Get Sandpiper pipeline back on track

Minnesotans may have some things to fear when it comes to North Dakota's Bakken oil boom. But brand-new pipelines aren't one of them. Just the opposite: Brand-new pipelines are the answer to Minnesotans' fears. That's because such pipelines not o...

Minnesotans may have some things to fear when it comes to North Dakota’s Bakken oil boom.

But brand-new pipelines aren’t one of them. Just the opposite: Brand-new pipelines are the answer to Minnesotans’ fears. That’s because such pipelines not only are the safest way to transport oil, they also can help reduce the number of oil trains crossing the state.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and the state’s Public Utilities Commission should take that message to heart. But at this point, they’re plugging their ears, and their misplaced priorities are leaving Minnesotans worse off.

Just last week, Dayton wrote to North Dakota leaders, expressing his concern about the safety of the oil trains.

You know what? He’s right. The trains’ safety is a big concern.


But as Minnesota’s governor, Dayton almost certainly has more influence on the Minnesota PUC - whose members all are gubernatorial appointees - than he does on elected officials in North Dakota.

So, when it comes to the issue of transporting oil, why doesn’t Dayton spend his time lobbying his own PUC to let the Sandpiper pipeline get built?

Built safely and responsibly, to be sure.

But built.

The Enbridge Corp. pipeline would transport Bakken oil from western North Dakota to Superior, Wis. Building it would free up trains and other modes that otherwise would have to transport 225,000 barrels of Bakken oil a day.

That’s the way to let the railroads get back in the business of transporting grains, which they’ve grievously neglected at Minnesota farmers’ expense.

That’s the way to get the oil to its destination with many fewer safety concerns.

And that’s the avenue the PUC and Dayton alike should take.


Unfortunately, a majority of the Minnesota commissioners voted a few weeks ago to investigate a half-dozen other routes besides the one Enbridge had proposed. All of the new routes swing many miles south, thereby jacking up both the pipeline’s cost and the risks of a spill, because of the much greater distances involved.

As important for the project, the decision means an interminable and maybe fatal delay. After all, planning the original route took not just months but years.

At the very least, can’t the PUC streamline the process that remains, by expediting reviews, narrowing the list of six to a few “favored alternatives” or otherwise assuring Enbridge that there’s a light at the end of the pipeline?

The Sandpiper’s critics say its construction threatens too much fragile habitat. But pipelines are buried along much of the proposed route already. Enbridge took care to seek out existing rights of way.

The new Sandpiper line - built to 2014 standards - would add little to existing risks.

And those risks are low to begin with. Here’s the bottom line from the U.S. Government Accounting Office, from a study issued as recently as last month:

“Transporting oil and gas by any means - through pipelines, rail, truck, or barge - poses inherent safety risks,” the GAO concluded.

“However, in January 2013, we found that pipelines are relatively safe when compared with other modes, such as rail and truck, for transporting hazardous goods because pipelines are mostly underground.


“For example, we found that large trucks and rail cars transporting hazardous materials, including crude oil and natural gas liquids, resulted in far more fatalities and incidents than pipelines. … Therefore, increased transport of oil and gas by rail, truck, or barge could increase safety risks.”

To repeat: Pipelines are the safest of the available modes, the GAO concluded.

No wonder the United States boasts more than 2.6 million miles of pipelines. The network is a vital part of America’s energy infrastructure.

Bakken oil will be moving across Minnesota for decades to come. It’s in Dayton and the PUC’s interest to find the safest and most efficient way of getting the oil to its destination; and with that in mind, the Sandpiper and other pipelines are the way to go. - Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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