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Letter: Pipeline spills do happen

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Pipeline Spills Do Happen

Pipeline companies will tell you advances in engineering and construction of pipelines has made pipelines much safer. While it is true that improvements have been made in materials, joint construction and, in some cases, pipe installation practices, pipeline failures are still a reality. One of the principal causes of failure along pipelines is mechanical damage such as impacts by excavating equipment. Improved engineering has little effect on the rate of human errors.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has not been done on the proposed Sandpiper pipeline through northern Minnesota. An EIS will address the specific risks associated with the construction of the pipeline. Based on a review of an EIS that was done on the Pebble Beach mining project in Bristol Bay, Alaska, which had several pipelines in the project, the statistical rate of failure for the Sandpiper can be projected. The Bristol Bay EIS states a probability of 1 failure per 620 miles of pipeline per year. Within a few miles, that is the length of the proposed Sandpiper preferred southern route through Hubbard County. Over a projected life of 30 years, the Sandpiper will have 30 failures. 53 miles of the Sandpiper is located in Hubbard County. Statistically, Hubbard County will experience 2.5 of those 30 failures during the life of the pipeline.

Pipeline failures include both leaks and ruptures. Leaks are small holes and cracks that result in product loss but do not immediately prevent the functioning of the pipelines. Ruptures are larger holes or breaks that render the pipeline inoperable. Although a leak is much slower than a rupture, it can be as devastating as a rupture. Leaks tend to go unnoticed over a long period of time, ultimately releasing quantities comparable to or exceeding a rupture.

History does repeat itself. We will see failures from the Sandpiper in Hubbard County. The question remains, when and where will the failures occur? By the way, based on the project EIS, the Bristol Bay mining project in Alaska was denied because the risk of damage to the salmon fishery was too great. Our waters and fisheries in Minnesota are just as important as the waters and fisheries are in Alaska. An EIS will reveal the risks of pipeline failures and their impact on our water resources.

Lowell Schellack

Park Rapids

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