Night shift at the Cromer Terminal, where one of the final tie-ins took place. This was on the Canadian portion of the pipe, which went into service two years ago. Photo courtesy Enbridge

It sure is getting harder to build pipelines in Canada, but after an exhausting eight-year years since the company first started working on it, Enbridge said on Sept. 29 that first oil would be shipped on its Line 3 Replacement project on Oct. 1.

For comparison, Enbridge’s previous, nearly identical project, Alberta Clipper, started construction in the summer of 2008 and went into service October 2010. That pipeline is now referred to as Line 67.

Among the major export oil pipeline projects proposed in over the last decade – Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Energy East, TransMountain Expansion (TMX), and Line 3 Replacement, the latter is the only one completed, while TMX struggles along.

Reason for replacement

While Enbridge has several large pipelines in what is collectively referred to as its “mainline,” over the decades, Line 3, completed in 1968, had proven problematic, principally due to issues with coating used during its construction. The coatings for the previous and subsequent lines have largely stood the test of time, but Line 3’s did not, resulting in continual maintenance issues.

As a result, an operating pressure reduction the line’s carrying capacity was reduced from 760,000 barrels per day to 370,000 barrels per day.

“Late in 2013, we voluntarily put a pressure restriction on the pipeline, which reduced the capacity to about half. So w were running that pipeline at about half capacity for the eight years it took to get built, said David Coll, senior communications advisor with Enbridge, on Oct. 1.

In 2013, Enbridge was planning on replacing segments of the line. But 2014, it decided to go whole hog and replace the entire line.

By replacing the entire line, from Hardisty to Superior, Wisconsin, Enbridge could return its operation back to its the original spec of 760,000 barrels per day. The entire 1,765 kilometre line runs from Edmonton to Superior.

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The original Line 3 will be fully cleaned out, segmented, and permanently decommissioned in place, with continual monitoring.

A short portion in western Manitoba couldn’t wait, and was replaced early on in 2014.

Principal construction within Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba took place in 2017 and 2018, with cleanup in the following years. Currently, in southeast Saskatchewan, the construction area is almost imperceptible unless you know what you are looking for.

On Dec. 1, 2019 Enbridge shipped its first oil on the completed Canadian portion, to Gretna, Manitoba, but work in the United States was stymied.

Enbridge pipeline maintenance crew at the Gretna Terminal standing by the final tie-in point of the Line 3 replacement pipeline in Canada. The large flange in the centre of the photos is the connecting point between the new Canadian pipeline and U.S. Line 3, which runs to Superior, Wisconsin.. The Canadian portion of the pipe went into service two years ago, but the America portion didn’t do the same until Oct. 1 of this year. Photo courtesy Enbridge

Fevered opposition delays pipeline projects

It didn’t happen in a vacuum. Opposition to pipelines reached a fever pitch, with the then-newly elected Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in late 2015 instituting a ban on oil tankers on the northern west coast then cancelling the permit for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline in late 2016.

In 2018, competitor TransCanada, now TC Energy, pulled the plug on the Energy East project to New Brunswick after opposition in Quebec and regulatory moves by the federal government made the project untenable.

But it was opposition to TransCanada’s Keystone XL project which seemed to spill over to Line 3 Replacement. Keystone XL was stymied at nearly every angle, most importantly by the Barrack Obama administration. President Obama withheld the necessary Presidential Permit to cross the international border between Canada and the United States, eventually declining it in November 2015. This all occurred at the same time Enbridge was gearing up to replace Line 3. Enbridge’s ace in the hole was that it already had a Presidential Permit in place for its existing Line 3, so long as it effectively replaced it with a pipeline similar to its original.

Unprecedented opposition to the Keystone XL project, through protests and legal maneuvering by special interest groups, appeared to refocus on the Line 3 Replacement project once they Keystone XL was largely out of the way. In one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump invited TransCanada to resume the Keystone XL project, but by the time his term was over, the pipeline still had not been built south of the border, even if it was built in Alberta. Legal battles, particularly in Montana, caused major delays. In one of his first acts, incoming President Joe Biden cancelled the Presidential Permit Trump had granted, and by June, TC Energy gave up on the project.

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The Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline has seen similar protests and legal battles, to the point where the proponent, Kinder Morgan, gave up in 2019 and sold the project to the federal government. Progress on TMX since then has been very slow. While the project’s website says it’s expected in-service date is December 2022, current progress to date means it will likely be years behind schedule.

