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Enbridge applying to regulators to build oil pipeline across Minnesota

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Enbridge, the Canadian company that is seeking regulatory permissions to construct the largest oil pipeline yet from western North Dakota's rich oil fields across Minnesota, says in its application that the project is "needed and in the public interest," the Associated Press reports.

At issue is what has been called the $2.5 billion "Sandpiper" pipeline that would transport 200,000 barrels of oil a day 612 miles from North Dakota to a hub in northern Minnesota and then on to a terminal in Superior, Wis. (see a map from the Star Tribune).

More than half the oil pouring out of the North Dakota oil patch is hauled away by rail, and a network of pipelines that currently move more Bakken oil is straining to keep up with supply, MPR reported.

So Enbridge is steadily prodding the pipeline project along. Enbridge submitted a project application last week to the North Dakota Public Service Commission and will seek similar permissions with regulators in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the next month, a company spokeswoman told the Associated Press.

Enbridge is also in the middle of another key step in the process – seeking oil producers who will commit to using the pipeline, the Associated Press reported.

North Dakota has more than doubled its oil production in the last two years (nearly 1 million barrels a day) and is now the nation's No. 2 oil producer, behind Texas.

Company officials are often quick to note that construction of the pipeline would employ as many as 3,000 workers in Minnesota and North Dakota, and could start as early as 2014.

Critics have called the proposed project a "Minnesota disgrace" and say there is no need for it. Some pipeline opponents say the pipeline will destroy farmland and livelihoods.

Over the objections of about 50 chanting, sign-carrying protesters, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in July unanimously approved the expansion of the pipeline.

Critics have pointed to several high-profile reports about spills. The AP reported last month that North Dakota had almost 300 oil pipeline spills in less than two years – but none was reported to the public.

And in September, a Tesoro Corp.-owned underground pipeline leaked North Dakota crude into a wheat field in a remote part of the state in a spill first estimated at 750 barrels. It was later revised to 20,600 barrels, the worst spill ever in the state.

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