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Workforce returning to Line 3 project after spring break

Because of seasonal construction restrictions, the number of workers on Enbridge's Line 3 replacement project was reduced to about 900. Crews are coming back now with the hiatus over with the number of workers to reach 4,000 by mid-June.

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(Forum News Service file photo)

BEMIDJI -- The number of crews working on Enbridge's Line 3 replacement project is steadily increasing as a spring break comes to a close.

During a virtual construction update Wednesday, project officials said the break was planned to accommodate seasonal restrictions. The number of workers on the project went down to 900 during this time, but crews are returning now and the amount of laborers is expected to reach 4,000 by mid-June.

During the digital meeting, the project's Vice President Leo Golden said the project is on schedule and the new pipeline is expected to be in service this year. Work won't end in 2021, though, as Golden said restoration and cleanup operations will be done in 2022.

Before the project's spring break, Golden said this past winter's weather altered how fast some parts of the pipeline were being completed. In some of the northern areas along the pipeline's route, with a more mild winter, more production took place than expected.

However, in wetland areas, without consistent colder temperatures, the ground wasn't as frozen, causing a slowdown in other regions.

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Work on the pipeline started around December in 2020 after nearly six years of review and legal work on permitting. The new pipeline will replace the existing Line 3, installed in the 1960s.

Because of its age and condition, the pipeline is operating at half capacity. Enbridge is investing $2.9 billion in the new pipeline that's projected to carry an average of 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wis., where a terminal is located.

The pipeline will be more than 1,000 miles long and the Minnesota portion, now 50% finished, will be 337 miles.

Both the original and replacement pipeline take a route from Canada to North Dakota and through northwest Minnesota until it reaches Clearbrook. From there, the existing pipeline takes a direct path east to Superior, going through the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation.

The new route, though, will go south from Clearbrook to the border of Hubbard and Wadena Counties, and from there go east to Wisconsin. As part of the new route, the pipeline will be going under bodies of water, roads and railroad tracks.

Barry Simonson, a mainline execution director at Enbridge, said the company is using a horizontal directional drill, or HDD unit. The drill will be inserted by a rig and tunnel underneath water and infrastructure. Then, a reaming tool will be pulled through to improve the hole made by the drill, followed by the pipeline being pulled through.

Simonson said for this project, all of the HDD operations will be going under bodies of water and some of those will also go under highways and railroads.

When the new pipeline is finished, the older one will be decommissioned and remain the company's responsibility to monitor and maintain.

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