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National oil industry reps visit Bemidji

American Petroleum Institute Consulting Director Dan Gunderson points out new crude oil pipeline projects on a map of North American lines during an informational meeting with Bemidji-area community leaders Wednesday at the Hampton Inn and Suites.

BEMIDJI -- Oil industry representatives came on Wednesday to Bemidji to head off opposition to new northern Minnesota crude pipeline projects.

Dan Gunderson and Erin Roth hosted a small invite-only luncheon at the Hampton Inn & Suites for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group that does lobbying, public relations work and research on behalf of the oil industry. Invitees included local government and school officials as well as business leaders. During the Q-and-A period of the lunch, one audience member asked whether new pipeline projects planned for northern Minnesota would spur a conflict in Bemidji similar to the Keystone XL controversy.

"We hope not," Gunderson replied. "That's why we're here."

While there are northern Minnesota environmental groups that oppose the new pipelines, Roth said, Bemidji-area local government has been friendly to oil.

"Historically, Beltrami County and the city of Bemidji have been very, very great to work with in terms of the pipeline and our industry," Roth said.

The pair presented the industry's position that oil expansion in North America would help the U.S. economy and reduce reliance on oil from hostile or unstable countries abroad.

"We don't need the Seventh Fleet in the Lake of the Woods to protect the resource," Gunderson quipped.

Gunderson said the epicenter of the Keystone XL controversy was perceived risk to the Ogallala natural water aquifer in Nebraska, the underground water deposit that supplies much of the central United States.

"You've got more pipelines with aquifers in Minnesota than you do going through Nebraska," Gunderson said. "Not to diminish the importance of keeping crude oil out of aquifers, but I think we need to understand that Keystone is a symbolic issue. This is about symbolism. This is the great war between the the environmental movement -- 'Big Green' -- and the oil industry."

Gunderson said the reason API was hosting the luncheon was because of the lesson it learned from the Keystone XL fight: do a more thorough job of presenting the oil industry's message to the public.

"Quite frankly, the industry didn't do (events like) this in Nebraska," he said. "There was a lot that needed to be done that wasn't done. The very reason why we're here is because of the experience we had in Nebraska."

Roth and Gunderson didn't compare the safety of oil transport by rail to pipelines, citing legal concerns from an ongoing class action lawsuit over a rail incident in Canada. However, Gunderson said there are drawbacks in other areas to shipping by rail.

"Right now, there are food companies in this state ... that are not able to get their grain, their feed and the products they need to market because they're backed up behind oil trains coming out of the Bakken (oil field in North Dakota)," he said.

API has six more events like Tuesday's luncheon planned for northern Minnesota, and six more in Wisconsin, Gunderson said

In an interview after the lunch, Gunderson also spoke about the oil and natural gas industry's role in the propane shortage that struck Minnesota last winter, and how it was trying to prevent a second round of the crisis that limited the ability of many Minnesotans to heat their homes, especially low-income residents.

"We're trying," he said. "There's a lot of talk about it. The problem is, (API) can explain the problem as an association to the companies, but somebody's got to want to invest in it."

Gunderson acknowledged the industry bore some responsibility in the shortage.

"We got a lot of reasonable criticism for that failure," Gunderson said. "There was a significant reduction in production at the very time we probably should have been ramping up."

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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