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Updated: Sandpiper pipeline receives one of two permits for construction

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Friday granted one of two necessary permits to Enbridge for its proposed Sandpiper pipeline, a project that has been met with repeated protests in Minnesota.

The certificate of need unanimously granted by the commission verifies Enbridge subsidiary North Dakota Pipeline Company demonstrated a need to ship crude oil via pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to Enbridge’s existing infrastructure in Superior, Wis.

The certificate of need approves a 24-inch diameter pipeline -- which can carry up to 225,000 barrels of oil per day -- from the North Dakota border to the Clearbrook, Minn., terminal, and a 30-inch pipeline (375,000 bpd) from Clearbrook to Superior.

Enbridge has estimated the cost of such a pipeline to be $2.6 billion, and have targeted the summer of 2017 to begin operation.

Proponents of the pipeline celebrated the decision, which came after hours of deliberation.

“Enbridge is pleased with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s unanimous decision to grant a certificate of need for the Sandpiper Pipeline Project,” Enbridge spokesperson Lorraine Little said. “Sandpiper has broad and deep support throughout Minnesota as evidenced by the supporters who attended public hearings on the project earlier this year and by the thousands of others – including 65 Minnesota legislators and the majority of the county commissions along the route – who have expressed their support of Sandpiper. Minnesotans sharing their personal stories underscored the need for this project and provided numerous statements to the record validating the benefits Minnesota will receive from Sandpiper.”

One of the 65 state legislators who expressed support, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, called the decision “a win for northwestern Minnesota.”

"This is a worthwhile investment that will bring new jobs and increased economic prosperity to our communities," he said.

Emotions ran from disappointment to disgust among those standing against Sandpiper.

“We are acutely disappointed in their decision,” said Richard Smith, president of Friends of the Headwaters, one of the respondent organizations in the application. “Despite stating this pipeline would provide no direct benefits to Minnesotans, the commissioners put the needs and profits of a private foreign company ahead of Minnesota’s pristine, historical and economically valuable Mississippi headwaters and northern lake country. My members, ordinary folks, have poured their hearts, souls and limited financial resources into this epic uphill fight.”

“It seems Enbridge has a new office in Minnesota today, staffed by the members of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission,” said Andy Pearson of environmental rights group MN350. “The record clearly shows that the Sandpiper pipeline poses unacceptable risks to water, climate, and treaty rights. A better commission would have stood up against Enbridge to protect Minnesotans, but that is not the commission which met on Friday. This decision is an embarrassment to Minnesota and a disservice to its citizens.”

Commissioners expressed concern for the environment during their deliberations, adopting recommendations from a report filed by administrative law judge Eric Lipman requiring permanent road access to all valves along the pipeline and subsidized training for emergency responders.

“I am confident that the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Commerce and this commission will hold the company’s feet to the fire” to ensure safe construction and operations, Commissioner Betsy Wergin said.

Routing

A routing permit -- which will solidify the route Sandpiper will take -- is still required, and there are multiple options to be considered. The route proposed by NDPC would run from near Tioga, N.D., 616 miles across North Dakota and Minnesota, with a connection at an Enbridge station in Clearbrook, before proceeding across to Superior. As the route stands, 299 miles of that pipeline would run through Minnesota.

To be included in the routing process is an alternate route that would run south of many critical waterways, including the Mississippi River headwaters. The original route has sparked dozens of protests, particularly from Native American groups, who claim Enbridge’s route would threaten wild rice harvesting operations, and that the protests of indigenous people have been ignored by the commission.

Due consideration will be given to all factors surrounding choosing a route, commission chairperson Beverly Jones Heydinger said.

“We have to take our time with this,” she said. “This is a very big project, and we can’t be too careful.”

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