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Continued: Opposition grows as oil pipelines proliferate in northern Minnesota

  • Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 15, 2014 - 7:48 AM

Enbridge, whose executives attended meetings across northern Minnesota hosted by state regulators, said the 30-inch-diameter pipeline will be built to high standards, with extra-thick steel where it crosses the Mississippi River and other waterways like the Straight River, a trout stream. It will mean 1,500 temporary jobs during the 2015-2016 construction period, and an economic jolt to local economies.

“We are offsetting [oil] imports from other countries that are unstable or are unfriendly to U.S. interests,” said Barry Simonson, a Duluth-based manager of engineering and construction for Enbridge.

Safety concerns

Many pipeline critics in northern Minnesota don’t oppose all pipelines, but have begun to question their concentration in the region. Enbridge’s safety record often gets mentioned, especially the 2010 rupture in Marshall, Mich., whose release of 840,000 gallons of crude oil into waterways is projected to cost $1.1 billion to clean up. That’s roughly the price tag of the Minnesota portion of the Sandpiper line.

Enbridge has told regulators that building Sandpiper “will cause a significant reduction in rail shipments of light crude oil.” North Dakota now ships most of its crude oil by rail, but the practice is facing scrutiny because of disastrous accidents and disclosures that oil trains routinely pass through urban areas, including the Twin Cities.

Dewane Morgan, a semiretired farmer south of Park Rapids, said he witnessed a near-disaster with pipelines last May when a forest fire swept though 7,000 nearby acres, destroying several of his neighbors’ homes and threatening a pumping station for pipelines that ship crude oil to Twin Cities oil refineries.

Amid thick smoke, he said, firefighting aircraft repeatedly doused the pumping station with water. “It looked like the close-air support we received in Vietnam,” said Morgan, who served in the Marines. “It was very intense, but they kept this pumping station from igniting. That would have been a disaster.”

When Morgan first moved to the area in 1972, he added, the pipeline corridor carried one buried pipe, and looked like a deer trail in the woods. Today, the pipeline corridor is as wide as a two-lane road, and Enbridge proposes to add another 50 feet in width.

That’s what bothers Leon Rogers. If Enbridge expands as planned, Rogers said, every tree between his house and the pipeline corridor would be bulldozed.

Rogers said an Enbridge official who stopped by recently about acquiring a permanent easement was so confident that state regulators would approve the proposed route that he “was willing to write a check on the spot.”

But Rogers said he didn’t take the money, and still hasn’t decided what to do.

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090 Twitter: @ShafferStrib

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  • Enbridge’s Major Pipeline accidents

    Since 1972, Enbridge Energy crude oil pipelines have had 23 major spills in Minnesota, according to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency database of releases exceeding 10,000 gallons. The last major spill was in 2002, the data show. Here are some notable accidents, all on a pipeline known as Line 3 that Enbridge proposes to replace.

    Bemidji, August 1979: After a 449,000-gallon spill, nearly a quarter of the released crude oil oozed through sandy soil into a wetland and the water table. For three decades, the site has been a focus of research into how crude oil breaks down naturally.

    Grand Rapids, March 1991: This state-record crude oil spill of 1.7 million gallons happened when Enbridge employees misinterpreted alarms from the ruptured line and didn’t respond immediately. This mistake would be repeated nearly two decades later in a large Enbridge pipeline spill in Marshall, Mich. The 1991 accident polluted a tributary of the Mississippi River and cost $7.5 million to clean up.

    Cohasset, July 2002: About 252,000 gallons of crude oil spilled when the pipeline ruptured from fatigue cracks traced to improper handling of pipes during shipping when the line was being built. A controlled burn of the pooled oil sent smoke a mile high.

    Clearbrook, November 2007: Two Enbridge workers were killed when crude oil leaked during repair work and exploded, igniting a fireball. Enbridge was later fined $2.4 million for safety lapses.*

    *Not considered a spill because the oil burned.

    David Shaffer


    Project: Sandpiper oil pipeline

    Route: 610-mile crude oil pipeline would run from the Bakken region of western North Dakota across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.

    Cost: $2.6 billion

    Operator: Enbridge Energy of Calgary, Alberta.

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