MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Environmentalists vowed Wednesday to fight Enbridge Inc.'s plan to replace and sharply boost the capacity of a crude oil pipeline that runs from Canada to Wisconsin, saying the project will exacerbate climate change by carrying more tar sands oil to U.S refineries.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge announced the $7 billion plan this week, calling it the largest project in the company's history and the most efficient way to maintain the line's reliability
Enbridge's existing Line 3 is a 1,031 mile, 34-inch pipeline that went into service in 1968. It clips the northeast corner of North Dakota then travels across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. It's operating below its original capacity of 760,000 barrels per day due to pressure restrictions and now carries 410,000 barrels per day. The replacement would be a 36-inch pipeline for most of its length that would restore the capacity to 760,000 barrels per day, Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said in an interview.
Groups that oppose tar sands oil say it generates more carbon dioxide because it takes more energy to produce, and they vowed to fight the project.
"Doubling the size of a pipeline that carries toxic, corrosive tar sands crude will require a full environmental review and will meet the same level of scrutiny and opposition as the other proposed tar sands pipeline projects," Doug Hayes, a staff attorney with the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
"It's all an all-risk, no-reward situation for the state," Andy Pearson, Midwest tar sands coordinator for MN350, said in an interview. "The destination for this oil is not Minnesota, it's refineries both on the East Coast and potential overseas markets."
The Line 3 replacement would add capacity to Enbridge's pipeline network on top of two projects it announced earlier, a plan to expand the capacity of its Alberta Clipper Line from Alberta to Superior and its proposed new Sandpiper pipeline from North Dakota's oil fields to Superior.
One potential flashpoint is whether replacing Line 3 will require the same kind of presidential permit to cross the border that the Obama administration is considering for the disputed Keystone XL pipeline project from western Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Pearson and Hayes said it does. But Little said it doesn't because the segment at the border will narrow to a 34-inch pipeline that's allowed under Line 3's existing presidential permit.
Pearson called that "accounting trickery" to try to avoid the presidential permitting process and the possibility that the project might be rejected for its climate impact.
The project will require federal, state and local approvals. The replacement would follow the existing route for the approximately 20 miles it travels across North Dakota, Little said. Enbridge is still evaluating its options for the route across Minnesota, which she said could follow the existing route, or the route of its proposed Sandpiper pipeline, then follow the Sandpiper route into Superior. The plan is to complete the segment at the border this year, the Wisconsin segment next year and the rest by late 2017, she said.
"By replacing Line 3 with new technology, new steel, the goal is to make a better and safer pipeline," Little said. She also pointed to a 2013 National Academy of Sciences study to dispute claims that tar sands oil is more corrosive than other forms of heavy crude.
"Really what this project is about is North American energy independence," she said.