Crude oil and natural gas development and production in the United States are undergoing a historic transformation. Vast sources of oil and natural gas are being discovered across the continent, particularly in North Dakota and Canada. New technologies and global economics make Bakken formation and oil sands crude viable in ways they were not just a decade ago.
However, the development of these petroleum resources requires a retooling of North American pipeline systems. Since the early 20th century, crude oil arrived in Minnesota and Midwest refineries from southern sources in Texas, Oklahoma, the Gulf of Mexico and abroad. As a result, pipelines were constructed to move oil from south to north. Now, local, state and federal agencies are working with private industry to redirect pipeline flow in the opposite direction to deliver crude oil from North Dakota and Alberta.
In addition, the demand for North American crude oil has grown to the point that additional pipeline capacity is necessary to replace imports that continue to arrive from less-friendly, less-stable nations outside the continent. This new infrastructure will enhance America’s economy and our national energy security.
Retooling and increasing capacity is not without controversy and has its detractors. Opponents of expansions by companies like Enbridge and TransCanada essentially fall into two categories. The first group is composed of a broad international coalition including organizations like Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Their agenda primarily targets pipeline expansions as a way to restrict access to North American crude oil. The second group is composed of concerned landowners and communities along the pipeline route. This latter group is the focus of our concern, too.
The questions raised by landowners about pipeline safety are reasonable, and the answers are straightforward and clear. Pipelines are the safest means of transporting crude oil, with a 99.997 percent success rate, according to industry statistics. Virtual rivers of crude oil traverse the country through tens of thousands of miles of pipeline 24/7/365. The Sandpiper project, proposed to cross northern Minnesota, will include the most modern safety technologies available.
Whether pipelines should be co-located in a “corridor” with existing pipelines is also a reasonable concern. It is interesting, however, that the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska often results in the opposite question: Why isn’t it being located in the current right of way?
We are not experts in pipeline engineering, but we do know that landowners usually receive negotiated compensation for the inconvenience, restoration and easement necessary to build the pipeline. Where pipe exists, many of the landowners already have been through this process, and there is likely to be less hassle for all by collocating.
We represent the skilled craft workers and businesses located in every corner of Minnesota. Our members either build these projects or provide services as vendors of equipment, food, lodging, etc. Our members hear what landowners are saying, and we are confident that their concerns can be addressed. We are also hearing from Minnesotans everywhere that having access to North Dakota and Canadian energy resources will increase employment and improve the economy. The ultimate choice is whether we follow the advice of groups like Greenpeace and “turn back the clock” to the days of OPEC dominance and less efficient use of our natural resources, or increase America’s jobs, economic and energy security.
Harry Melander is president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council. William Blazar is senior vice president of public affairs and business development at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.