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Guest Opinion: Pipeline delay risks public safety

The Minnesota Department of Commerce recently reopened the public comment period and scheduled more public hearings involving the Sandpiper and Line 3 crude oil pipelines. The hearing in our area will be 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on May 11 at the East Lake Community center near McGregor. Go to www.sandpiperline3.us/ to submit an online comment.

I remain concerned that Minnesota's permitting process continues to unnecessarily put the general public at risk. Delaying moving as much crude oil as is reasonably possible off the rails and into modern safe pipelines increases the likelihood of a serious accident that may injure or kill members of the general public.

GAO-14-667 Oil and Gas Transportation report of Aug. 21, 2014 states:

"Inherent safety risks: Transporting oil and gas by any means through pipelines, rail, truck, or barge—poses inherent safety risks. However, in January 2013, we found that pipelines are relatively safe when compared with other modes, such as rail and truck, for transporting hazardous goods because pipelines are mostly underground.

For example, we found that large trucks and rail cars transporting hazardous materials, including crude oil and natural gas liquids, resulted in far more fatalities and incidents than pipelines."

A major justification for delaying or stopping construction of oil pipelines in Minnesota continues to be the risk of environmental damage. However, many that raise environmental concerns remain silent on the risk to public safety, as if it does not exist.

Pipeline leaks do cause environmental damage, but rarely injure or kill a member of the public. The July, 2013, accident at Lac-Megnatic, Quebec, involving a train load of Bakken crude oil intended for a Canadian east coast refinery, is an example of a major rail accident.

One crude oil train accident resulted in 47 deaths, 30 buildings destroyed and another 36 requiring demolition due to contamination. Over 2,000 people were evacuated. Unlike many of our area schools that are located relatively close to the rail tracks, the Lac-Megnatic high school was far enough away to allow safe sheltering of the evacuated.

Lac-Megnatic lost 47 of its 5,900 residents. It took several days to fully to extinguish the fire. Delaying building pipelines increases the potential of crude oil unit trains rumbling through the towns of Brainerd, Deerwood, Aitkin, McGregor and Tamarack.

We can disagree on which presents the greater risk, a pipeline leak or a crude oil train accident. However, we should have that discussion with a clear understanding of the consequences of a major crude oil-related rail accident. I encourage everyone with an interest in this matter to participate.

Lueck, R-Aitkin, represents Minnesota House District 10B