BEMIDJI-A group of Minnesota pipeline workers visited Bemidji on Wednesday as part of traveling expo to show how the industry operates in the state.

The group, which includes a coalition of four labor unions involved in pipeline construction and installation, visited the Beltrami County Fairgrounds to speak with local residents about technology, safety and economic impacts pipelines bring to the local area.

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"There are three types of people we are trying to reach with this," said Dan Gunderson, spokesperson for the Pipeline and Building Trades Technology Expo. "Those who are concerned about safety, those who want to know more about how the pipelines are built and those looking for an opportunity in this industry."

Regarding pipeline safety, Gunderson said pipeline industry workers want the public to know how much training is involved in the industry and the low amount of spills that happen nationwide.

"For us to have a leak, it means we didn't deliver, we absolutely don't want that to happen," Gunderson said. "Pipelines carry crude oil in this country safely 99.99 percent of the time, though, and we want to get that number to 100 percent."

The pipeline expo comes a month after the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted to approve a certificate of need for Enbridge Inc.'s Sandpiper Pipeline, a $2.6 billion project that would transport light crude oil from Enbridge's Beaver Lodge Station near Tioga, N.D., run through Minnesota and the nearby Clearbrook station on its way to Superior, Wis.

The Sandpiper has received opposition, though, from several environmental groups who claim the proposed pipeline will jeopardize the Mississippi Headwaters and many other lakes and streams in northern Minnesota.

Economic impact

Gunderson added that pipelines also provide for multiple jobs, however, an issue is getting people into the positions.

"We're going to need a whole lot of skilled workers here very soon with the Baby Boomers retiring," Gunderson said. "There's going to be a lot of good-paying jobs for skilled workers and the opportunities are there right now."

Before coming to Beltrami County, Gunderson said expo organizers sent invitations to Northwest Technical College. Gunderson said the pipeline and petroleum industries have been reaching out heavily to technical colleges nationwide the past few years to meet workforce needs.

Another economic aspect Gunderson highlighted was the importance of having a good pipeline network following the oil boom in western North Dakota.

"We're going to need all the transportation modes we can get to move the kind of production that we have both in North Dakota and Canada," said Gunderson. "The Bakken (oil formation in North Dakota, Montana and Canada) is expected to increase in production. We're going to have rail moving still, but what are we going to do with that extra production? We can either put it on rail or in a pipeline.

"We want to have a healthy infrastructure including both rail and pipelines," Gunderson continued. "If you build new pipeline capacity, it can relieve pressure on the rail industry."

The expo, which moved to the Hubbard County Fairgrounds near Park Rapids on Thursday, was just the second of its kind, according to Gunderson.

"Having this type of cooperative effort between unions and the industry, we're testing it out to see how people respond and it's going well," Gunderson said. "We hope to do this again."