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Enbridge defends northern Minnesota route for pipeline

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Enbridge Energy on Tuesday defended its proposal to build a crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, despite suggestions by state agencies that a southern route might be better.

Company executives testified during the first day of an evidentiary hearing before a regulatory judge in St. Paul, the Star Tribune reported.

Critics of the $2.6 billion project have questioned whether the line needs a northern route. But Enbridge project director Paul Eberth said the Sandpiper project would allow shippers to carry North Dakota crude oil to a terminal in Clearbrook, Minn., and then on to Enbridge’s storage terminal and other pipelines in Superior, Wis.

Eberth said rerouting the pipeline without reaching those destinations would not serve shippers’ needs.

Asked if Enbridge would consider alternate routes proposed by environmental groups and a state agency, Eberth answered, “I am not sure the project would proceed.”

State officials have raised concerns about the risk of a major oil spill like the 2010 rupture of an older Enbridge pipeline in Marshall, Mich. It sent crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and has cost more than $1 billion to clean up. Enbridge has since replaced that line with new pipe.

“If we have incidents like that I don’t know that we could continue to stay in business,” Eberth said. “It is hugely important for Enbridge to prevent those kind of incidents.”

The hearing, before Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman, is focused on whether the project is needed and, if so, whether the company’s preferred route or an alternate one would meet the need. Lipman is expected to issue findings in April to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which regulates crude oil pipeline development in the state.

Enbridge, a Calgary, Alberta-based company that has operated crude oil pipelines in northern Minnesota for 66 years, came to the hearing with key support from the State Commerce Department. The agency’s energy unit said in written comments that the Sandpiper line is needed and that it should terminate in Superior to tie into pipelines serving refineries in the Midwest and East.

Yet the Commerce Department said the line doesn’t need to go to Clearbrook, as Enbridge proposed. Instead, a new terminal could be built near the North Dakota border, with a connecting line to Clearbrook, the agency said. That’s significant because such a change would tee up a possible alternate southern route backed by two state environmental agencies.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have urged regulators to consider a southern route option, which would pass south of many northern lakes and isolated wetlands.

Enbridge opposes that route, saying it is 70 miles longer, poses its own environmental risks and would cost an additional $210 million to build.

The hearings are scheduled through Friday.

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