The five-member Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously granted the project a certificate of need Thursday, and commissioners also voted 3-2 to approve the pipeline's route - modified from Enbridge's preferred path to avoid Big Sandy Lake where at least 400 Anishinaabe people died in the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850. LaDuke has purchased land near Park Rapids in central Minnesota where she says pipeline opponents will be able to camp. Enbridge has estimated the overall cost of the project at $7.5 billion, including $2.6 billion for the US segment.
Commissioner John Tuma, left, speaks during a Public Utilities Commission meeting on Thursday, June 28, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn.
The company estimates the pipeline will be in service in the second half of 2019, although analysts cautioned it may take until the first quarter of 2020 if substantial civil disobedience delays construction.
"They have gotten their Standing Rock", she said, referring to protests that drew thousands of people to neighbouring North Dakota to rally against the Dakota Access pipeline.
"It's irrefutable that that pipeline is an accident waiting to happen", Commissioner Dan Lipschultz said before the vote.
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"Projects like this help us make sure we're getting product to market, which is good for Canada", Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said in response to reporters' questions at the World Gas Conference in Washington while the hearing was ongoing. "It feels like a gun to our head that compels us to approve a new line ... but the gun is real and it's loaded".
Enbridge has pegged the cost of the Canadian segment of Line 3 at $5.3 billion, with an additional $3.8 billion budget for the US segment.
Shares of Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge closed up 3.7 percent in Toronto. The company touts the Line 3 replacement as a necessary infrastructure upgrade that will increase the safety of oil transportation across the state, while opponents say the line contributes to climate change, violates indigenous rights and is ultimately unnecessary. The state Commerce Department said a year ago "it is reasonable to conclude that Minnesota would be better off if Enbridge proposed to cease operations of the existing Line 3, without any new pipeline being built" because of the risks to the environment. But Enbridge's rationing of demand from oil shippers for space on Line 3 was more convincing of a need to rebuild, said Chairwoman Nancy Lange.
What's unknown is where the route will go after that. He said the company plans to continue working with communities along the route to try to show them that the line will be a benefit, not a burden.
Opponents will have 20 days from when the approval order is written to ask the PUC to reconsider its decision, something White Earth Nation lawyer Joe Plummer told Reuters is very likely. If such an application is denied, a party can then appeal to Minnesota's appeals court. "Approvals are by no means assured".