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Letter: Tankers or pipelines: Pick your poison

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Putting aside the larger, global issue of what all this fracking and tar sands extraction is doing to our environment, let’s assume we need this oil and that we want to move it to refineries and ultimately to its market in the safest manner. While 70 percent of Bakken crude is now transported above ground by rail, the increased pressure on our rail system and the frequencies of horrific accidents makes this mode of transport questionable.

But pipelines actually spill more oil than rail and truck combined, by nearly a 10 to 1 ratio. Additionally, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, pipelines are estimated to leak as much oil underground as above ground spills. While both railroads and pipeline companies profess their adherence to safety standards, these standards in both cases are set way too low to provide for adequate protection of our communities and our environment.

In 2011 the US Department of Transportation set new standards for tanker cars, but there is still no requirement or plan to update the aging fleet of flimsy tankers that are better suited to hauling vegetable oil, not highly combustible ethanol or fracked and tar sand oil. Legislation passed this year will impose fees on both railroad and pipeline companies to support quicker spill response but does little to head off the accidents/spills.

Think pipelines are better managed? Government oversight of pipeline routing, construction and monitoring is practically non-existent. In Minnesota, this responsibility now rests with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

“Rest” seems the operative word in this case. While the PUC proclaims to have an open process allowing for citizen input in the routing of new pipelines, they make it extremely difficult to provide this input in the format and timeframe required.

A recent letter writer attempted to disparage the efforts of activists using “tired rhetoric of the 70s” in debating the merits of pipelines. I’d say that’s high praise indeed, for out of the 1970s came a new awareness and respect for the environment. Protective legislation had been nearly nonexistent.

Our first Earth Day was created in 1970 (celebrated globally each year now on April 22) a result of the efforts of Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), a passionate advocate of protecting the environment and increasing awareness of environmental issues.

I’ll tell you what I am tired of though - “Big Oil” companies saying one thing and doing something else. In a letter submitted to this paper on May 14, Enbridge VP Lee Monthel stated that when they propose a project “we are careful to design the project with environmental resources in mind.” If that were true, the Sandpiper’s proposed route would not have to dig a tunnel under the Mississippi just a few miles from its headwaters before gouging a trough across northern Minnesota’s highly susceptible water aquifers, clean lakes, wetlands and streams.

The current system is broken. Citizens need to get informed and speak out or we will have more train wrecks and more pipeline spills doing irreparable harm to our communities and environment.

The PUC is accepting comments from the public on routes only until Friday, May 30. To learn more about how you can take action visit the following website www.friendsofthehead waters.org.

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