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Mark Sitek: Enbridge: Pipeline upgrade is positive step forward

A guest commentary that appeared in the Bemidji Pioneer (7/13) contained factual errors and scare tactics about Enbridge's plans to expand our Lakehead system as well as the nature of crude oil from the Oil Sands Region of Alberta, Canada. While we can all agree on the value of protecting our natural resources, it is important that the dialogue about North American energy resources, the efficient and safe transportation of those resources through pipelines and our Line 67 Project be factual.

Enbridge is pleased with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's decision on July 17 to approve the Line 67 Upgrade Project, which is a positive step forward for North American energy independence and northern Minnesota communities.

First, the term "tar sands" is widely used but is a misnomer. The energy source referred to as oil sands, is a mixture of inorganic matter, silt, clay, water and viscous oil called bitumen. Prior to being transported via pipeline, crude oil from the Oil Sands Region is upgraded, which means that materials such as sand, silt, clay and water are removed, to a standard similar to other heavy crude oils commonly transported throughout the United States. Like all crude oil, it must meet quality and property tariff specifications approved by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the standards of Enbridge and refineries.

Enbridge has transported oil to the U.S. from the Canadian Oil Sands for decades. The assertion that this crude is corrosive is simply not true. The National Research Council, at the direction of the U.S. Department of Transportation, completed a study on June 25, 2013. The Council convened an expert committee to study whether shipments of diluted bitumen differ sufficiently from shipments of other crude oils so as to increase the likelihood of releases from transmission pipelines. They found that diluted bitumen does not have unique or extreme properties that make it more likely than other crude oils to cause internal damage to transmission pipelines from corrosion or erosion.

Secondly, in reference to increasing capacity on our Line 67, this project optimizes the use of existing pipeline and pump stations to provide additional crude oil capacity. It addresses a critical need for more crude oil pipeline capacity linking the United States to growing North American sources of supply, and moves us closer to North American energy independence. Tapping into growing North American crude oil production strengthens the security of U.S petroleum supplies and reduces our reliance on crude oil supplies from other parts of the world that are unstable or less friendly to U.S. interests.

The capacity increase does not require new pipeline construction. All work will be done on property that Enbridge owns and yet, this project will offer a boost to local economies by providing jobs, increasing tax revenue and supporting businesses through the purchase of local goods and services, lodging, food, supplies and equipment during construction and beyond.

Regarding the question of safety, Enbridge places safety at the heart of our operations. We have repeatedly expressed our regret about the incident in Marshall, Mich. in July 2010. Enbridge took full responsibility from day one to clean up, remediate and compensate those who were affected. Now we are taking the additional step of replacing that entire line.

It is also important to clarify that there was a small amount of oil found on the ground at Enbridge's Viking, Minn., Station last April, however, the leak was on small diameter station piping associated with Line 2 - not Line 67 as the commentary erroneously reported. The control center was immediately notified, and within minutes, Line 2 was shut down and isolated as a precaution. The release was fully contained within the existing containment berm inside the perimeter of the Viking Station.

Over the last decade, Enbridge has transported almost 12 billion barrels of crude oil with a safe delivery record better than 99.999 percent. That's good, but for us, it's not good enough. There is no tolerable threshold for pipeline incidents, and we will never stop striving for 100 percent. Our goal is zero spills, and we are putting forth every effort to achieve that goal.

Pipelines are one of the most heavily regulated industries in our country and undergo rigorous and robust regulatory reviews from a variety of government agencies. And the fact is that life as we know it would not be possible without petroleum to fuel our vehicles, farm equipment, and airplanes as well as provide feedstock for fertilizers, cleaning products, plastics, pharmaceuticals, and so much more.

Canada's oil sands industry is committed to reducing its footprint, reclaiming all land affected by operations and maintaining biodiversity. And the industry continues to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity. Since 1990, GHG emissions associated with every barrel oil sands crude produced have been reduced by 29 percent, according to Environment Canada. Canada's oil sands account for 6.5 percent of Canada's GHG emissions and just over 0.1 percent (1/1000th) of global GHG emissions.

We appreciate any opportunity to have an honest and open dialogue, and it's important that these conversations be grounded in fact. We can all agree that protecting our natural resources is a good thing and that reliable and safe transportation of North American resources is the goal, as we provide the energy that fuels our economy.

MARK SITEK is vicepresident of major projects execution for Enbridge Inc.