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Commentary: Friends of the Headwaters explains pipeline capacity

We’re glad that numbers matter so much to Ms. Davis because they really matter to us too. Especially Enbridge numbers. And we think it would be a service to Enterprise readers if Friends of the Headwaters explains these numbers and the terms to which they refer.

The “capacity” of the Sandpiper Pipeline is shown in a table in Enbridge’s Jan. 31, 2014, Certificate of Need application.

The beginning, voluntary limit is the “initial capacity.” But, whenever Enbridge decides it wants to move more oil, they can install more pumps up to the “ultimate capacity.” And the “ultimate design capacity” from Clearbrook to Superior would be 711,000 barrels per day. That’s almost 30 million gallons.

This number is important, because it can be used to estimate the maximum amount of crude oil that could be pumped out of the Sandpiper Pipeline each minute if it ruptures into lakes, creeks, or rivers while the pumps are still operating. A typical semi tanker carries about 9,000 gallons of oil. At ultimate design capacity, the Sandpiper could pump out over two semi tanker trucks of oil each minute before its pumps are shut off.

But here’s the kicker: Enbridge will not be able to shut off the Sandpiper Pipeline instantly. First, it needs to detect the rupture and decide what to do. If they are hoping to avert another situation like the debacle in Kalamazoo, they would need to trust their own monitors instead of ignoring them and continuing to pump oil into a river.

It also takes time to shut down the pumps and close valves, especially when you have a spill in a pipeline that is routed through wetlands and near rivers. Remember, there are hundreds of miles of oil moving in this pipeline. This is a very large mass of liquid with a large momentum that cannot be stopped instantly. Even if they react quickly, any spill could affect Hubbard County’s shallow aquifers and its groundwater in our sandy, porous soils.

Since Enbridge is not planning to install its maximum number of pumps immediately, the initial design capacity proposed by Enbridge is 417,000 barrels per day. But the number Enbridge and Ms. Davis prefer to use is the “initial annual capacity” of the segment between Clearbrook and Superior. That figure is 375,000 barrels per day.

Enbridge uses this 375,000 figure because it understates the amount of oil that could be spilled when Enbridge maxes out its pumps at some point in the future. Christine Davis insists on the initial annual capacity figure because it’s her job to make sure that press, agency staff, politicians, and the public are conditioned to think about the capacity of Sandpiper as the lowest figures in the table.

However, there’s a big difference between what Enbridge wants people to think about Sandpiper capacity and what they could be pumping, once they’re up and running. We believe Minnesota can provide this pipeline with a better route, away from the Mississippi Headwaters and Minnesota lakes.

If you want more information about these matters, go to friendsofthehead waters.org or https://www. facebook.com/savemississip piheadwaters.

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