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Enbridge pipeline plan needs more study, regulators say

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ST. PAUL — Enbridge Energy's pipeline expansion plans need deeper study, Minnesota regulators decided Wednesday.

Enbridge wants to install new pumps to an existing line that brings oil from sands in Alberta, Canada, across northern Minnesota to a refinery in Superior, Wis. The new pumps would would boost flow in the Alberta Clipper line to its 800,000 barrel-a-day capacity.

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In July, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a smaller expansion. On Wednesday, though, commission members agreed with their staff and the state Commerce Department that further study is needed.

The issue now goes to an administrative law judge. The study could take as much as a year.

The Commerce Department said the application did not provide enough documentation of the need for the expansion, and did not prove it would benefit the people of Minnesota or neighboring states.

Environmental groups applauded the decision.

Kate Jacobson, lead coordinator with the Minnesota-based climate change group MN350, says using more oil from Canada's oil sands would add to global warming.

"We've heard from climate scientists that full development of tar sands crude... is 'game over' for the climate," Jacobson said, "so we're concerned that it's not worth the risk and the chances of not having a livable future and a planet that we can survive on."

She also said the risk to Minnesota lakes and rivers is too high.

"In one county alone, Itasca county, there are over 1,000 lakes. So it's an incredible water system that these pipelines are going through, and Enbridge Corporation does not have a good track record," Jacobson said.

In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan burst and spilled more than one million gallons of Canadian crude into the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup is not yet completed.

Enbridge says it's ready to provide answers during the review process.

The Alberta Clipper was put in service with a capacity of 450,000 barrels per day, with the ability to increase to 800,000 should the demand arise, Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said.

"That demand or that need from shippers has arisen, so that's what this project is about, providing North America with access to North American crude oil," Little said.

The year-long construction would employ about 100 workers, she added.

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