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(Left to right) Michael Dahl and Peter Neadeau paddle out onto Lake Bemidji on Friday evening as part of a protest against Enbridge Energy's planned Sandpiper pipeline in northern Minnesota. (Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer)

Group paddles in protest against Sandpiper pipeline

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BEMIDJI, Minn. -- An environmental group took to the water Friday to protest a proposed oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.

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About 20 members of Honor the Earth, an environmental advocacy group, hosted a "Paddle Against the Sandpiper" canoe and press event Friday on and near Lake Bemidji.

After protesting the pipeline with signs along Bemidji Avenue, the group launched a canoe painted with protest slogans onto Lake Bemidji.

The 616-mile-long pipeline the protesters are opposed to is Enbridge Energy's Sandpiper line, which would carry about 225,000 gallons of crude oil per day from the Bakken oilfield in western North Dakota to refineries in Superior, Wis. From there, the oil would be transported via other pipelines to refineries in the Southern and Eastern United States and eastern Canada.

Enbridge Energy claims the pipeline would reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil imports while creating local job opportunities.

Honor the Earth officials, however, said they are opposed to the pipeline route because it would run along several bodies of water and multiple wild rice fields. They argue that a major environmental catastrophe could ensue if there's an oil spill.

Greg Chester, an Honor the Earth member, said people need to be aware of the dangers a pipeline can pose to the environment.

"They're threatening our water," Chester said. "If we lose our water, then there's no place here for our children, our grandchildren, or future generations."

Chester said he would like to see money that's put toward oil pipelines be reinvested in renewable energy resources.

"We have the money, and if we fritter away the money on projects such as this, instead of renewable projects, we're missing an opportunity," he said.

Becky Haase, a spokeswoman for Enbridge, issued a statement regarding Friday's events.

"Enbridge recognizes the rights of people to express their views legally and peacefully and discuss Enbridge's business and projects," Haase said. "We encourage active discussions on our projects; as long as there is no danger to our pipelines or anyone's safety. Enbridge will continue to actively engage in dialogue with communities and individuals in areas where we have operations."

State to weigh in

Alyssa Hoppe, a protest organizer, said about 20 advocacy groups across northern Minnesota have come together to form the informal "Sandpiper Alliance," which is dedicated to forming a grassroots campaign against Enbridge Energy's plans.

"We're getting a lot of support from local communities," she said.

Hoppe praised U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn, for his recent letter to the Minnesota Department of Commerce in which he supported rerouting the pipeline to avoid "environmentally fragile areas."

"With Nolan's recent stance against the pipeline route, that gives us a lot of ammunition to really move this legislative agenda forward in the fall," Hoppe said.

Frank Bibeau, one of the Honor the Earth organizers, said there should be a designated corridor for pipelines in Minnesota allowing for the protection of water resources. Bibeau also said the proposed pipeline is a "catastrophe about to happen" and he hoped Friday's protest draws attention to the group's cause.

"We want to help people understand what's going on. We want them to participate, and we want them to let their legislators know what's going on," he said. "It's an election year, and we expect there will be a lot of interest with the legislators -- just like the letter we saw Rick Nolan issue."

The application to build the pipeline is under evaluation from the Minnesota Department of Commerce. According to the timeline set forth by Enbridge Energy, construction on the pipeline is expected to start in late 2014 and early 2015, and will be completed by 2016.

 

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