Conservation Minnesota

Pipeline Proposals Bring Environmental Concerns

JohnHellandbiopicNot only are environmentalists concerned about the ultimate decision to authorize the Keystone XL Pipeline, the continuing concern on climate change emphasized in the latest United Nations IPCC report, and in our state the possible threat to clean water by the many copper-nickel mining proposals, but an emerging clean water threat are the Enbridge pipeline proposals before the Public Service Commission (PUC).

Enbridge, a Calgary, Alberta company that operates in Clearbrook and Duluth, Minnesota, currently has three pipeline proposals that affect us.  Sandpiper would be a 610 mile pipeline carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin.  Alberta Clipper is an existing line proposed to be expanded by adding pumping stations to carry tar sands crude down from western Canada.  Line 3 is a 1968 pipeline proposed to be replaced to carry oil down from Canada and is under federal review.

These multiple projects are all slated by Enbridge to be located in an existing corridor area running under the Mississippi river and adjacent to Bemidji and Grand Rapids.  A new environmental group, Friends of the Headwaters, says that if a pipeline spill occurs within this corridor it would impact some of Minnesota’s cleanest lakes, rivers, wetlands and groundwater aquifers.

The Enbridge company does not have the greatest track record regarding oil pipeline spills.  They still are cleaning up the 20,000 barrel spill on the Kalamazoo river in Michigan that happened in 2010.  Replacement of an Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin a few years ago resulted in company violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

Minnesota’s pipeline rules are not as strong as they once were.  River scour at high flows of a river has proved to be a detriment to secure pipeline stability.  If the Enbridge pipelines are approved in a similar Mississippi river corridor where existing pipelines are located, there may be eight or nine in total within feet of one another.

Friends of the Headwaters would like to see a generic environmental impact statement be done for these multiple pipeline projects because of the connectivity of the cumulative impact in the same corridor location.  Documents have stated that in a “worst case” oil spill occurrence, where an immediate shutdown happens, 40,000 barrels of oil, or twice the amount of spillage into the Kalamazoo river, would be released affecting Minnesota waters.

The environmental community, and all landowners along the proposed pipeline routes, should pay close attention to the growing concern and the subsequent actions of our PUC.

About John Helland

John Helland

John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.

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