June 29 (UPI) -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called for calm after a regulator cleared the way for the start of the permitting process of a new Enbridge oil pipeline.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission signed off on a certificate of need for the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline through the state. Gov. Dayton said in a statement that he recognized the opposition to the project, but reminded his constituents the PUC's decision was only one step in a long process.
"I urge everyone to express themselves peacefully. The PUC's decision is not the final approval of this pipeline," he said. "Rather, it only allows Enbridge to begin to apply for at least 29 required federal, state, and local permits."
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.
The overhaul has been a source of controversy in the state. The state Commerce Department said last year "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.
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. The state chapter of the Sierra Club recognized the PUC's decision was only the start, but said it was concerned about the unanimous support for the certificate of need.
"It is shameful that the PUC chose to ignore the wishes of Minnesota communities and prioritize the desires of a foreign pipeline company over the best interest of our state," Margaret Levin, the director of the state chapter, said in a statement. "We will continue to fight to ensure that this pipeline is never built."
Some public hearings of the plans in Minnesota were canceled by authorities because of "logistical and safety issues" stemming from protests.
The Minnesota Petroleum Council stated Thursday that the PUC decision was good news for state consumers.
"Pipelines are critical to safely delivering the energy that consumers need and demand every day," Erin Roth, the council's director, said in a statement. "Not only will Line 3 bring great benefits to Minnesota workers and our state's economy, it is critical to supplying our entire region with affordable, reliable energy."
Construction can't begin until Enbridge has all of the necessary permits. Dayton said the PUC determination is not a guarantee Line 3 would be approved and the review processes left will take several months.