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Enbridge pipeline route could be moved away from fragile areas

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The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Thursday to study a new route for the controversial Enbridge sandpiper oil pipeline, the Star Tribune reports.

At the meeting, the group considered more than 50 recommended alternative routes.

They opted to study one route proposed by the state's Pollution Control Agency – a path that would be carved farther to the south than Enbridge's proposal, avoiding some environmentally sensitive areas that opponents have cited as a concern, the paper reports.

The route Enbridge proposed as part of its $2.6 billion sandpiper pipeline project cuts close to the Mississippi River headwaters, and travels through sensitive wild rice areas and aquifers, MPR reports. As Inside Climate News notes, the pipeline would wind through 144 lakes, streams and rivers while crossing from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, through Minnesota and to Superior, Wisconsin.

According to the Star tribune, reviewing the Pollution Control Agency's route is expected to take months, and a final decision could come as early as next year.

You can listen to audio from the meeting and see the agenda on the commission website.

Enbridge says the project will create about 3,000 construction jobs, about half of which are likely to be filled by North Dakotans and Minnesotans. It also says the pipeline improves energy independence, and will provide an economic boost in the form of revenue taxes and business for companies that offer pipeline supplies and materials.

Enbridge, a Candian company, provides a detailed look on its website at the pipeline's path through Minnesota, carrying crude oil from Tioga, North Dakota, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. A rough estimation of the previously proposed route can be seen below.

Route concerns

The proposed Enbridge route has drawn concern from a number of groups, citizens and lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who last month sided with supporters of a new route.

“There’s no compelling reason why the Sandpiper pipeline can’t be rerouted to avoid environmentally fragile areas,” said Nolan, who represents the northeast corner of Minnesota. “Our way of life is tied to water in Minnesota … A pipeline spill in a region so dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism could have devastating economic consequences for years to come.”

Before Thursday's utilities commission meeting, activist group Honor the Earth held a rally in front of the St. Paul building. One of the group's founders, Winona LaDuke, testified during the meeting in favor of a reroute.

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During an open comment period earlier this year, the commission said in Thursday's briefing papers it received about 1,090 total responses from 940 unique individuals and organizations. Those comments were organized by opposition or support, and by concerns cited. In total, 459 comments showed general support, while 37 comments showed general opposition. (Click here for the full table.)

All the public comments on the project can be viewed online here.

A spokeswoman with the petroleum and natural gas company has said the project will more than double current capacity — which is about 225,000 barrels per day — to a total of 580,000 barrels per day. It could be in service by early 2016.

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