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Oil pipeline in western Hubbard County set to start moving crude

The trenching process buried pipe three feet in non-agricultural areas and more than four feet where the lines run through agricultural land. (Submitted photo)

PARK RAPIDS - A 300-mile, $300 million crude oil pipeline that snakes through central Minnesota will begin transporting oil to Twin Cities refineries later this fall.

The exact date the pipeline will go on line, and its exact location through 13 Minnesota counties, including western Hubbard, are not being disclosed for security reasons, a pipeline spokesperson said.

Known as the MinnCan Project, the pipeline will transport crude oil from Canadian oil sands to the Minneapolis area.

The oil from the MinnCan pipeline originates from a station in Clearbrook.

The pipeline has been a three-year project for parent Minnesota Pipeline Company. It applied for a certificate of need Jan. 3, 2006.

The Public Utilities Commission granted the certificate in April 2007, indicating, "The probable result of denial would be an adverse effect on the future adequacy, reliability, or efficiency of energy supply to the applicant, the applicant's customers, or to the people of Minnesota and neighboring states."

Once operational, the pipeline is anticipated to pay an estimated $9 million is annual property taxes to the affected counties the line traverses. Hubbard County's share of that revenue is projected to be anywhere between $648,000 to $1 million annually, according to company figures.

The northern section of the project, from Clearwater County southward, follows the right-of-way of an existing Minnesota Pipeline Company (MPL) system.

The route's southern portion winds south and west of the metropolitan area to avoid commercial and residential developments, MinnCan's Web site indicates.

Although MinnCan has included maps on its Web site, "due to security considerations, Minnesota Pipeline Company - and other pipeline companies - do not publish detailed maps," said spokesperson Patty Dunn.

MPL does not operate its pipelines. They are operated by Koch Pipeline Company.

The existing MPL pipeline carries 330,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil daily to the two Minnesota refineries, the Marathon Petroleum Company in St. Paul and Flint Hills Resources Refinery in Rosemount.

It connects directly to the Flint Hills Refinery and through existing pipeline facilities to Marathon, Dunn said.

The pipeline slated to become operational this fall is a 24-inch diameter pipe that will carry 165,000 barrels a day.

In agricultural sections, the pipeline's depth is 4½ feet; 3 feet in non-agricultural sections, Dunn said.

It will be hydrostatically tested before oil is pushed through the pipes, Dunn said. That testing may already be under way. High- pressured water is forced through the lines to detect any weak spots.

Park Rapids Fire Chief Donn Hoffman said the squad has already undergone training in case there is a leak or catastrophic event.

He's confident that training won't ever be put to the test.

"The reality for us is that there's a very, very, very minute danger," he said. "Crude oil doesn't burn particularly well. There's so many protections on that (pipeline) and most of it is more environmental because of actual hazards. They are very well protected," he said of then pipeline.

But his confidence may not totally allay public concerns. MPL's system is supplied by the Enbridge Pipeline at Clearbrook. Last week Enbridge Energy was fined $2.4 million in the November 2007 deaths of two pipeline workers near Clearbrook.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, in meting out the fine, cited eight probable safety violations uncovered by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. Enbridge has 30 days to appeal the ruling.

The Nov. 28 accident occurred when a heater used on site for warmth ignited crude oil mist seeping from the pipeline. Enbridge's own investigation found that a length of exposed pipeline was insufficiently anchored and couplings failed that held sections of pipe together before it was welded, causing vapor emissions.

MPL will monitor the pipeline 24 hours a day, Dunn indicated, to ensure it's running safely and efficiently.

Corrosion protection measures are taken regularly, inserting a device into the pipeline to detect weak spots. Air surveillance of the pipeline is conducted on average every two weeks, the company said.

"The only reason we would be notified is if there would be some containment issues, but generally on pipelines they have their own crews and they're very well trained for it," Hoffman said. "They have their own troubleshooters."

Once the pipeline is operational, the public can call the Gopher State One Call Center to report leaks.

Hoffman said that's usually accomplished using local law enforcement as the immediate contact, but the pipeline is marked at regular intervals and toll-free numbers to its own control center are on the signposts.

The likelihood of another incident is remote, Hoffman believes.

"You're probably more likely to be struck by lightning and bitten by a shark at the same time," he said. "Pipeline accidents just don't happen."