Enbridge Energy’s pipelines have for decades carried crude oil from Canada and North Dakota across northern Minnesota to U.S. oil refineries.
Enbridge, whose headquarters is in Calgary, runs its U.S. pipeline development business from Duluth-Superior with about 700 employees. One of them is Mark Curwin, senior director of strategic coordination for U.S. projects.
With the North American oil business booming, Enbridge is expanding the capacity of its Alberta Clipper line, also known as Line 67, proposing a new line called Sandpiper and planning to replace a 1960s-era pipeline known as Line 3.
He talked about the pipeline projects with the Star Tribune.
Q: What do these projects mean for Minnesota?
A: A lot of things. It means thousands of construction jobs, good-paying jobs. It means an economic injection for local communities along the routes due to spending by construction workers at hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other local businesses. It means somewhere in the area of $5 billion private investment; none of this is subsidized by any public dollars. It means access to a more secure and reliable source of crude oil from Canada and North Dakota. In 2011, we paid approximately $34 million in property taxes in Minnesota to communities along our right of way. In some of the northwestern counties, we are the single-largest taxpayer. When you add Sandpiper and the Line 67 upgrades, it’s about $27 million a year in additional property taxes once they are in the ground.
Q: What do you say to activists who oppose these pipelines for contributing to climate change?
A: First, we welcome the dialogue. We agree that climate change is an issue for all of us. It’s going to require collaboration among industry, government and citizens. The oil sands are going to be developed regardless of whether the Line 67 Phase II project is approved. Not only in North America but around the world we have a strong demand for oil. Is there value in weaning ourselves from that? Absolutely.
Q: What is Enbridge doing about it?
A: In 2009 we undertook a neutral footprint campaign with three tenets. Every tree that we cut we will replace. Since then, we are around 600,000 trees cut and 800,000 trees planted. Electricity is the single largest expense of our pipelines. Every additional kilowatt-hour we consume we will replace with renewable energy. By 2015, we will be generating more renewable energy than we consume. The third tenet is that we try to offset impacts to natural habitat. Since 2009, we have disturbed about 3,000 acres and participated in conserving in excess of 51,000 acres.
Q: Are pipelines a safer way to ship crude oil than railroads, and if you think so, why did Enbridge build an oil-loading rail terminal in North Dakota?
A: Yes, pipelines are clearly the safest way to ship hazardous liquids, oil, gas and other products. That said, rail is a short-term solution for an immediate need. There is insufficient pipeline capacity to get product out of North Dakota. Long-term, we expect a lot of the volumes on rail will migrate back to pipelines once the capacity is there.
Q: Minnesota policy favors multiple pipelines on a right of way. But in Canada, a January rupture of a natural gas pipeline shut down two nearby lines, curtailing supplies. Should we rethink the state’s policy?
A: No. Incidents like that are rare, and co-location is certainly the preferred method for pipeline construction and operation where feasible.
Q: If you expand the Alberta Clipper and rebuild Line 3 to carry more Canadian oil, is Enbridge positioning them as alternatives if Keystone XL is rejected?
A: No. The two projects serve different markets and different demands.
Q: Enbridge has been in business in Minnesota for a long time. Are you seeing more opposition to projects today?
A: I think the landscape is different for our entire industry. No question it has changed for us. The activity in the industry has increased to a level where it is front and center for many people.
Q: Are there other Enbridge crude oil pipelines in Minnesota that could be expanded?
A: Our mainline system that crosses Minnesota is approaching its full capacity. There isn’t a lot of room for additional upgrades within the existing system.
Q: Do you expect that with these three projects, it will be the end of pipeline building for a while — or the beginning?
A: Hard to predict. We respond to our customers’ needs. They say they need to get from A to B. If we can’t get them from A to B with the existing system, we have to look at building a new pipeline.
Q: Do you believe enough environmental analysis is being done on pipeline projects reviewed by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC)?
A: Yes I do. The PUC process is somewhat streamlined and more efficient in that you are working with just the one agency for the project review. But people need to remember that we are still working with agencies that have specific jurisdiction to protect natural resources such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for wetlands, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for state lands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All of those agencies we work with in parallel when we are going through the PUC process to ensure their concerns are addressed. We find ways to mitigate impacts to resources with those agencies.