(Bloomberg) -- Canada’s oil industry just moved one step closer to getting some relief from its pipeline woes.
Enbridge Inc.’s planned $7 billion replacement and expansion of its Line 3 conduit, linking Alberta’s oil fields to refineries in the U.S., was given the green light by regulators in Minnesota on Thursday, clearing the way for the project to move ahead. The state’s Public Utilities Commission approved a certificate of need for the project in a 5-0 vote and signed off on a pathway for the conduit that hewed closely to Enbridge’s preferred route on a 3-2 vote.
While opponents of the pipeline may continue to fight the project through protests and legal challenges, the votes represent a victory for Canada’s oil industry, which has supported the Line 3 expansion as a way to alleviate the pipeline bottlenecks that have weighed on prices for its crude. The 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) Line 3 project would help carry about 370,000 more barrels of heavy and light crude a day from Hardisty, Alberta, to a storage hub in Superior, Wisconsin.
“Projects like this help us make sure we’re getting product to market, which is good for Canada,” Enbridge Chief Executive Officer Al Monaco said in response to reporters’ questions at the World Gas Conference in Washington while the hearing was ongoing.
Enbridge shares gained during Thursday’s meeting as members of the commission spoke favorably about the project, citing the need to replace the current Line 3, which was originally installed in the 1960s.
“How would I feel if I woke up in five years and found out that line had leaked? It’s just too great a cost,” PUC Chairwoman Nancy Lange said in her opening remarks during the meeting, in a reference to the old line.
Before the votes were cast, the stock closed 3.7 percent higher at C$43.90 in Toronto, the biggest one-day gain since Nov. 30.
Canada’s oil industry is closely watching two other projects: The Trans Mountain expansion, which the Canadian government agreed to buy from Kinder Morgan Inc. in May, and TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL. Trans Mountain still faces a legal challenge, but the government’s ownership has been seen as increasing its likelihood of helping overcome pushback from British Columbia and other opponents. TransCanada has yet to make a final, formal decision on whether it will build Keystone XL.
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, a native group that opposes the Line 3 project as a threat to “critical” natural resources, said it’s prepared to appeal the decision, according to statement after the hearing.
Enbridge had already started construction on the new Line 3 in Canada and Wisconsin while it awaited approval for the Minnesota section. That portion of the line was cast into doubt in April after a Minnesota judge recommended that the state’s public utilities commission grant the project a certificate of need, but asked that the new line follow the conduit’s existing route rather than the company’s preferred path.
Replacing the pipeline along the current route would have required Enbridge to shut it down for nine to 12 months and consult with two Minnesota Ojibwe bands that generally haven’t supported the project. In the end, the Minnesota commission voted to permit the pipeline along Enbridge’s preferred route, with a change to one segment.
The cost estimate of the project remains materially unchanged at $5.3 billion in Canada and $2.9 billion in the U.S., Enbridge said in a statement dated June 28. The company has already spent about $3.6 billion to date on the overall project and continues to anticipate an in-service date in the second half of 2019, it said. Construction could start early next year, spokesman Jesse Semko said in an email.
“The PUC’s decision to approve our preferred route with modifications is a good outcome for Minnesota and the result of listening carefully to stakeholders and an effective consultation process,” Al Monaco said in the statement. “We believe our route best protects the environment and has overwhelming support of communities.”
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