Sandpiper oil pipeline project needs an environmental review, judge rules

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A potential blow to the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline project came with an appeals court ruling.

In the 11-page ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals – which you can read here – Judge Roger Klaphake says Enbridge's pipeline project must have an environmental review done before utility authorities can issue what's called a certificate of need.

(Basically, it's a go-ahead from the Public Utilities Commission that says a given project is one the state needs, and it can continue.)

However, the Public Utilities Commission began going through the certificate of need steps in June, before an environmental review was done – which isn't within the commission's usual practices, the ruling says.

Friends of the Headwaters, a local citizen's group, argued that violated the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act.

The Utilities Commission and North Dakota Pipeline Company countered, saying there'd been an agreement with the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board that an alternative environmental review would be enough to comply with the state's environmental act.

Klaphake sided with Friends of the Headwaters, saying that because the project "has the potential to cause significant environmental effects," and because the decision to grant the project a certificate of need constitutes a "major governmental action," state environmental laws require a review to be done.

The environmental review process usually takes about a year, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission says.

The $2.6 billion pipeline would carry about 225,000 barrels of oil per day, across 610 miles of pipeline from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Superior, Wisconsin.

The exact route was never determined – there have been concerns about potential damage to fragile wetlands, with stringent opposition from environmental groups.

Business groups such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce support the Sandpiper for its value as an economic development tool. It’s expected to create some 1,500 construction jobs.

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