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Protests Expected At Minnesota Hearing To Replace Oil Pipeline

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In St. Paul, Minn., tribal groups and environmentalists are planning a protest tonight at a public hearing for a proposed oil pipeline. Enbridge Energy wants to replace a nearly 50-year-old pipeline there with a new, expanded line along a different route. Dan Kraker of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

DAN KRAKER, BYLINE: Enbridge operates underground pipelines that carry about three million barrels of crude every day from Alberta, Canada, through northern Minnesota to refineries around the Midwest and beyond. One of those pipelines, called simply Line 3, is nearly a half-century old and is corroding. Enbridge's Jennifer Smith says it requires a lot of maintenance.

JENNIFER SMITH: The best way to keep the communities and the environment safe really is to replace it. This is a 1960s-era pipeline. We've got newer technology on our coating. It's stronger steel.

KRAKER: A new line would also enable Enbridge to ship about twice as much oil. Canadian oil producers and American refineries say that would help alleviate a bottleneck on pipelines crossing the border.

SMITH: The refineries are saying that, you know, there's interest and they need Line 3. It's part of a larger network that does serve the Midwest and national energy needs.

KRAKER: Enbridge already has approval to build the new line in Canada and Wisconsin, where earlier this month welders connected two sections of the 36-inch pipe and buried it underground. But Minnesota has yet to decide. Tribal and environmental groups want to go further, retiring the old line but not building a replacement. They argue a new line would worsen climate change and threaten pristine waterways including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Winona Laduke is a member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation.

WINONA LADUKE: You know, it goes through the heart of our 1855 treaty territory, the heart of our best ricing lakes. That's the heart of our people, our wild rice.

KRAKER: Minnesota ultimately must decide whether the pipeline is needed to meet its energy demands. In a surprise to both sides, the State Department of Commerce recently argued it isn't. Kevin Lee with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy says Minnesota already has all the oil it needs.

KEVIN LEE: So it's very clear that this pipeline is not for our use, right? It's going to go elsewhere. We're pass-through.

KRAKER: Minnesota regulators are expected to make a final decision next April. They'll have to weigh the risks of continuing to operate the old, corroded pipeline versus concerns over carrying more oil on a replacement line through an ecologically sensitive. part of the state. For NPR News, I'm Dan Kraker in Duluth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.