A second Minnesota environmental agency has asked state regulators to consider rerouting a proposed crude oil pipeline to avoid northern lakes, wetlands and streams.
The state Department of Natural Resources, in a regulatory filing on Thursday, said the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) should “strongly consider” one of several alternative routes “having fewer natural resource impacts” than the route proposed by pipeline company Enbridge Energy.
The $2.6 billion, 610-mile Sandpiper project has been approved in North Dakota, whose booming oil industry now sends most of its crude to market in railroad tank cars through Minnesota. In Minnesota, Enbridge’s Z-shaped preferred route runs east from North Dakota to Clearbrook in northwest Minnesota, then turn south past Park Rapids before resuming east to Superior, Wis.
It is the first time that Minnesota regulators have considered that a pipeline should be built on an entirely different route than proposed by an applicant. Eight alternative routes have been proposed by environmental groups and others, mostly on corridors south of Minnesota’s northern lakes region.
“The preferred route for the Sandpiper Project is proposed in a region of the state that contains a concentration of important lakes for fisheries, trout streams, sensitive aquifers, public conservation lands and mineral and forest resources,” said the DNR letter by Jamie Schrenzel, a principal planner in the agency’s environmental review unit.
But Enbridge says its preferred route is the best choice for natural resources.
“Enbridge believes the route we have proposed is the best option for this important project,” company spokeswoman Lorraine Little said in an e-mailed statement Friday. “It travels along existing utility right of way, is shorter than other proposed alternatives and minimizes impacts on people and the environment. We are committed to continuing to work cooperatively with the appropriate regulatory and environmental agencies throughout the approval process.”
Schrenzel said the DNR is concerned that the proposed route could become “a new corridor for multiple pipelines,” a reference to Enbridge’s plan to rebuild another pipeline possibly using the Sandpiper route. The DNR offered to supply environmental data to help compare alternative routes.
The DNR had raised environmental concerns about the Sandpiper project last spring, but only now has joined the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in urging state regulators to consider an all-new route for the pipeline. The PUC asked for comments on the matter earlier this month.
One route being considered would follow existing natural gas and refined petroleum pipelines largely south of the lakes region, an idea first proposed by the MPCA. Seven other routes also have been suggested, mostly by environmental groups, including some south of Interstate 94 and ending nowhere near the Superior terminal where Enbridge intends to deliver crude oil.
Enbridge has said the alternatives are 74 miles to 182 miles longer than its original plan, would cost an additional $185 million to $455 million to build and could delay the project three years.
Switching the route of a planned pipeline is not unprecedented. In 2011, another Calgary-based pipeline company, TransCanada, decided to reroute the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska to avoid the Sandhills and many miles of threatened and endangered species habitat and erodible soils. That project remains stalled because the Obama administration hasn’t decided to issue a permit for the line to cross the Canadian-U.S. border.
Enbridge’s Sandpiper project, as a domestic pipeline, doesn’t require a presidential permit. But it does require state approval and an environmental review overseen by the Minnesota Commerce Department. That review is underway, and includes a comparison of alternate routes. Public hearings are planned later this year with a decision likely in 2015.