Enbridge Inc. has won the first in a series of court rulings regarding lawsuits protesting the construction of the $2.6 billion Minnesota leg in its Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project.

Enbridge

The Minnesota Court of Appeals turned down a request by two Ojibwe native bands for a preliminary injunction to halt work launched in December on the 340-mile oil conduit across the state.

The ruling upheld denial by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) of demands to stay state project approvals. The MPUC had authority to make its decision, and the courts owe deference to the expert commission, the appeals court said.

Expected soon is a ruling on a parallel appeal for a stop-work injunction on Line 3 pending at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by two environmental organizations and a pair of Minnesota Ojibwe bands.

In both state and federal court, the injunction rulings only decide opening procedural rounds of legal duels that are liable to become marathon trials of protest lawsuits on their merits. The Minnesota court has scheduled oral arguments in the Line 3 case for late March.

Enbridge in response said it was encouraged by the appeals court decision “but not surprised. This is an essential maintenance and safety project that enhances environmental protections.”

The Minnesota work is scheduled to take about nine months. All other legs of the total $9 billion, 1,031-mile Line 3 pipe replacement project have been completed in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Canadian shippers, led by the country’s top natural gas user, Alberta thermal oilsands production, are forecast to gain 370,000 b/d of export capacity because the new pipe would enable the 52-year-old Line 3 to increase operating pressure.

Pipeline foes called for President Biden to stop the Line 3 project by discarding its approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It would be similar to the administration’s halt of TC Energy Corp.’s Keystone XL after revoking its permit on the president’s first day in office in January.

The pipeline opponents described the Line 3 pipe replacement work as a smaller version of the aborted 830,000 b/d Keystone that would extend U.S. oil use, postpone energy transition from fossil fuels and violate claimed native rights and territory.