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Letter: Sandpiper XXL

While our nation’s attention has been focused on the politics surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company which is opening an office in Park Rapids, plans to build an even larger crude oil pipeline corridor through the heart of our lake country. The Keystone XL (yes, the XL stands for extra large), which requires a presidential permit since it is a new route and crosses the Canadian/US border, will carry 830,000 barrels per day (BPD) of tar sand oil from Alberta to the Gulf. The Sandpiper, Enbridge’s originally proposed oil pipeline, will carry 375,000 BPD of fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken across northern Minnesota to Superior.

But there’s more.

In October, Enbridge filed plans with Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to “rebuild” their ailing Line 3 pipeline and lay it right alongside the Sandpiper. This means that if the Sandpiper is approved, Enbridge will add Line 3 to this corridor, which is twice as big as Sandpiper. Line 3, which currently moves tar sand oil from Alberta through North Dakota and Minnesota (along US 2) to Superior will be doubled in size to transport 760,000 BPD. This dual pipeline corridor (we may as well call it the Sandpiper XXL) will carry over 1.1 million BPD. That’s about 47,000,000 gallons per day – much more than Keystone XL! And there is no reason to think that would be the end of it. There are five other old pipelines running along US 2 with Line 3. When these pipelines fail like Line 3 has, this new Sandpiper oil corridor will be the logical location in which to relocate them.

While fracked oil is bad enough, considering the plethora of chemicals used to extract it from shale formations, the tar sand oil coming from Alberta is said to be the dirtiest oil on earth. Both of these oils are termed “extreme oil sources” due to the extreme measures required to extract them from the ground as well as being a prime driver of global warming caused by the carbon emitted in their production processes.

Closer to home, consider the impact, both environmental and economic, of a spill of this chemical cocktail near our vulnerable lakes, rivers, wetlands and susceptible drinking water aquifers. It happened on March 3, 1991 near Grand Rapids, Minn. on the existing Enbridge Line 3 when 1.7 million gallons were spilled. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled from this pipeline in dozens of incidents since the early 1970s, according to state records. It also happened in 2010 in Kalamazoo, Mich. where another Enbridge pipeline broke and spilled 800,000 gallons of tar sand oil. According to Enbridge’s own records, 804 spills occurred on their pipelines from 1999-2010. These spills released approximately 161,475 barrels of crude oil into the environment, an average of 565,000 gallons per year. They claim their goal is zero spills – they are not even close. Only 40 percent of this oil is ever recovered.

Little research has been completed regarding the behavior of tar sand oil products spilled in water, a critical concern for our lake country. Some of the many chemicals used in the extraction process (including benzene, a carcinogen), evaporate (causing airborne toxic fumes) and allowing the remaining oil to sink. Current capabilities to detect and recover this oil when it sinks or is suspended in the water column, are poor. Enbridge is still attempting to clean up the disaster they created in Michigan’s Kalamazoo river.

Assuming that the actual need for this pipeline is proven, we must find a way to transport these oils safely to refineries. In Minnesota, our PUC recently took an unprecedented stance to compare the environmental risks of the Sandpiper as well as a number of alternate routes submitted by Friends of the Headwaters and supported by our Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency and Hubbard Coalition of Lake Associations.

Wherever this pipeline corridor ends up, it will be there a long time. The decision made will impact our land, water and communities for generations to come. Let’s get behind these efforts to find the safest route possible.

Jeff Mosner

Park Rapids