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PUC denies Enbridge motion to drop one proposed pipeline route

Wendy Johnson and Robb Jeffriest

Forum News Service

It appeared that Enbridge faced yet another setback last week when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission denied a motion by the North Dakota Pipeline Co. (NDPC), to reconsider an order to review one of several alternate pipeline routes for the company's proposed Sandpiper Pipeline.

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Not necessarily so, said Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little.

"This really didn't change our timing," stated Little on Wednesday. "The whole process is very complex. Enbridge had filed the request asking the PUC to reconsider only the SA-03 route alternative. It's the longest one, and the one we know the least about. Including it would require a more intensive evaluation — meeting with landowners, notifying many others, and doing an environmental review. We don't have all that information at hand, and it would present an environmental and social challenge. Enbridge has already spent 150,000 hours studying its preferred route [part of which would go through Carlton County], and that’s the one we’re standing by.”

In its appeal to the PUC, NDPC argued the particular system alternative in question — SA-03 — is unreasonable because it is longer, less efficient and has more of an environmental impact than the company’s original proposed route.

“We still believe our Sandpiper route is the correct route,” Little said.

The original route spans more than 600 miles from near Tioga in western North Dakota to Superior. The Minnesota portion of the proposed route runs from East Grand Forks south to an existing Enbridge terminal in Clearbrook, then east to Superior.

SA-03 would also start at East Grand Forks, but would take a much more southerly route through the state before redirecting northeast to Superior.

The commission earlier this fall asked the Minnesota Department of Commerce to conduct environmental impact studies on six alternate pipeline routes, including SA-03. The paths of the alternate routes vary wildly, with some not even ending in Superior.

Enbridge has filed motions to reconsider including the other route alternatives in future deliberation.

“We’re not surprised the company put forward these reconsideration notices,” said Richard Smith, president of the environmentalist group Friends of the Headwaters that is concerned about the headwaters area of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota. “They want this process to happen the way they want it to happen.”

Little said Enbridge remains focused on keeping the pipeline project moving forward, and last week's decision by the PUC shouldn't affect the timeline in any significant way.

"The decision that did affect us was the PUC's Sept. 11 decision to bifurcate (separate out) the process of considering our certificate of need and the routing permit separately," said Little. Enbridge had originally hoped to have the two proceed on a tandem track for greater efficiency, but the PUC determined otherwise.

subhed: Another project

The Sandpiper pipeline won’t be the only pipeline project Enbridge officials are hoping to work on in Minnesota.

Line 3, which carries crude oil from Alberta to Superior, has been operating at a reduced capacity because of concerns about the line’s integrity. Enbridge announced in March it intends to replace the pipeline, which was built in the 1960s.

Line 3 currently runs north of the original Sandpiper route, but Enbridge has proposed Line 3’s replacement meet up along the same route as the Sandpiper line north of Clearbrook. Line 3 would then proceed to the Enbridge terminal in Clearbrook and across northern Minnesota on the same route of the original Sandpiper route.

Little said Enbridge is targeting late 2017 to open the Line 3 replacement.