By Capital Staff and Wire Reports, June 5, 2015 5:08 pm
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has approved a certificate of need for the proposed Sandpiper pipeline route through northern Minnesota as it goes from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Superior, Wisconsin.
While the PUC agreed 5-0 Friday that the $2.6 billion, 610-mile pipeline – about 300 miles across Minnesota – is necessary, they didn’t foreclose the possibility of more changes on its proposed path, the Associated Press reported.
The PUC said it still might reroute Enbridge’s proposed route away from environmentally sensitive lakes, streams and wetlands in northern Minnesota. Enbridge Energy will still have to go through a lengthy review of its proposed route and a proposed alternative.
Enbridge says it would like to have it operating in 2017.
The proposed route goes from the oil field near Tioga, N.D., near Williston, to Superior, Wis., where ocean-going vessels can dock just below Duluth on Lake Superior. In North Dakota it follows fairly closely to U.S. Highway 2.
The Minnesota portion would go 75 miles from Grand Forks, N.D., east to the main Enbridge junction at Clearbrook, Minn., with 24-inch pipe with a capacity of 225,000 barrels per day.
Then for a 225-mile leg, it jogs south to Park Rapids, Minn. – which is on a line east of Fargo – and then east to Superior with a 30-inch pipeline with a capacity of 375,000 barrels per day, according to Enbridge.
At a capacity of 375,000 barrels a day across Minnesota, the Sandpiper would carry the equivalent of about 525 rail tanker cars, each holding 714 barrels, or about five trains of crude oil, every day.
Enbridge says Sandpiper is needed to move the growing supply of North Dakota crude safely and efficiently to market.
But environmentalists and tribal groups say the risk of leaks is too high.
North Dakota regulators have already approved Sandpiper.
North Dakota produces about 1.2 million barrels of oil per day, about 13 percent of U.S. production; roughly two-thirds of it leaves the state by train.
Recent explosive derailments of oil trains have informed the debate over building new pipelines.
Bakken-bearing pipeline meets stiff opposition in the Land of 10,000 Lakes
Daniel Cusick, EnergyWire, April 10, 2015
MINNEAPOLIS — A Canadian company proposes a multibillion-dollar oil pipeline through some of the Midwest’s prized lakes and wetlands, igniting a firestorm among environmentalists, tribes and anti-fossil fuel activists who say the proposal is built on hollow promises of economic development and dubious claims of environmental protection.
Sound familiar? It should. But the pipeline isn’t Keystone XL, and its developer is not TransCanada Corp., purveyor of the most polarizing energy project since the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.
It is called Sandpiper, and its developer is Enbridge Corp., another Calgary, Alberta-based conglomerate whose extensive oil and gas pipeline network plunges deep into the U.S. interior.
The $2.6 billion Sandpiper project, which would move 225,000 barrels of crude per day roughly 610 miles from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to an Enbridge hub in Superior, Wis., has been approved by North Dakota regulators. But it remains under administrative review in Minnesota, where developers are seeking a certificate of need to ship the oil and a route permit to build the pipeline across 300 miles of the state’s Lakes Belt.
An administrative law judge in St. Paul next week is expected to issue an advisory opinion that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will use to resolve some thorny questions around Sandpiper, including whether the line is necessary and what route it should follow to move Bakken crude across Minnesota to Wisconsin, where it would flow to other Enbridge lines serving refineries in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.
Marathon’s president and CEO, Gary Heminger, has said the Sandpiper investment will give Marathon a 27 percent stake in Enbridge’s North Dakota pipeline system once the line is completed and provide “additional access to growing crude oil production from the Bakken Shale play and Canada, and direct participation in the transportation of these crudes into our markets.”
The opening of a new corridor through Minnesota will also help Enbridge manage aging infrastructure along its existing pipeline route through the Upper Great Lakes, known as the Lakehead System. Currently, six existing pipelines, some built as early as the 1950s, follow the Lakehead System route from a key Enbridge oil terminal in Clearbrook, in northwest Minnesota, to the cities of Bemidji and Grand Rapids before dipping south to Duluth and Superior.
Clearbrook is also the primary U.S. hub on Enbridge’s system for delivering Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta into the United States, and Enbridge has invested heavily in recent years to upgrade those lines, including adding new pump stations in Minnesota that will push up to 800,000 barrels per day of heavy Canadian crude to U.S. refineries.
Moreover, if Sandpiper is approved, Enbridge has said it will pursue another set of state permits to relocate one of its key Lakehead pipelines, known as Line 3, that was built in 1968 and is in need of retirement. Rather than rebuild Line 3 in its existing corridor, Enbridge has said it would prefer to relocate the line along the Sandpiper route at a cost of roughly $2.3 billion.
But environmental opposition, combined with lengthy regulatory proceedings, sagging oil prices and a troubling history of spills, including an 840,000-gallon contamination of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, have created considerable hurdles for Enbridge as it tries to push through one of its most ambitious U.S. pipeline expansions in recent memory.