As a result, completion of the Line 3 Replacement project remained the last major export pipeline capacity expansion from Western Canada to Midwest United States for the foreseeable future.

While opposition to Line 3 Replacement wasn’t as intense as Keystone XL, regulatory and legal hurdles in Minnesota were the largest impediment. Enbridge said its release, “In Minnesota, the Line 3 replacement was the most studied pipeline project in state history, with input gathered from 71 public comment regulatory meetings and over 3,500 community engagement meetings. Exhaustive scientific review exceeding legal and regulatory requirements resulted in support and project approvals from federal, state, and local agencies, and Native American tribes.”

Shane Thompson, manager, Hardisty Area Operations (left) and Tom Bahm, right of way project manager, pose for the camera minutes after the last mainline isolation valve was opened to allow first oil into the new pipeline.. This occured two years ago, when the Canadian portion of the pipeline began operation. Photo courtesy Enbridge

Long time in coming

After numerous legal and regulatory battles, it took until November 2020, for Enbridge to get its final permits in place in Minnesota. The company promptly began construction and getting pipe in the ground. It had already completed construction in North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Thus, Enbridge’s announcement on Sept. 29 was a long time in coming. The company called it, “The achievement of a major milestone with the substantial completion of the Line 3 Replacement Project and the establishment of an in-service date of October 1. This step marks the full replacement of the entire 1,765-kilometre/1,097-mile-long pipeline from Edmonton, AB. to Superior, WI.

“With new state-of-the-art, thicker-walled pipe, its completion ensures a safe, reliable supply of North American crude oil to U.S. refineries, helping fuel the quality of life for millions of people.”

Al Monaco, Enbridge president and CEO, said in a release, “After more than eight years of many people working together, extensive community engagement, and thorough environmental, regulatory and legal review, we are pleased that Line 3 is complete and will soon deliver the low cost and reliable energy that people depend on every day.

“From day one, this project has been about modernizing our system and improving safety and reliability for the benefit of communities, the environment and our customers.

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“Line 3 was developed and executed with the most state-of-the-art approach to design, construction and environmental management,” Monaco added. “We’re also very proud of the relationship of trust we’ve built with communities along the right-of-way in both Canada and the United States. Our goal is to continuously live up to the trust that all of our stakeholders have placed in us.”

Coll said, “Enbridge would like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank the people of Saskatchewan for the tremendous support we received during the construction of this essential pipeline maintenance project. Replacing Line 3 has taken all of us working together – municipalities, Indigenous communities, unions, contractors, elected officials, companies, industry and business organizations, and the support of thousands of individuals.”

“In Saskatchewan, we had such tremendous support from the community and, you know, it was not surprising, because we’ve always enjoyed that kind of hospitality and Saskatchewan. I think people realize where their energy comes from, in Saskatchewan.”

Decommissioning work

There is still work to be done in this province. Now that the new line is fulling in place and running, it’s time to decommission the old line. Decommissioning work in Manitoba will wrap up in the end of October. Saskatchewan decommissioning spreads will start work in the summer of next year, according to Coll.

“The decommissioning work is split up into four segments. And what we call Segment 4 is basically from Cromer to Gretna (Manitoba), and that’s wrapping up now. And then remaining the remaining three spreads, from Hardisty to the Manitoba border, will take place next year.

Labour

Big-inch pipeline construction is still largely a union affair. Enbridge noted, “Many labor groups, including the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA), and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and communities along the right-of-way made the successful completion of the project possible.”

Indigenous opposition was particularly pointed in Minnesota. To that end, Enbridge said, “More than 1,500 Indigenous people worked on replacing Line 3 in the U.S. and Canada. Specifically, in Minnesota, where Native Americans made up seven percent of the Line 3 workforce, over US$300 million went directly to Native-owned contractors, tribal community investments and training and hiring Native individuals. In total, the Company invested CDN$750 million with Indigenous communities, individuals, and businesses.”

The company continued, “Throughout the project, Enbridge has shown continuous respect for tribal sovereignty. In Minnesota, 30 tribes took part in the consultation process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project included a first-of-its kind Tribal Cultural Resource Survey led by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa which employed tribal cultural experts who walked the full route identifying and recording significant cultural resources to be avoided. Construction was completed under the supervision of tribal monitors with authority to stop construction to ensure protection of important cultural resources.”

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