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Enbridge presents to business leaders

Representatives from Enbridge rallied local business leaders and community members for support Thursday at a presentation on the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline.

Representatives from Enbridge rallied local business leaders and community members for support Thursday at a presentation on the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline.

The meeting held at Breezy Point Resort was sponsored by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and billed as an informational presentation. The Chamber, which represents more than 900 area businesses, has not yet taken a formal position on the Sandpiper, said Matt Killian, Chamber president, but seeks to educate particularly on business issues as part of its mission.

"I think they've (Enbridge) been very open and forthcoming about coming to the communities and presenting their story," Killian said.

Enbridge, doing business as North Dakota Pipeline Company, LLC, has proposed building the Sandpiper across northern Minnesota to transport crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to Superior, Wis. The route proposed by the company would cross Cass, Crow Wing and Aitkin counties along the way.

Enbridge also recently announced its intention to replace one of the aging pipelines of its Lakehead System, which stretches from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, with a new line that would begin following the Sandpiper route at Clearbrook.

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The fate of the Sandpiper - where or whether it will be built - rests in the hands of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which recently determined additional routes must be explored beyond the company's preferred route. According to a Sept. 12 Star Tribune article, this action marks the first time the commission has moved forward with a study of different routes than the applicant's preference, and a final decision will likely be delayed by up to a year.

Representatives from the company have made their case to more than two dozen local Chamber boards across the state. Paul Eberth, project director of the Sandpiper, and Lorraine Little, senior manager of U.S. public affairs, explained to attendees why, from the company's perspective, a new pipeline route through northern Minnesota is needed.

With oil production increasing in North America, demand for crude transport has increased pressure on the region's rail systems. According to Enbridge's figures, the amount of oil capable of traveling through the proposed Sandpiper in one day - 225,000 barrels - would require 1,710 rail cars, or three trains twice per day. By contrast, a pipeline can move oil 24 hours per day, one way.

"Once a pipe is full, you don't have to return an empty container," Eberth said.

The preferred route is the shortest, most efficient route for Enbridge, he said, connecting with pre-existing infrastructure in Clearbrook and Superior, and attempts were made to locate along existing utilities lines as well as avoiding sensitive environmental areas.

According to Barr, an engineering and environmental consulting firm based in Minneapolis, there are 14 major watersheds along the pipeline route and 7,000 lakes within those watersheds. Of these lakes, 3 to 6 percent have direct hydrological connection with the pipeline corridor, meaning the other 94 percent of lakes are unlikely to be impacted by an oil spill.

The small percentage of lakes that do have a hydrological connection include some familiar names: Whitefish, Cross, Mitchell, Eagle and Roosevelt lakes.

Opponents to the route have focused on potential environmental impacts to what they say is an extremely sensitive area, with groundwater susceptible to contamination, a high percentage of wild rice lakes and some of the clearest waters in the state.

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Eberth said safety is a priority to the company, and since 2012, it has invested $4.4 billion in new technologies to inspect and repair pipelines to prevent spills.

"I don't feel like our industry has had a big or detrimental impact on northern Minnesota," Eberth said.

Time was limited for questions following the presentation due to travel constraints for the company representatives. Ken Meyer, a resident of Upper Hay Lake in Ideal Township, asked Eberth to explain further what Enbridge is doing to improve the integrity of pipelines rather than focusing only on its safety record.

"I think that most of us could agree that the only reasonable way to move the oil is through a pipeline," Meyer said. "However it does disturb me a little bit when you stand up there and downplay the credibility or significance to the area being less sensitive than some of the other areas. To the people in this room, it is not less sensitive. ... If that (a spill) ever happens to us, we're not really concerned what your safety record has been. We want to know what you're doing to improve your pipeline going through our area."

Eberth said it's the company's responsibility to balance "all kinds of sensitive resources," including those in this area. Plans for the pipe along the proposed route would include a higher grade of steel, increasing the yield strength by 18,000 pounds per square inch to 72,000. Shutoff valves will be placed along the route and improvements have been made to the response time and leak detection of the company's control center.

"Some of our more significant releases (spills) were because the control center hasn't necessarily shut down the line in a timely manner," Eberth said.

The current stage of the PUC process is a public comment period, which extends through Jan. 23. Public hearings on the Sandpiper will be held throughout the state in the first week of January.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: LINE 3 REPLACEMENT PROJECT
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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