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Enbridge says it is listening to Sandpiper pipeline concerns

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — Enbridge is hearing the opposition to its proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline, company officials said this week.

The 616-mile pipeline would carry 225,000 barrels of oil each day from western North Dakota to Superior, Wis. The company’s proposed route would take it across northern Minnesota.

“Well, certainly we’ve had a lot of input and feedback from folks along the route, and that’s to be expected. We see that from any pipelines or project we have going,” said Loraine Little, spokeswoman for Enbridge’s crude oil pipelines division. “People just have a new level of interest in pipelines and energy transportation, and people just have a lot of questions.”

With oil from the Bakken Formation in western North Dakota and the Canadian oil sands, “companies like Enbridge are working with shippers to move that oil to American markets,” Little said Wednesday in a visit to the Park Rapids Enterprise.

Next week, a Minnesota administrative law judge is expected to release the schedule laying out the process to consider the Minnesota portion of the line.

“We’re looking forward to the meeting July 9, and that will give us a much better idea what the scheduling will be going forth in the regulatory process, when we’ll have our public hearings and when the comment periods will be open,” Little said.

“We’re definitely hearing the concerns, and that’s why we’re out. We want to be part of the conversation, talk about safety and energy transportation.”

Oil will move to markets whether or not the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approves the Sandpiper line, Little and Enbridge spokeswoman Christine Davis both said.

The Bakken crude oil is considered a good source.

“They need a transportation mode to get it there, and pipelines are the safest way to get there,” Little said.

The women are mindful of the lakes area in Hubbard County and the Mississippi headwaters region the pipeline is destined to travel through.

“It’s a beautiful area. Everyone has a right to protect the environment.” Little said. “... We believe that there are safety mechanisms put in place in the design for construction of the pipeline, and because of those things it can be compatible with protection of the environment.”

The women have been making frequent visits to the Minnesota region affected by the pipeline, talking to local interest groups.

“We’ve had some interaction with people who’ve had questions (since 2013),” Davis said. “When there’s a milestone event, we’ll get calls and talk to people along the way, answer questions.”

The Superior terminal is the lynchpin of the operation, both women said. Proposed alternate routes would send the oil to Minneapolis or elsewhere, but those routes aren’t feasible, they maintain.

“Superior Terminal is a connection hub for us,” Little said. “Maybe a good comparison is like Minneapolis or Detroit is for Delta (Air Lines).”

The women said it doesn’t make sense to route pipelines away from Superior, where the oil would sit briefly before being piped east and south to other markets.

It will not travel the Great Lakes via barge, the women stressed.

“Superior’s pretty critical to the overall system. It’s where all other pipelines have gone since 1949, and it’s been going through Hubbard County since 1949,” Davis said.

The lines go through Farden Township, along with other pipelines.

Emphasizing safety

The women said pipeline safety, as other technology, has advanced considerably, and that Enbridge will be tapping that expertise.

“In terms of pipeline safety it starts at design, through construction to operation of the pipeline,” Little said. “With the design on Sandpiper they’re looking to the latest coatings, which is fusion-bonded epoxy coating. The external coating is a corrosion inhibitor.”

Valves will be installed through the pipeline, but where will be an engineering decision, Little said.

“It has to do with geography, topography … it’s chosen on a variety of factors,” she said.

If approved, the monitoring system would operate out of Edmonton, Alberta.

“Most of the valves put into our system can be remotely operated and can be shut down by our control center in Edmonton, but they are operated in real time,” Little said. “They can see what’s going on in the system at any point at any time.”

Enbridge recently installed a brand-new monitoring system in Edmonton, the women said. The sophisticated system can detect minute drops in pressure and react immediately.

Many opponents worried that Minnesota lake country is so remote in places that a leak would not be detected for weeks.

Not so, the women assured.

Personnel are responsible for monitoring a certain pipeline.

“If there’s a drop in pressure, it’s designed to shut down immediately without actually having an operator to push a button, if conditions make it so,” Little said.

The system expects a certain volume, otherwise “it triggers an alarm and a series of actions. It’s like tracking a UPS package,” Little said.

The system is under increased scrutiny, she said. “We want to keep our product moving from point A to point B. We want to protect the environment along that route. The most minute factor” will trigger a check of the system.

Enbridge’s website contains an operational reliability report.