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Sandpiper Pipeline's polarized views; Public speaks up on Line 3 pipeline replacement project

 
The Sandpiper Line 3 replacement argument has a classical risk/benefit analysis for building a crude oil pipeline pipeline that would skirt Hubbard County if approved.  Are the risks of burying a pipeline near pristine lakes and rivers worth it for the benefit of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and providing a reliable and stable supply?  There’s no middle ground as opponents and supporters squared off Wednesday in two informational hearings in Park Rapids. “An exhaustive study must be done,” said Park Rapids opponent Lowell Schellack. “This process is moving too fast. Many of the crossings are inaccessible by road. Putting oil by our precious resources is never worth the risk.”  Supporter Charles Burns, who said he worked on the original pipeline 65 years ago when there were few environmental rules and construction standards were less rigid, offered,

“That pipeline is still pumping oil. Today’s quality is far superior.”  Burns urged opponents to examine their lifestyles and conserve fuel.  “Everything we touch uses LP,” he said. “Oil is part of our life, like it or not. I don’t see why people are getting so excited.  “Quit driving your cars and disconnect your electricity” if you don’t like it, Burns said.  

The project would replace 1,031 miles of existing pipeline, which is 24 inches, with a 36-inch pipeline at a cost of $7.5 billion, $2.6 billion for the U.S. portion alone. The pipeline to be built by Enbridge Energy Company, Inc., stretches from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wis. It would transport 760,000 barrels of oil per day. Regulatory approval is being sought in both the U.S. and Canada.  Of that, 337 miles would travel through Minnesota, Enbridge company officials said Wednesday. Line 3’s new setting would be co-located with the proposed Sandpiper Pipeline, which is also pending before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.  

The old Line 3 had a more northern route, only traversing one corner of Hubbard County. The new Line 3 route (and the proposed Sandpiper route) would hug Hubbard County’s western and southern boundaries on the way to Superior.  “There were 54 route alternatives proposed for Sandpiper along the Sandpiper Route in Minnesota from the North Dakota border to the Wisconsin border,” said Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little.  “Of those 54 route alternatives, 23 from Clearbrook to Superior were included in the Line 3 Route Permit, which was filed with the PUC. Those route alternatives were chosen based on input from landowners, state agencies and other stakeholders, and became Enbridge’s preferred route from Clearbrook to Superior.  “During the development of the Comparative Environmental Analysis (CEA) for both Line 3 and Sandpiper along the common corridor from Clearbrook to Superior, the remaining route alternatives from the Sandpiper process will be studied, as well as the ones that are already part of the preferred Line 3 route.  ‘Additionally,” Little said, “any other new route alternatives proposed during the Line 3 scoping process will be studied as part of the CEA. The Department of Commerce is accepting proposals for alternative routes for Line 3 until September 30. Enbridge will review all proposed alternatives.”      

The company says Line 3 needs replacing due to “ongoing maintenance and integrity” issues. Leaving the old Line 3 in place would be costly and unreliable.  The purpose of replacing Line 3 would be to ensure safety standards of modern pipeline technology and to reduce future disruptive maintenance activities while minimizing overall costs, Enbridge officials maintained.  

  Vocal opponents converged on Century School’s cafetorium Wednesday. But supporters were there, too.  Opponent John Weber questioned how many pipelines could safely be contained into one corridor.  

An Enbridge company official said the interior of the old Line 3 would be scrubbed if deactivated and the pipeline would be left inert, incapable of transporting any other oil. But it would be dangerous to remove it.  That seemed to anger the crowd of around 200, who suggested it be removed entirely.  But Minnesota Department of Commerce Environmental Review Manager Jamie MacAlister said, “there’s no requirement to remove the old pipeline” and that Enbridge was following the letter of the law as it currently exists.  

A handout provided suggestions of how the public could provide alternate routes. Enbridge would be responsible for the deactivated pipe in perpetuity.  Nancy Terhark urged a moratorium on Line 3 and the proposed Sandpiper line since the lines run within a mile of the Mississippi headwaters. She suggested a full environmental review of the risks of the project before proceeding any further.

  The type of environmental review to be performed came under fire by several of the opponents.  A comparative environmental analysis (CAE) is in the plan. Opponents like Maurice Spangler suggested a more rigorous environmental impact statement (EIS) should be undertaken.  “The Public Utilities Commission should insist on a detailed EIS,” he said. “They work for us.”  Company officials countered that a CAE meets National Environmental Policy Act requirements, which create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.  The two processes are nearly indistinguishable, company officials said, and require a builder to mitigate specific negative environmental impacts and demonstrate a need for the project.  “There’s nothing in a CEA that wouldn’t be in an EIS,” a company official said.

Both processes incorporate public comments along the way.  Opponent Mary Adams questioned why the Canadian leg of the pipeline would need to carry “dirty tar sands.”  She characterized the tar sands as heavy and highly corrosive” and suggested “Enbridge’s safety record is far from stellar.”  She and others questioned why there was a need for the pipeline when the U.S. was moving toward alternative fuel sources.

  Dave Lesher mentioned the “Norman Rockwell quality” of the area, saying he doubted the area “could survive a spill of any kind.”  Bob Schoneberger suggested the opponents look into and “be comfortable with how Enbridge trains its employees.”  Environmentalist Barry Babcock of Laporte generates his own electricity in northern Hubbard County and makes his living guiding tours down the Mississippi River. He seemed discouraged that the PUC wasn’t advocating for an alternative fuel source.  “The days of fossil fuels are numbered,” he predicted. And he was angered that he thought Enbridge was locating the pipeline in a place where few people might object.  “Northern Minnesota is no longer Outpost, Alaska,” he said. The economy of the region depends on clean water and clean forests, he insisted.

n  The economics of Line 3 were discussed by Enbridge personnel, including $19.5 million in tax revenues to the region and 1,500 new construction jobs, 50 percent of which would come from towns along the route. The pipe is manufactured in Portland. An Enbridge official said, “Quality of construction is paramount to us.”  Numerous audits ensure quality work, pipeline worker Jeff Gurske said.  “We don’t have anything to hide,” said Enbridge official Paul Turner.  Pending regulatory approval, construction would begin in 2016, with the pipeline becoming operational the following year.  That process has “fatal flaws,” argued opponent Willis Mattson. “No peer reviewed group of people will sanitize the process.”  

“We are moving away from petroleum to alternative ways,” suggested Palmer Lake resident Wilbert Ahern. “I urge you to take a long view.”  “It’s obvious that the best method of shipping oil is through a pipe,” Nevis resident Arnold Leshovsky countered. “They aren’t going to build a pipeline to fail.”  He pointed out the inconsistency of environmentalists objecting to using recycled steel for the pipe, an issue that came up during the first hearing.  And some opponents said their objections were not about the quality of the workers, simply the location of the pipeline.  “It will take a concerted effort to keep those waters clean,” said Nevis resident Lois Parsons. “Someone has to stand up for our children and grandchildren. Stand up against the power and money.”  The comment period for Line 3 ends Sept. 30.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364
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