Melissa Rigney Baxter
Special to The Daily Reporter
Construction of an oil pipeline into Superior promises to pump jobs and money into the community. But not everyone is thrilled with the project.
Four environmental and American Indian advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit challenging construction of the Alberta Clipper pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior.
“Why should we be investing in a new pipeline to increase the consumption of crude oil?” said Sarah Burt, an attorney with Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm representing the plaintiffs. “We have all this talk about investing in clean energy, and we’re moving in the wrong direction.”
But Superior Mayor Dave Ross said he supports the pipeline, not just because of the economic benefits to his city but because importing crude oil from friendly nations is a national security issue.
“We’re all concerned about the environment, but we can’t get away from the fact that we’re highly dependent on crude oil,” he said. “We share the world’s longest friendly border with Canada.”
The Alberta Clipper pipeline is an expansion of the world’s longest crude oil and liquids pipeline system, operated by Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc. Each time the company has expanded its operations, Ross said, jobs have been added in Superior. The city has become a North American crude oil hub of sorts.
“Ten percent of all the crude oil in the United States comes through Superior,” Ross said.
Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Grymala said during construction, crews of 350 to 500 workers are required for each segment of the pipeline. The 1,000-mile Alberta Clipper project is divided into six builds: two north and four south of Clearbrook, Minn. The cost of the U.S. portion of the project is $1.2 billion, Grymala said.
When completed, the Alberta Clipper will increase the pipeline system’s capacity by nearly 25 percent to almost 2 billion barrels a day in the next decade, Grymala said. Approval from the U.S. State Department this year gives permission for 450,000 barrels of oil a day to be pumped into Superior via the Alberta Clipper.
Besides the increased spending on crude oil imports, Burt said, the groups Earthjustice represents — Indigenous Environmental Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club — are concerned about the process through which Enbridge gained approval of the project from state and national agencies.
“All the consequences were not taken into account,” Burt said.
One of those consequences, she said, is the effect on Alberta, where processing of tar sands has hurt the environment. Tar sands are deposits of sand, clay and water with viscous oil.
Tar sands are mined and processed to produce oil similar to that pumped from conventional oil wells, but the task is more complex than drawing oil from the ground.
“The Alberta Clipper will mean more air, water and global warming pollution, particularly in communities near refineries that process tar sands oil,” Burt said.
While the groups’ lawsuit is pending, Earthjustice made a motion for an injunction to stop work on the pipeline. Arguments in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota took place Nov. 18, and as of Dec. 2, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank had not ruled on the matter.
As mayor of Superior, Ross said he is frustrated by the lawsuit and motion for an injunction.
“In my general opinion,” he said, “when you follow the rules and get the proper permits, that should be the end of it.”
Ross said groups that oppose the approval process for projects such as the Alberta Clipper should work to change the process, not try to interfere with projects in progress.
“It amounts to harassment by these groups,” he said. “They should not stop growth and development from happening.”
Grymala said she cannot comment on a pending lawsuit. She said Enbridge went through a lengthy process to get approvals from the U.S. State Department and other agencies, including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“We work to minimalize the environmental impact,” Grymala said. “We had many public meetings and open houses. We look at the environmental issues, and the route we came up with really minimalizes the impact.”
While Grymala conceded the growth of renewable energy is desirable, she said other types of energy, including those developed from crude oil, are still needed.
“Superior,” she said, “is a very important hub for us.”