The federal government today approved a massive oil pipeline project that runs through Saskatchewan — one that many First Nations in the province formally expressed concerns about.

Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline was constructed in the 1960s. The National Energy Board (NEB) approved the $7.5-billion replacement project in April.

It would double the current capacity in the pipeline, which runs from Hardisty, Alta., through Saskatchewan, ending at Superior, Wis.

The pipeline is presently operating at about half capacity after the company voluntarily reduced pressure because of reliability concerns. Enbridge says the replacement pipeline will restore the original capacity, which was 760,000 barrels of oil per day, compared to the current 360,000.

The Line 3 project has not received the kind of opposition the Northern Gateway project has, but a few First Nations in Saskatchewan submitted concerns to the NEB in 2015. 

1999 spill

In 1999, Line 3 ruptured near Pilot Butte, east of Regina, releasing more than 20,000 barrels of heavy crude oil.

Ochapowace First Nation, which has land near Pilot Butte, outlined eight concerns with the pipeline, including gathering traditional knowledge from Indigenous groups and remediation of past contamination.

In its submission to the NEB, Ochapowace said it was affected by the 1999 spill.

"These impacts are economic, financial, emotional, lasting and devastating beyond description," it said.   

On the issue of the spill affecting Ochapowace lands near Pilot Butte, Enbridge responded: "Respectfully, the existing Line 3 does not traverse Ochapowace First Nation lands in the Pilot Butte area. Rather, the existing Line 3 runs through a corridor that is bounded by Ochapowace First Nation reserve lands on two sides, but that is titled to Enbridge in fee simple."

That is, the pipeline cuts through Ochapowace's territory.

Enbridge response to Ochapowace

Enbridge used this map to show Line 3 "does not traverse Ochapowace First Nation reserve lands." (Enbridge)

In regards to past contamination, Enbridge received confirmation for the NEB that its 1999 spill had been remediated "to the applicable guidelines in 2007."

The company said it will engage with Indigenous groups through the life-cycle of the project.

Ochapowace not alone in concerns

Keeseekoose First Nation submitted concerns similar to Ochapowace's: The pipeline's proximity to land held by the First Nation in and out of Regina.

Enbridge said neither the existing line nor its replacement will impact the land.

The George Gordon First Nation's concerns relate to waste management during the pipeline's decommissioning and operation.

And Pasqua First Nation was worried that it is located downstream from Line 3 replacement's crossing of the Qu'Appelle Valley. 

Enbridge said it took the concerns seriously and entered an engagement agreement with Pasqua First Nation.

It also tabled a proposal to establish a roundtable with the First Nation and others in the Lower Qu'Appelle River Watershed.

Enbridge reaction

Enbridge released a statement on Tuesday, saying its Line 3 maintenance project "will ensure the safe and reliable delivery of Canada's energy resources to market."

"We have strong support for the project from our communities along the route, including Indigenous communities."