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OUR OPINION: Reroute pipeline to avoid prairie

First, let’s be clear: As long as North Dakota produces oil, a lot of that oil will have to be shipped out of state.

And over the long term, pipelines are the safest and most cost-effective way of moving oil.

This very much includes any oil that winds up being shipped East. So, if the choice is to send oil across the Red River by train or to pump it across via pipeline, the pipeline route — all things considered — is the one to be preferred.

That’s the bottom line where Enbridge Energy’s proposed Sandpiper crude pipeline is concerned.

But regulators insist on public hearings for a reason. One of those reasons surfaced at Wednesday’s hearing in Grand Forks on the pipeline.

And as a result, the North Dakota Public Service Commission should call for the pipeline to be routed around the Oakville Prairie, which sits to the west of Grand Forks.

Robert Seabloom was among those who asked that the pipeline skirt “one of North Dakota’s last untouched slices of original grassland,” as he put it.

A word about Seabloom: A retired professor of wildlife biology at UND, he’s one of North Dakota’s premier mammologists — that is, a zoologist who specializes in mammals.

He literally wrote the book on the subject: Mammals of North Dakota, “the first comprehensive work on the mammals of the state since a 1926 survey published by the federal government,” a UND press release notes.

When Seabloom talks about a project’s likely impact on wildlife and the environment, regulators should listen.

And Seabloom wasn’t alone. Phyllis Johnson is UND’s vice president for research and economic development.

She, too, asked that the pipeline’s route be changed, “citing the prairie’s value as a biological research site,” as Forum News Service reported.

For public hearings to be meaningful, regulators have to respond when trusted authorities raise serious concerns. Trusted authorities now have done that regarding the Sandpiper pipeline’s proposed route through the Oakville Prairie.

The Public Service Commission should acknowledge those concerns and ask that the routing be moved.