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A tanker truck passes by an Enbridge storage tank. Michael Vosburg/Forum News Service

'Elephant in the room' left out in Line 3 environmental impact statement, appellants say

ST. PAUL -- An evaluation of the potential environmental impact of an Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline construction project left out "the elephant in the room," the potential damage it could cause to the St. Louis River and Lake Superior.

That's according to attorneys that appealed the impact statement, arguing it's inaccurate. They, along with attorneys defending Enbridge's assessment and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's process, presented their oral arguments to the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Wednesday, March 20.

Environmental and tribal advocacy groups appealed the environmental impact statement arguing it also left out the potential damage the pipeline project could pose for tribal cultural resources. Opponents said the issues were considered as part of the Public Utilities Commission's discussion about the pipeline project. And while specific models weren't drawn up, the impact to Lake Superior and tribal resources were weighed in other models, they said.

The appeal is one of several that environmental and tribal groups have deployed in an effort to stall or block the project. The court said it would issue a decision in the case within 90 days.

The environmental impact statement didn't address the effect an oil spill could have on Lake Superior or other bodies of water near Duluth, Scott Strand, an attorney representing the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said. And that's "the elephant in the room" as the court weighs the appeal.

“We don’t know the quantity of oil that could reach the lake if there was a catastrophic breach of the pipeline,” Strand said. “We don’t know what the impact of that would be on the natural resources of the lake.”

Attorneys representing the Public Utilities Commission and Enbridge said that while specific models about a spill's impact on Lake Superior weren't drawn up us part of the environmental impact statement, experts discussed that possibility with the PUC.

“The experts determined that the information that was gathered was representative," Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Lisa Crum said, "so that information could apply to spills all over the state of Minnesota."

The state has said the permitting process for the pipeline is likely to wrap up in November. The pipeline is set to replace the aging Line 3 and is expected to carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to Superior.