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Oil pipeline through MN gets green light, but question mark remains over route

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A controversial $2.6 billion oil pipeline that will run across the width of Minnesota was approved by regulators on Friday – but the route it will take through the state was not.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that the North Dakota Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Calgary-based Enbridge, was given one of the two permits it needs from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to push ahead with the 612-mile Sandpiper pipeline transporting crude oil from Tioga, ND, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.

The permit approved Friday meant the PUC accepted the company's case there was a need for the pipeline, but it was not given its routing permit, the newspaper notes.

This is because the PUC wants to consider an alternative to the 299-mile route across Minnesota proposed by the company, so that it avoids areas of wetland and lakes in the north of the state.

The PUC will consider Enbridge's preferred route along with an alternative, to see which it deems more suitable, with KARE 11 reporting that this process is likely to take weeks. The two routes are:

  • Enbridge's proposal runs from the North Dakota border to a terminal in Clearbrook, before going south to Park Rapids following existing oil pipelines, and then heading east to Superior.
  • An alternative that would re-route a section so that the pipeline travels southeast from Park Rapids, and then turn northeast to Superior.

According to the Star Tribune, this re-route would avoid a region of wetlands and lakes and is a variation on one of several alternate routes put forward by environmental groups, all of which Enbridge has dismissed as too costly, longer, and too close to people and water supplies.

And environmentalists aren't completely happy with the alternate being considered by the PUC now, as it will mean the pipeline would still pass near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

"The commissioners put the needs and profits of a private, foreign company ahead of Minnesota's pristine, historically and economically valuable headwaters of the Mississippi," Richard Smith, of Friends of the Headwaters, told the newspaper.

According to a release from the PUC, the 612-mile pipeline would have the capacity to move 225,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

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