Landowners file complaint against Enbridge over pipeline pledge

Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
·3 min read

Some northern Minnesota landowners say Enbridge is not following through with some pledges made to allay opposition to its new Line 3 oil pipeline.

The company in 2018 said it would remove the old pipeline — on its own dime — or drain and clean the old pipe, paying landowners to keep it buried.

Now some landowners claim Enbridge has failed to provided enough information to make an "informed decision," including how much they would be paid if they retained the old pipeline on their property.

"Enbridge has more or less phrased it as a take-it-or-leave-it offer," said Evan Carlson, an attorney representing landowners who filed a complaint late Friday with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

He declined to say how many landowners are involved in the complaint.

Enbridge — which called the complaint groundless — is replacing Line 3 in one of the largest construction projects in recent Minnesota history, saying the old pipeline is deteriorating and can only operate at half-capacity.

The Alberta, Canada, company, began building the controversial $3 billion-plus pipeline in December.

The complaint asks the PUC to clarify its order on the issue surrounding landowners' rights. The filing says Enbridge hasn't properly informed landowners they can negotiate the terms of keeping the pipe buried, nor that they can receive company-paid mediation over disputes.

Enbridge said in a statement, though, it "has been communicating for months with landowners, making them aware of their options." It also said the company "has not withheld information from any of the landowners either on the existing right of way or the Line 3 replacement right of way. Claims to the contrary are entirely false."

The new Line 3, approved by regulators last year after a six-year fight, will partly run on a new route. The old pipeline will be closed, then drained, cleaned and sealed when the new Line 3 is completed.

Enbridge's "landowners' choice" program — keep the old pipeline or get rid of it — became a condition of it new Line 3 permit.

The PUC directed the Minnesota Department of Commerce to appoint an independent liaison for the program, the costs of which are reimbursed by Enbridge.

Also, the PUC called for Enbridge to hire an independent third-party engineer to help landowners with questions about pipeline removal and oil pollution remediation.

The complaint said Enbridge has not adequately informed landowners about the engineer.

Enbridge said it provided landowners with contact information for the Department of Commerce's liaison, as well as a description of the third-party engineer.

Enbridge's cost to remove the old pipeline can exceed $1,000 per linear foot, the group's PUC filing said, while Enbridge has been offering $10 per linear foot to landowners for keeping the pipeline in place. For a 40-acre holding, the retention payment amounts to about $13,200, Carlson said.

Enbridge said that over 75% of landowners currently hosting Line 3 have chosen to retain the old pipeline.

In a PUC filing in November, the public liaison for the program reported that 12 landowners have made "information requests," and that he had provided third-party engineer assessments to 11 of them.

The liaison also reported in November — his most recent status update — that he had received one complaint about the program in October, but provided no details.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003