Sandpiper oil pipeline gets support, criticism

DULUTH, Minn. -- The proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline across northern Minnesota is either a safer way to move domestic energy or an immoral boost for fossil fuels and climate change.

DULUTH, Minn. -- The proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline across northern Minnesota is either a safer way to move domestic energy or an immoral boost for fossil fuels and climate change.

That was the gamut of testimony Tuesday in Duluth at a public hearing on the proposed, all-new, 616-mile pipeline from Beaver Lodge in northwestern North Dakota’s Bakken oil field to Superior, Wis.

About 300 of those miles are across northern Minnesota.

More than 500 people packed the basement of the Duluth Holiday Inn for the hearing, ranging from business leaders and union construction workers who want the project to move forward to environmental activists who said it will only hasten catastrophic global warming.

Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman is taking testimony at five hearings across the state this week. His decision on the pipeline will go to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in April. The PUC will decide the so-called “certificate of need” possibly in June.


If the PUC approves the certificate, it will then decide a second issue surrounding the pipeline – the project’s exact route. That likely will happen later in 2015. The company hopes to begin work on the line in 2016 and have it moving oil by 2017 – some 375,000 barrels, or nearly 15.8 million gallons, across North Dakota and Minnesota each day.

Enbridge company officials and other supporters said the $2.6 billion pipeline is a safer and less expensive way to move oil than by rail. And that oil remains in demand.

“Affordable energy is the backbone of our economic prosperity,’’ said Nancy Norr, director of regional development for Minnesota Power.

Once built, Enbridge would pay about $25 million annually in property taxes to local governments. Sandpiper construction also will create about 1,500 construction jobs in Minnesota, which has drawn the support of labor union members in the state.

“I’m laid off right now. I need a job,’’ said Larry Anderson of Esko, a member of Laborer’s Local 1091.

Anderson said critics should not diminish the value of construction jobs simply because career construction workers move from project to project rather than work under one roof.

“For my family, my future and my finances, I hope that you would approve this certificate of need,’’ Anderson said.

Critics – including Ojibwe activists, residents along the proposed route and environmental groups – say Sandpiper would put northern Minnesota waterways at risk of a potentially catastrophic oil spill, with no real value to Minnesotans. Most, if not all, of the oil will go to other states, opponents said, at a time when the U.S. seems awash in cheap oil and gas.


“The risk factors far outweigh the benefits,’’ said Michael Dahl, a White Earth Ojibwe activist.

Others contend that pumping more oil will only increase the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the U.S. should be moving to renewable resources to reduce the greenhouse gases scientists say are causing global warming.

“One step for getting out of a hole is to stop digging. We need this carbon to stay in the ground,’’ said Amy Wilson of Port Wing.

Other opponents said the methane released when North Dakota oil is fracked makes the greenhouse gas footprint of the Bakken even greater. Members of several opposition groups held a rally Tuesday in downtown Duluth before the hearing.

Last month, two of the opposition groups – the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Friends of the Headwaters – jointly filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County asking a state district court judge to order a full-fledged Environmental Impact Statement for the Sandpiper project.

Sandpiper would be among the state’s most expensive private construction projects – more than double the cost of the new Vikings football stadium in Minneapolis, for example. That’s on top of hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Enbridge to expand its Alberta Clipper line from Canada to Superior, increase storage capacity in Superior, and increase pipeline capacity from Superior to refineries in states to the south and east.

Across the U.S. and Canada, Enbridge has a staggering $44 billion in pipeline projects either underway or in regulatory review and ready to build. The company currently has about 800 employees based in Duluth-Superior.

Enbridge Energy is based in Houston and is a subsidiary of Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc. The Sandpiper line is officially being proposed by North Dakota Pipeline Co. LLC, a joint venture of Enbridge Energy and Marathon Oil.


A similar hearing was held Monday in St. Paul and additional hearings are scheduled this week in Bemidji, Crookston and St. Cloud.

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John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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