The future of a 610-mile oil pipeline that cuts across northern Minnesota could rest with the fate of a tiny bat.
The $2.6 billion pipeline carrying crude oil from the Bakken fields to refineries in Superior, Wisconsin, faces a major obstacle in the form of the northern long-eared bat, the Associated Press reports.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to declare the bat an endangered species, and if they do, it could delay the pipeline project or force Enbridge Energy to alter its route to avoid bat habitats.
According to MPR, recent history suggests that the inclusion of the bats on the endangered list could potentially lead to a delay lasting years as the pipeline's route is changed.
It reports that Enbridge has already forked out $5 million to ensure that doesn't happen by attempting to get ahead of the curve, commissioning a research project to locate trees where the bats roost during the summer and modifying the pipe's route to avoid them.
The pipeline would carry around 225,000 barrels of oil per day across the state, adding to the 2 million barrels already delivered by pipeline across Minnesota to refineries in the Twin Cities, with a further 500,000 barrels being transported by train.
Opponents to the project have argued against the continued reliance on fossil fuels, as well as expressing serious concerns about the environmental impact the pipeline could have on the 300-miles of lake and river lands it would pass through.
But the project has supporters too, with Watchdog.org saying the creation of 1,500 local jobs during construction and property taxes revenues of $25 million has won support from labor unions and chambers of commerce.
MPR says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could make a decision to add the bats to the endangered species list within the next few weeks.
Bats endangered by white-nose disease
Bat numbers have been depleted across North America by the white-nose syndrome disease, but the fact that only a handful of cases have been detected in Minnesota has led many national organizations, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, to argue against the bats' inclusion on the endangered species list.
There have been previous concerns raised about the impact the bats' listing could have on Minnesota's logging industry, which officials suggest would have to shut down during the summer months.
The disease has been responsible for an estimated 6.7 million bat deaths in the Northeast and Midwest since being discovered in a cave in New York in 2006, according to the New York Times.
The Center for Biological Diversity says the spread of the fungal disease, which eats away at the skin of hibernating bats, is considered the "worst wildlife disease outbreak in North America history and shows no signs of slowing down."