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Regulators set stage for oil pipeline reviews

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State regulators decided Thursday to take a deeper look at the environmental effects of a pair of crude oil pipelines planned across northern Minnesota.

In its procedural decisions, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission set the stage for an expansive environmental analysis that supporters fear will delay the projects. The decisions affect Enbridge Energy’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline to deliver North Dakota crude oil, and its proposal to replace its aging Line 3 pipeline, which imports Canadian tar sands crude.

“We already know it is going to be gigantic,” commission Chairwoman Beverly Jones Heydinger said of the planned environmental review.

More than 200 people crowded into the hearing room, a mix of union workers who stand to get some of the 3,000 construction jobs, and environmental and tribal groups concerned about the risks to pristine northern waters and wild rice lakes, the Star Tribune reported.

The commission declined to set a completion deadline of January 2017 that Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge requested. Company officials said they’re concerned that delays in the environmental studies could wreck their hopes of starting construction in 2017. The process requires preparing draft and final versions of the environmental impact statements — steps that will be layered on top of the usual regulatory review for energy projects.

Regulators had little choice but to order an environmental impact statement, at least for Sandpiper project. The Minnesota Court of Appeals Court in September threw out the Public Utilities Commission’s initial decision to do the Sandpiper environmental review later as a violation of state law. Enbridge wants part of the Line 3 replacement to follow the same route as Sandpiper, so the issues are linked. Both pipelines would end at Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wis.

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