The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved plans this Wednesday by Enbridge Energy to boost the capacity of its Alberta Clipper oil pipeline in Minnesota, as environmental and Native American protesters chanted in opposition.
The Enbridge project, like TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline in western states, has drawn protesters who oppose transporting more crude oil from the oilsands region of Alberta to the US.
But the Minnesota Commerce Department, which reviews energy projects, supported the upgrade, saying it would ensure “a continued, reliable cost-effective supply of crude oil to Minnesota and the region from a consistent and stable supply region.” The department projected that a likely alternative if the pipeline isn’t built — shipping crude by railroad — would require 7000 tank cars travelling through the state.
Anti-pipeline protest at the meeting
About 50 anti-pipeline protesters showed up for a St. Paul meeting, many of whom wanted to speak to the PUC, which didn’t allow testimony. The protesters included activists from MN350.org, a climate-change advocacy group, and Honor the Earth, led by Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
Commissioners, after a brief discussion that was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, voted that the project is needed, citing its favourable economics.
Regulators declined to take additional testimony — having sponsored two public hearings earlier this year — and did not address environmental concerns.
State Department approval needed
Separately, the US State Department is conducting an environmental review of the Enbridge expansion plan because the project also requires a Presidential permit to expand oil shipments across the border. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which also requires a Presidential permit, has attracted significant opposition from environmental groups.
Upgrading Enbridge’s pipelines
The Minnesota project is part a broad plan by Enbridge to upgrade pipelines in the US and Canada to ship more Canadian oil to the Midwest and beyond. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers last month projected that Canadian oil output will more than double by 2030 to 6.7 million bpd, with most of the increase from the Alberta oilsands.
Enbridge intends to spend US$ 40 million to upgrade three Minnesota pumping stations, at Viking, Clearbrook and Deer River, allowing them to push 27% more oil through the 36 in. Alberta Clipper pipeline, which runs 1000 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin.
When it constructed the line four years ago, Enbridge says, the pipe was oversized with the intention of possibly increasing throughput later. With the upgrade, the line could carry 570 000 bpd. Enbridge officials said they hope to begin construction of the larger pumps next month.
Climate-change activists have been campaigning against Canada-to-US pipelines, hoping that stopping them will slow or halt production in northern Alberta. The Natural Resources Defense Council says producing oil from oilsands releases three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production. The oil industry disputes those claims.
Edited from various sources by Elizabeth Morant