State regulators approve need for pipeline upgrade

  • Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2013 - 1:07 PM

Despite opposition from anti-pipeline activists, Minnesota regulators approve a proposed expansion of a crude oil pipeline through the state.

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The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved plans Wednesday by Enbridge Energy to boost the capacity of its Alberta Clipper oil pipeline in Minnesota as environmental and Native American protesters chanted in opposition.

The Enbridge project, like TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline in western states, has drawn protesters who oppose transporting more crude oil from the tar sands region of Alberta to the United States.

But the Minnesota Commerce Department, which reviews energy projects, supported the upgrade, saying it would ensure “a continued, reliable cost-effective supply of crude oil to Minnesota and the region from a consistent and stable supply region.” The department projected that a likely alternative if the pipeline isn’t built — shipping crude by railroad — would require 7,000 tank cars traveling through the state.

“There is no need for this pipeline,” John Munter, who lives with his family in Warba, Minn., about 4 miles from the Enbridge line, said as he stood outside the PUC’s offices with a sign that said, “No Tar Sands Genocide.”

Munter was the first anti-pipeline protester to show up for the St. Paul meeting, but was later joined by about 50 others, many of whom wanted to speak to the PUC, which didn’t allow testimony. The protesters included activists from MN350.org, a climate-change advocacy group, and Honor the Earth, led by Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. (In 1996 and 2000, LaDuke was the Green Party’s vice presidential candidate on the ticket headed by Ralph Nader.)

Commissioners, after a brief discussion that was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, voted that the project is needed, citing its favorable economics. Regulators declined to take additional testimony — having sponsored two public hearings earlier this year — and did not address environmental concerns.

Separately, the U.S. State Department is conducting an environmental review of the Enbridge expansion plan because the project also requires a Presidential permit to expand oil shipments across the border. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which also requires a Presidential permit, has attracted significant opposition from environmental groups.

The Minnesota project is part a broad plan by Enbridge to upgrade pipelines in the United States and Canada to ship more Canadian oil to the Midwest and beyond. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers last month projected that Canadian oil output will more than double by 2030 to 6.7 million barrels per day, with most of the increase from the Alberta oil sands.

Enbridge intends to spend $40 million to upgrade three Minnesota pumping stations, at Viking, Clearbrook and Deer River, allowing them to push 27 percent more oil through the 36-inch Alberta Clipper pipeline, which runs 1,000 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wis.

When it constructed the line four years ago, Enbridge says, the pipe was oversized with the intention of possibly increasing throughput later. With the upgrade, the line could carry 570,000 barrels per day. Enbridge officials said they hope to begin construction of the larger pumps next month.

 

Climate-change activists have been campaigning against Canada-to-U.S. pipelines, hoping that stopping them will slow or halt production in northern Alberta. The Natural Resources Defense Council says producing oil from tar sands releases three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production. The oil industry disputes those claims.

Protesters in St. Paul were disappointed by the PUC outcome, though not particularly surprised.

“Our goal is to keep tar sands crude in the ground,” said Tom McSteen of MN350.org, which helped organize the protest and now plans to press the environmental case with the State Department.

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090 • @ShafferStrib

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  • Connie Bonniwell of Robbinsdale, who suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity, held a sign that called using Canadian tar sand crude oil a "Minnesotan Disgrace" during the Public Utilities Commission meeting Wednesday, July 17, 2013, in St. Paul.

  • Enbridge Energy site in Clearbrook. 2012 file photo.

  • Connie Bonniwell of Robbinsdale, who suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity, held a sign that called using Canadian tar sand crude oil a “Minnesotan Disgrace” during the Public Utilities Commision meeting Wednesday, July 17, 2013, in St. Paul, MN.](DAVID JOLES/STARTRIBUNE) djoles@startribune.com Enbridge Energy seeks approval from MN regulators to expand a pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands crude oil through the state and the Public Utilities Commision to vote on the possible pipeline expansion.** Connie Bonniwell,cq

  • North Dakota Crude Oil pipelines

    Three pipeline companies are considering other projects to bring North Dakota light crude oil through Minnesota. North Dakota’s oil output hit a record 810,129 barrels per day in May.

    Sandpiper: Enbridge Energy’s proposed $2.5 billion pipeline from near Tioga, N.D., to Superior, Wis., would carry 225,000 barrels per day to Enbridge’s terminal at Clearbrook, Minn., and 375,000 barrels per day from there to Superior. Regulators are still reviewing the project, including its rate structure. Possible opening is 2016.

    Dakota Express: Koch Pipeline Co. is considering a new 250,000-barrel-per-day pipeline from western North Dakota to Illinois. The route has not been disclosed, but Koch says it has studied reversing its existing 580-mile Wood River pipeline as part of the project. That pipeline, which no longer accepts shipments because of underutilization, traditionally brought crude oil from Hartford, Ill., to the Twin Cities’ two refineries. Possible opening is 2016.

    High Prairie Pipeline: This proposed 450-mile pipeline with capacity of 150,000 barrels per day from North Dakota’s oil fields has been on hold because Enbridge Energy refused it a connection to its terminal at Clearbrook, Minn., provoking a challenge still pending before federal regulators by the sponsor, Saddle Butte Pipeline of Durango, Colo.

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