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Minnesota PUC advances expansion of existing Enbridge pipeline

By Robb Jeffries

Despite procedural concerns and plenty of public outcry, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to issue a certificate of need for an Enbridge expansion project on an existing line in northern Minnesota. 

Phase 2 of the Line 67 Upgrade Project consists of building four new pump stations near existing Enbridge facilities, along with upgrading three pump stations approved in an earlier phase of the project in Viking, Clearbrook and Deer River. The new stations will be near Donaldson, Plummer, Cass Lake and Floodwood.

In all, the project will expand the pipeline’s capability to transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wis., from an average of 450,000 barrels per day to 800,000.

Attorney John Gasele, representing Enbridge, said the pipeline in place was designed to handle such an increase in workflow, and that the environmental impact will be minimal.

“No alterations will be made to the pipeline’s route, and no construction will take place beyond the pump stations,” he said.

That did not reassure more than a dozen members of the public who attended the meeting to take part in the public comment session.

As with other pipeline projects in the lakes region of Minnesota, commenters expressed concern that the commission had not given enough weight to the potential impact an oil spill would have on lakes and rivers in the region.

“The water we drink is not an infinite resource that comes from the tap,” said Kate Jacobson, a member of environmental group MN350. “It is a living entity that flows through the earth to tributaries and lakes … and showers us from the sky.”

Emergency responders will have a difficult time properly responding to spills in the region, said Gillette West, a retired firefighter and paramedic.

“I’m not going to discuss the loss of our state’s identity when we go from the State of 10,000 Lakes to the State of 10,000 Leaks. … Even with training for first responders, they will be grossly unprepared when there is a spill,” she said.

The commission did stipulate that the certificate of need was contingent on Enbridge obtaining any local, state and federal permits necessary for the expansion, and the company must apply its “neutral environmental footprint” policy to the project. This means taking conservation efforts to offset the impact on the environment, including planting a tree for each tree removed during construction and generating an equal amount of kilowatt-hours of renewable energy for every kilowatt-hour of energy the project consumes.

The certificate of need was awarded by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Dan Lipschultz dissenting. Lipschultz expressed procedural concerns regarding Enbridge’s presentation of evidence. With only three weeks to sift through an abundance of late information, Paul Blackburn, attorney for MN350, said he did not have time to fully analyze the new findings.

Lipschultz advised Enbridge to be more forthcoming with evidence in the future, which could hold weight over the company’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline, which would run more than 600 miles from the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota, across Minnesota to Superior.

“Don’t hold back,” he said. “You aren’t helping your case, and you aren’t helping other parties either.”

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