On at least one issue Americans of all political stripes are in sync: support for a strong federal infrastructure program to make the nation’s core infrastructure — roads, sewers, airports, water systems — competitive again.
Whether federal or state leaders can negotiate funding to stave off an infrastructure crisis any time soon is an open question.
But in Minnesota we’re fortunate to have a well-advanced alternative, an entirely private infrastructure project that would put 6,500 Minnesotans to work over two years, with an economic impact of more than $2 billion for the state, including outstate areas that sorely need it.
We’re talking about Enbridge Energy’s 1,097-mile, Line 3 crude oil pipeline replacement from Alberta stretching southeast across central Minnesota from the North Dakota border near Hallock to a terminal in Superior, Wis.
Pipelines are essential to the development and growth of our region’s economy. Even as vehicles transition to electricity, we will still be dependent on petroleum products well into the future. From the clothing we wear to the chemicals that are part of so many consumer products and keep thousands of manufacturers operating in our region — we need petroleum products for long-term personal and economic health.
Contrary to recent testimony from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the project is necessary and prudent. Last month, the American Petroleum Institute reported that total domestic petroleum deliveries, a measure of U.S. petroleum demand, showed the highest July demand since 2007. Enbridge says its project is the safest alternative for replacing the 50-year-old existing line that operates at approximately 50 percent capacity and faces increasing maintenance requirements.
The new, 36-inch-diameter pipeline involves the most advanced materials, state-of-the-art technology and superior construction methods. Its route, which follows the existing line from the Minnesota/North Dakota border to Clearbrook, bends south from there and east to Carlton and Superior. The new route follows other existing pipelines, transmission lines and railroad lines for about 75 percent of the route from Clearbrook to Superior.
We’re confident Enbridge will meet and exceed all standards for safe energy transportation. They have pointed out that safe operation of the current line would require thousands of maintenance digs and other measures over the next 10 to 15 years. It would be disruptive to communities and landowners and not the best use of resources, according to the people with their money on the line — Enbridge.
But our primary point today is what we mentioned first: Minnesota must not short-shrift the jobs created and economic impact of infrastructure projects such as the replacement of Line 3.
The data referenced above comes from a study released in April by the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Labovitz School of Business and Economics, commissioned by the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion. The estimated 8,600 jobs created over the two-year construction period (2018-19) include 4,200 construction jobs, half of which will be filled locally. The study estimates the indirect creation of 2,800 hospitality and 1,600 other jobs with local suppliers and manufacturers.
The study quotes an Enbridge projection that it will spend $1.5 billion within the study area during the project, leading to a total output impact of over $2 billion in direct and spinoff spending effects.
It should go without saying that pipeline construction jobs are among the best-paying gigs in the labor market — and these are desperately needed paychecks in the predominantly rural counties along the pipeline route. They’re needed as well in the outside communities that will supply skilled workers — as far south as the Twin Cities — who will spend millions on food, housing and other essentials in the small towns along the route.
As public meetings continue across Minnesota we hope the leaders of our state will pay close attention to what their constituents who support the statewide development of our economy and safe energy transportation have to say.
Harry Melander is president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council. Bill Blazar is senior vice president of Public Affairs at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.