Weather Forecast


No pipeline plans for Becker - yet

Friends of the Headwaters horseback riders at a recent protest near Brainerd. Many White Earth residents are involved in the anti-pipeline group.

The proposed Sandpiper crude oil pipeline is not being rerouted through Becker County lake country, at least, not yet.

Detroit Lakes and Becker County are not on either of the two routes currently included in the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Comparative Environmental Analysis, according to Christine Davis, a public relations specialist with Enbridge Energy, which seeks to build the $2.6 billion pipeline across Minnesota.

 That could change on Sept. 11, if the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission adds more routes to the environmental analysis.

But for now, the only routes under consideration by the PUC are Enbridge’s preferred route and a route called “System Alternative 03,” which originally cut the southwest corner off Becker County, but has been modified so that it no longer goes through Cormorant Lakes country, near Detroit Lakes, or indeed, through Becker County at all.

The modified route uses the north-south portion of Enbridge’s preferred route, then gets to Superior in a more roundabout way.

“Our preferred route was selected based on several factors – most importantly, impacts to people and the environment,” said Davis, “and we believe that it is the best route for this project. It follows pipelines or transmission lines already in operation for more than 75 percent of the route, is shorter than other proposed alternatives and minimizes impacts on people and the environment.”

Opponents to the preferred route, including a Park Rapids-based group called Friends of the Headwaters, want the pipeline route moved away from the Mississippi headwaters in Itasca State Park.

Part of the route passes Itasca State Park on a corridor that already has four crude oil pipelines owned by another company.

Enbridge has said it plans to build another $2.6 billion pipeline across Minnesota, replacing an older one that’s prone to leaks. The route hasn’t been announced, but Enbridge said it will consider using the same path as the Sandpiper line, according to the Star Tribune.

Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, has told regulators that building Sandpiper will mean a lot less Bakken crude oil moving by rail.

North Dakota is now pumping about a million barrels of crude oil a day, and moving most of it by train.

But that practice makes people nervous because trains transporting Bakken crude have been involved in several explosive accidents, and oil-car trains routinely roll through population centers, including, of course, Detroit Lakes, Lake Park, Audubon, Frazee, Vergas, Callaway, Ogema and Waubun.

Enbridge says the 30-inch-diameter pipeline will be built to high standards, with extra-thick steel where it crosses the Mississippi River and other waterways like the Straight River, a trout stream.

The company says the project will bring construction jobs and property tax dollars to the state and be part of the goal of achieving energy independence.

The Sandpiper pipeline will move light crude oil from near Tioga in northwest North Dakota to an existing terminal in Superior, Wis.

In the Upper Midwest, Enbridge’s work mainly involves transporting crude oil. In other areas it also transports natural gas and has invested $3 billion in renewable energy — wind, solar and geothermal.

Lorraine Little, Enbridge senior manager, said the company plans to invest $5 billion in Minnesota in the next few years, for upgrading, replacing and building new lines such as Sandpiper.

Little said North American refineries want access to the supply of oil in North Dakota and Canada, and that’s what is driving the expansion.

“It really supports the overall energy independence for North America,” said Lee Monthei, Enbridge vice president of major projects execution.

Monthei said technology, which has allowed the exploration of the Bakken oil field in North Dakota and in Alberta, Canada, has put the U.S. in a unique position to see energy independence, but it requires an investment in infrastructure.

Monthei said they looked at every scenario, with pros and cons for the route. Their preferred route avoids heavily populated areas that are likely to grow, which could be a conflict in the future, Monthei said.

In Carlton County, he said farmers had suggestions for the pipeline route to meander a bit, to have less of an impact on organic farming, and Monthei said they were able to accommodate that.

“We are listening very closely to all of the suggestions for alternative routing,” Monthei added.

Enbridge says its expansion plans will help the state’s economy grow.

In the Midwest, Enbridge says, 4.36 million barrels of refined petroleum products are consumed every day.

The Sandpiper will move the same amount of crude oil as 4,354 trucks or 2,052 railcars, and will create hundreds of construction jobs.

Enbridge’s goal is to move the Bakken light crude to U.S. and eastern Canadian refineries producing fuel. Enbridge expects half of the 1,500 construction jobs to be local hires in Minnesota.

There are expected to be 3,000 construction jobs overall.

Additionally, Enbridge points to long-term benefits from property taxes, noting it paid $34 million in state property taxes in 2011.

Enbridge expects to pay about $25 million annually in property taxes for Sandpiper after the first operational year.

Enbridge has been in Minnesota for 65 years. It has nearly 400 employees in the state and offices in Duluth.

Enbridge reports more than 75 percent of its preferred Sandpiper route follows existing utility rights-of-way. Enbridge’s goal is to have the pipeline completed in 2016.

“Sandpiper will be a key, long-term link from North Dakota to a variety of markets,” Enbridge stated. “It will transport Bakken crude to Enbridge terminals in Clearbrook and Superior. From these terminals, the crude oil can be shipped on Enbridge and other pipelines to Midwest and North American refineries.”

Enbridge reported in the last decade, “it has moved 13 million barrels of crude oil with a safe delivery record better than 99.999 percent.” The company has nearly 15,000 miles of pipeline in the U.S. and Canada and more than 2,000 in Minnesota.

But there have been spills.

In 2010, Enbridge reported a 30-inch pipeline rupture near Marshall, Mich., which released 843,000 gallons ultimately into the Kalamazoo River. The Environmental Protection Agency reported the spill was contained to about 80 river miles from Lake Michigan. Dredging activities continued this summer at Morrow Lake and the delta to remove oil-contaminated materials.

Monthei said any spill is unacceptable, but the safety record for pipelines is good and the probability of a leak is low.

“It was absolutely a terrible day for Enbridge, as well as the residents,” Monthei said of the Marshall, Mich., spill. “And we’ve worked hard to see there is not going to be a repeat to that.”

New technology in coatings and quality control, including X-rays of welds, and other inspection tools to find cracks or compression or stresses in the line are all combining to make it safer, Monthei said.

“We live in this area,” Monthei said. “Protecting the environment is extremely important. That is the No. 1 priority, that and safety, of course.”

In the aftermath of Marshall, Mich., more effort went into training and since then, new control systems were brought in that narrowed the work each technician is required to do.

As a result, he said, pipelines are getting safer and will get better as technology continues to improve.

“We’ve learned lessons,” Monthie said. “We’ve invested heavily to make sure that type of situation doesn’t occur.”