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With no expansion, Superior refinery doesn't need new oil source

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While the new Alberta Clipper pipeline technically ends in Superior, the Murphy Oil refinery there doesn't need and really can't use any of the new oil moving south from Canada.

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Dave Podratz, Superior refinery manager for Murphy Oil USA, said existing pipelines bring his refinery enough oil.

"It won't affect us at all. We won't be using any of that capacity,'' Podratz said.

Murphy's proposed $6 billion refinery expansion has been shelved - apparently permanently - as several factors have combined to cut U.S. demand for gasoline, Podratz said.

New oil moving on the Alberta Clipper will probably keep moving south, on another Enbridge pipeline - called the Southern Access - to refineries in Illinois and Indiana, such as a new BP refinery outside Chicago.

Had Murphy Oil decided to build its massive expansion in Superior, first unveiled in 2007, the Alberta Clipper probably would have supplied Murphy. Experts say U.S. demand for gasoline may have peaked in 2007 and may never get that high again. Gas demand is down because of the recession, higher gas prices, higher-mileage cars, older Baby Boom drivers driving fewer miles, conservation efforts and other reasons.

Meanwhile, Podratz said the U.S. is importing more and more refined gasoline from refineries overseas, lowering demand for U.S. refineries even more.

"There have been some U.S. refineries closed in the past year, three I think. ... So we've decided that it's not the best time to be expanding, especially at that kind of cost,'' Podratz said. "Unless things change substantially I don't see it (the Superior expansion) happening.''

The $1.2 billion U.S. segment of the pipeline is part of an $8 billion, 1,000-mile pipeline system expansion that will bring oil from Alberta into the U.S., across Minnesota and into Wisconsin. From Superior, the oil could either be refined at the Murphy Oil facility or piped another 450 miles to Illinois.

The pipeline will carry about 450,000 barrels of oil, or 19 million gallons, into the U.S. every day. That's in addition to the 67.2 million gallons the company already moves through existing pipelines along the same route.

More than 3,000 construction workers, many of them skilled union tradesmen, were on the job since September, including welders making more than 40,000 pipe connections.

Two pipelines were laid side-by-side, one 36 inches in diameter and another 20 inches. Crude oil will flow south while a refined product used to dilute thick tar-sand crude oil will flow north.

There were 326 miles of pipe laid in Minnesota. Each piece is 72 feet long. That's 21,516 pipes for each of the two lines, or more than 43,000 pieces of pipe.

More than 1,000 excavators, bulldozers and other pieces of heavy equipment were on the job.

Enbridge, based in Canada with a U.S. subsidiary based in Houston, Texas, is the largest transporter of Canadian oil into the U.S. Even before the new pipeline, Canada is already the largest supplier of oil to the U.S., topping Venezuela, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

The company says it obtained more than 60 federal, state and tribal permits for the pipeline and that the federal environmental impact statement totals more than 3,700 printed pages.

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