ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A battle is underway over plans to build a 300-mile crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota’s lakes region.

Public hearings are being held this week to consider the pros and cons of bringing more crude oil from North Dakota oil fields via an underground pipeline to a terminal in Superior, Wis.

The proposed Enbridge “Sandpiper” oil pipeline would stretch from north of East Grand Forks across nine northern Minnesota counties, terminating in the Twin Ports. Enbridge says construction will create at least 1,500 high-paying jobs and the pipeline is both safer and more efficient than moving oil by rail cars.

But opposition is largely centered around where the pipeline would be placed, because the proposed route passes through the heart of Minnesota’s lakes and resort region. Environmentalists fear the potential for catastrophic damage in the event of a rupture or spill.

However others, including many in the Twin Citie,s are proponents of the proposed pipeline, saying it could relieve the threat caused by so many oil trains passing through their cities each day.

Minnesota gets the vast majority of its oil from Canada and North Dakota. Lately, more and more of that oil is transported into and through the state by rail.

On Monday, hundreds of concerned people packed into St. Paul’s RiverCentre for the first of five public hearings. They came to voice their opinions about the proposed “Sandpiper” crude oil pipeline.

“The whole purpose of the pipeline is to transport the growing oil production out of the Bakken oil fields to the markets in the Midwest, eastern United States and Canada,” said Enbridge Spokesperson Lorraine Little.

The 30-inch diameter pipeline would carry 375,000 barrels of crude a day between terminals in Clearbrook, Minnesota and Superior. Much of that oil is now coming by rail through the Twin Cities.

But with 107 trains passing through places like Coon Rapids each weekday, the addition of more oil trains can spell costly delays for first responders. Recently, emergency crews were delayed by eight minutes getting to the scene of a serious accident due to blocked rail crossings in the northern suburb.

It’s a major reason why Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte supports the pipeline’s construction.

“I believe by moving that oil off the trains and getting it into that pipeline, we will make our communities, our county much, much safer,” Schulte said.

While trade unions embrace the promised construction jobs, environmentalists say the pipeline will merely extend our reliance on fossil fuels.  Further, they contend that routing the pipeline through the state’s lake-rich resort region is not worth the risk.

“And this is a big deal for me to think of those lakes and wetlands being contaminated by an oil spill,” said MN350’s Andy Pearson.

Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman will consider all oral and written testimony before making his recommendation to the Public Utilities Commission.

The PUC is expected to decide by June if the pipeline is needed and whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks.

If approved, Sandpiper could be transporting crude oil as soon as 2017.

 

Bill Hudson

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