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Melodee Monicken: Minnesota, slow down on Sandpiper Pipeline

Melodee Monicken

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — Friends of the Headwaters believes the state of Minnesota, the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Commerce are premature in having scheduled a series of public meetings on Enbridge Pipeline's proposed Line 3 replacement.

Given the data and evidence from recent spills and corrosion studies on young pipelines, Friends is urging a moratorium on the Sandpiper and Line 3 approval process until Minnesota has studied and analyzed the impact of high-voltage electrical transmission lines near pipelines.

This study is critical because Enbridge plans to use existing transmission-line corridors for much of the Sandpiper pipeline corridor. And Enbridge wants to place the new Line 3 "rebuild" adjacent to the Sandpiper from Clearbrook to Superior, Wis., a distance of nearly 240 miles.

The company's preferred route winds through sensitive aquifers and valuable wild rice beds, through some of Minnesota's most pristine lake country and within one mile of Itasca State Park and the Mississippi Headwaters.

Recent events suggest that new technology and new pipelines are not the remedy pipeline companies think they are. The Keystone 1 pipeline built in 2009 was found three years later to have developed deep corrosion pits. In spite of modern, high-tech cathodic protection coatings similar to those touted by Enbridge as protection against such corrosion, these pits had corroded almost through the pipeline wall. They were caused by stray electrical voltage.

And last month, the one-year-old Nexen Pipeline in Alberta ruptured. This double-walled pipe leaked more than 1.3 million gallons of hot tar sands oil and water into a wetlands. In spite of a new automatic monitoring system, the rupture might have gone undetected for as long as two weeks.

Unfortunately, no study has yet been done by any Minnesota agency to determine if Enbridge's new pipelines could have similar issues. In fact, Friends' detailed recommendations regarding the need for analysis and risk assessments have so far been ignored.

With the notable exception of people under contract to Enbridge, environmental experts all have expressed concerns about the potential cumulative impacts to water and other natural resources along Enbridge's proposed route. During the current and ongoing Sandpiper review, experts encouraged a careful look at more southern routes that went directly to the Bakken oil's destination: the pipelines and refinery connections in Illinois.

But neither the PUC nor the Department of Commerce has ordered the thorough environmental assessment the experts advocated.

Friends has requested a full Environmental Impact Statement for Sandpiper and Line 3. This topic is in litigation on the Sandpiper. But regardless of a court's decision, Minnesota can order proper risk and consequence assessments, similar to what was accomplished on Keystone 1.

Such studies are entirely relevant to permitting and location decisions and the pipeline approval process. And, under existing regulations, they are within the purview and prerogative of state agencies.

Minnesotans have a right to expect that the concerns of people charged with protecting our land and water resources — many of them experienced specialists in our lead environmental agencies — will help determine whether the proposed Enbridge pipelines could jeopardize Minnesota lake country, the Minnesota economy and the drinking water of millions of people. And Friends wants to believe there are honorable public servants in Minnesota government who want to protect Minnesota's future.