Minnesota will take time to study pipeline route alternatives

ST. PAUL -- It all started with a crayon. At least that was the rhetoric used during Thursday's Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing regarding proposed alternate routes for the Sandpiper Pipeline project. The original route, along with t...

ST. PAUL - It all started with a crayon.

At least that was the rhetoric used during Thursday’s Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing regarding proposed alternate routes for the Sandpiper Pipeline project. The original route, along with the eight proposed “system alternatives” came under fire from attorneys representing Canadian transportation company Enbridge, environmental groups and others, calling the routes on the table lines drawn on a map in crayon.

The end result led the commission to vote in favor of deviating from it’s usual routine. Instead it will allow more time for the Minnesota Department of Commerce to conduct more research into the environmental impact of the six “crayon-drawn” system alternatives recommended for review by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Normally, the commission considers granting a certificate of need and a route permit at the same time, allowing for a more streamlined process. Until the environmental research is complete, though, Enbridge subsidiary North Dakota Pipeline Co.’s application for a route permit will be on hold.

The change in procedure will allow more time for the commission to discover the feasibility and the extent the system alternatives may impact communities they pass through, and give people in those communities more time to learn about the project, said Frank Biebeau, attorney for environmental group Honor the Earth.


“Right now, we have everybody alarmed… because we’re not quite sure what we’re going to do,” Biebeau said. “That’s not fair to the public.”

Enbridge just drew a line on a map to create their route, Biebeau said, and the company disregarded the towns in the path of the line. But, he says “that crayon line was a little too fat and arbitrary.”

Supporters of the original route said Enbridge took great care in selecting the route.

“This is not a company that wants to put the pipeline wherever they want,” said Christina Brusven, attorney for North Dakota Pipeline Co.

The route goes through an area near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, an area of significant resistance by environmental groups, but one that avoids other sensitive areas.

“We are responding to concerns from the Leech Lake band of Ojibwe, and we’ve identified concerns from the Chippewa National Forest,” Brusven said. “For those reasons, we have a preferred route that avoids those very significant natural resources.”

Changing routes

The proposal from Enbridge would transport crude oil from near Tioga, N.D., more than 600 miles to Superior, Wis.  The Minnesota portion of the original Sandpiper route runs from just south of East Grand Forks to an existing Enbridge terminal in Clearbrook, then across the northern Minnesota to Superior.


The system alternatives recommended for review have drastically different routes - one following Interstate 94 towards St. Cloud then back north to Superior, another crossing the Red River near Fargo and running south nearly to the Twin Cities metro area, and another bypassing lakes country all together, running south from the shared border of North Dakota and South Dakota across southwestern Minnesota to refineries in Illinois.

“At this point in time, (the system alternatives) are literally lines drawn on the map,” Brusven said. “There’s no evidence about feasibility. It’s akin to telling all the travelers through the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport that instead of connecting their flights there, instead they will be diverted into Rochester. It’s another Minnesota airport, planes go in, they go out, it should be fine, right?”

Biebeau says looking at alternatives is worthwhile.

“All I’m hearing is stick with the process, look down and check off the boxes, don’t look up and see the blue sky and the blue water and nature,” he said.


The additional research by the department of commerce’s Energy Environmental Research and Analysis group could delay proceedings by about two months, according to the group’s Deborah Pyle, although the split in the certificate of need and route permit proceedings could help negate that delay.

“I am sensitive to concerns about slowing the process,” commissioner Dan Lipschultz said. “I don’t take that lightly, but I take our responsibility to make sure we do it right … and make sure we don’t disadvantage any parties to these proceedings, especially those with limited resources.”

Robb Jeffries (he/him) is the Night Editor for and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Robb can be reached at
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