April 24 (UPI) -- With certain conditions, a judge in Minnesota backed a plan by Canadian oil shipper Enbridge to replace an aging oil pipeline with a bigger one.
Enbridge is proposing an overhaul of the Line 3 segment of a broader network that extends through parts of Canada and into the northern United States. The company wants to pull the old network out and replace it with a new line capable of carrying more Canadian oil through the region.
Administrative Law Judge Ann O'Reilly found that Line 3 is an integral part of the broader regional network, the company's Mainline pipeline system.
"Line 3, however, is old, needs significant repair, and poses significant integrity concerns for the state," her ruling read. "Accordingly, the judge finds that replacement of the line is a reasonable and prudent action."
The overhaul has been a source of controversy in the state. Last year, the Minnesota Commerce Department said "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 the "serious risks" to the environment.
The heavier type of oil found in Canada has the potential to sink in water and mix in with river sediment, making cleanup operations complex. A spill from an Enbridge system in Michigan in 2010 was the largest inland incident in modern U.S. history.
Environmental groups said Line 3 isn't necessary because regional consumption is on the decline. Rachel Rye Butler, a campaigner with Greenpeace, said the risks of the heavier type of crude oil found in Canada override any possible benefit.
"The climate cannot handle another tar sands pipeline," she said in an emailed statement. "Line 3 still faces a negative recommendation from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Tribal opposition, and grassroots protest that will continue until this project is cancelled for good."
O'Reilly ruled that Enbridge should follow the existing route, rather than the preferred option of a new corridor altogether for the company. In response, Enbridge said it was still reviewing the order and would take its time in offering additional comments.
The decision now rests with the state Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to make a ruling by June. In response to an environmental impact statement on the proposed project last month, the PUC said the "project is adequate."