecast of that demand from willing and able purchasers, the same way I saw ‘Oh, here’s the supply we have’ or ‘Here’s the pipeline capacity we have,'” Jesson said, adding that the “big issue” in this case is whether supply can be a proxy for demand over the next 15 years.

Reyes said he shared Jesson’s concern.

“It seems to take the approach of ‘If we build it, they will come,’ but that’s not what’s required,” Reyes said [Jimmy Lovrien, “Judges Question Whether Enbridge, Regulators Actually Proved Line 3 Is Needed,” Duluth News Tribune, 2021.03.23].

We sure don’t need more gasoline refined from that tar sands oil: fuel efficiency, electric cars, and remote work are flattening gasoline demand for the foreseeable future:

“Global gasoline consumption is unlikely to ever return to its 2019 level,” the IEA [International Energy Agency] said on Wednesday in its Oil 2021 five-year outlook. “Strong growth in developing countries is no longer enough to offset declines within the OECD, where fuel efficiency improvements are making an impact.

“Consumption should continue to rise strongly in 2022 … narrowing the gap with pre-pandemic levels. However, beyond that, gasoline demand is likely to stagnate for several years” [staff, “Gasoline Demand May Never Recover from Pandemic, Says IEA,” Reuters, 2021.03.17].

Europe’s climate chief Frans Timmerman says fossil fuels have no future:

And “at the end of that road, there will be no more space for coal, very little room for oil, and only a marginal role for fossil gas,” he said in a keynote speech at the annual conference of Eurogas, an industry trade association.

“So instead of waiting for the inevitable and face ever higher costs of transition, it’s better to adapt, prepare and adopt new sustainable business models,” he said, warning: “the longer you wait, the more expensive it becomes.”

…“I want to be crystal clear: fossil fuels have no viable future,” he told participants at the Eurogas event. “And that also goes for fossil gas, in the longer run.”

“The future,” he continued, “is in carbon-free electricity and a decarbonised gas sector, which embraces hydrogen as an energy carrier and green hydrogen as the final destination” [Frédéric Simon, “Fossil Gas ‘Has No Viable Future’, EU’s Timmermans Says,” Eurasia Review, 2021.03.28].

Why invest in doomed technology? We don’t need more tar sands oil. Leave it in the ground, and don’t dig another trench across northern Minnesota; instead, let’s invest our capital in the energy of the future.


  1. Loren 2021-03-28 09:15

    Whether you are for or against carbon fuels, this would leave some butt-ugly scars on Minnesota’s beautiful north region. Maybe they can clear-cut some of the forests while gouging their way thru the lake regions.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-03-28 10:12

    The North Woods already bear deep scars from the extraction economy. Why not minimize any further damage? We have the technology to do without oil; why not focus our efforts on kicking polluting, non-sustainable fuels for good?

  3. leslie 2021-03-28 10:34

    Cruz is the new Trump some fear is smarter, more competent gun fool and, just as dangerous. He’ll pivot to fossil fuel rage after virus/immigration concerns cool. Jmo

    NYT Politics@
    The C.D.C. is once again funding research into gun violence after a nearly 25-year hiatus imposed by Congress. Public health experts say the new round of research could pave the way for gun policies that avoid partisan gridlock and ultimately save lives.

  4. Arlo Blundt 2021-03-28 15:32

    well…guns and jobs, more than a so callled social agenda, should be the main focus of Republicans in 2022…Jobs are the number 1 issue in the northland…there has been very little job growth outside of the extractive industries. Toiling for tourism just doesn’t pay.

  5. Joe 2021-03-28 15:59

    Replying to Arlo: This proposed pipeline just moves oil through Minnesota, to a port to be carried somewhere else. There are some temporary construction jobs, often filled by folks from elsewhere (see: Fracking in ND). The operation of the pipeline doesn’t take much human employment.

  6. Arlo Blundt 2021-03-28 17:59

    Joe-you are correct…but with the decline of the paper products industry and wood products and mining generally, any jobs take on a political luster for “hard hat” voters…what was once a democratic stronghold (the iron range, duluth, northern Wisconsin)has turned Trumpean and needs to be won back…tourism needs to be combined with non extractive economic development …We need a plan people understand.

  7. Richard Schriever 2021-03-28 19:39

    Maybe the north Woodsies should take a lesson from the dustbowl fugitives of the 1930’s – once you have made your own environment so screwed up it will no longer support you – MOVE to greener pastures.

  8. T 2021-03-28 21:29

    No one is watching or paying attention to already polluted lands and depleted top soils. We are spending astronomical numbers on fertilizer and seed to grow in devastation farmlands. Nutrient contents have been depleted and we continue the cycle year after year. So on top of all this, let’s throw in some pipe and more chemical. Diets and Heath will deteriorate and so will we

  9. mike from iowa 2021-04-23 14:05

    Last month, Iowa’s largest solar project started delivering energy to the grid. It’s the 100-megawatt Wapello Solar Facility in Louisa County.

    It has 318,000 bifacial solar panels, covering 800 acres of Iowa land. Bifacial means generation comes from both sides of the panel.

    Louisa Co is clear down near Mississippi River in SE iowa.

  10. jerry 2021-04-23 17:10

    Renewables don’t provide corruption like the payouts to politicos from gas and oil interests. That’s why red states want to hold on to that corrupted teat while bleating for the evil renewable energy providers to stop making sense. Wait until the next round of payments demanded by the utility company’s that serve the region for the beating they took in the Texas storm. Let’s see how we like them apples, cause that’s the way it’s gonna keep on being.

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