The stakes — for Enbridge, for its U.S. customers, and for residents and tribes in North Dakota and Minnesota — are high. If the Sandpiper line is built, the company says, millions of barrels of Bakken crude will be moved more safely and cheaply across northern Minnesota, while at the same time alleviating rail corridor congestion and reducing the risk of rail accidents like the Dec. 30, 2013, fiery collision between a derailed grain train and 108-car oil train near Casselton, N.D., resulting in 400,000 gallons of spilled crude and the evacuation of 1,400 residents.
Dealing with the ‘Keystone effect’
Currently, more than two-thirds of the North Dakota’s oil exports are shipped by rail using tanker cars, according to federal estimates, many of which lack the kind of safety features that have been proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and could become law later this year. More recent rail accidents, including oil train derailments in West Virginia and Illinois, have further pressured the oil and gas industry, railroads and government officials to find alternatives to shipping oil across long distances by rail and truck.
But if shipping crude by rail has come under tough scrutiny from the public and regulators, pipelines have fared little better, as evidenced by the industry’s track record of spills — estimated at 1,400 “significant incidents” since 1986 — and the deep political fissure over Keystone XL, which after years of languishing under a State Department review succumbed to a presidential veto in February after Republicans in Congress sought to approve the line legislatively.
The “Keystone effect,” as some have called it, goes beyond concerns about pipeline safety and routing to incorporate a broad suite of environmental issues, among them fossil fuel dependency and oil consumption’s contribution to greenhouse gases that drive climate change.
Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and CEO, addressed some of those challenges in a speech to business executives in Minneapolis late last month.
“Solving infrastructure problems at its base is not rocket science,” he told the Minnesota-Canada Business Council, stressing the advanced technologies and materials deployed by industry to site new oil pipelines, inspect existing lines, and detect problems early and respond quickly.
The bigger challenge, Monaco said, stems from organized opposition to traditional energy resources and even some renewable resources such as wind turbines, and “the elevation of regional energy projects to a national policy debate.”
“This isn’t just short-term noise,” Monaco said. “Today, our regulators, our political leaders, our employees and the public, they expect more of energy companies. They want to know what we’re doing to continually improve, to get better.”
Working around the ‘Lakes Belt’
For critics like Kathryn Hoffman, an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, “getting better” means several things, including acknowledging mistakes and correcting operational problems that cast doubt on Enbridge’s safety track record, including the record 2010 spill in Michigan, where cleanup remains a work in progress after $1 billion spent.
Hoffman and her client, the nonprofit group Friends of the Headwaters, also want Enbridge to explore alternatives to its preferred Sandpiper route, which crosses northern Minnesota’s “Lakes Belt,” a region dense in lakes, streams, wetlands and forest. To date, the company has refused to look at alternatives, saying its chosen Sandpiper route offers the best conditions, both environmentally and economically, for the line to make its way from an existing oil terminal in Clearbrook to its terminus at Duluth-Superior.
Hoffman, who has petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to force a more detailed environmental review of Sandpiper than what is required by the PUC, said her client is not seeking to simply block the Sandpiper line from being constructed. Rather, she wants Enbridge to more fully examine the preferred route’s impacts to natural areas and weigh those findings against alternative routes that run along more developed corridors.
“Our position is that the proposed route is probably one of the worst locations in the state of Minnesota to run a pipeline,” she said.
Similar concerns were raised by Minnesota’s two environmental agencies — the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency — prompting the PUC last September to take an unprecedented step of asking for more information on alternative routes.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce provided a detailed report on six alternatives last December, but Enbridge maintains that none is viable because all are longer, are more expensive to build and do not pass through its terminal at Clearbrook, a critical element of the project.
“The fundamentals behind the project call for leveraging the existing infrastructure that’s already in place,” Paul Eberth, Enbridge’s Wisconsin-based Sandpiper project manager, said in a telephone interview. “By going to Clearbrook and then to Superior, we can make connections to customers without having to build a new line all the way down to the southern part of the state,” as most of the alternatives propose.
‘Oil companies are asking too much of our state’
But opponents of Sandpiper in its current configuration say southern Minnesota, where farming and urbanization have already altered much of the natural landscape, is exactly where new oil pipelines belong.
Among those pushing for a re-route are members of the state’s 40,000-person Ojibwe tribe, also known as the Chippewa or Anishinaabe, whose leaders maintain that the Sandpiper project threatens to foul northern Minnesota’s pristine waters with oil and disrupt traditional activities such as wild rice harvesting that are central to Native American life in the Great Lakes region.
Frank Bibeau, an attorney and member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, whose reservation extends across three northern Minnesota counties, said in an interview that Enbridge has failed to examine such impacts in its Sandpiper routing decision. Moreover, the company continues to maintain that the pipeline does not physically cross tribal lands and therefore does not violate the tribe’s rights.
“We beg to differ with them on that point, and strongly,” said Bibeau, who maintains that the tribe’s treaty rights extend beyond reservation boundaries when dealing with traditional activities like wild rice harvesting.
Honor the Earth, a national activist group led by White Earth member Winona LaDuke, the former Green Party vice presidential candidate, has also pressed state officials, including Gov. Mark Dayton (D), to force a reconsideration of Sandpiper’s current route and issue a moratorium on any new pipeline development in the state’s lakes region.
“Oil companies are asking too much of our state,” LaDuke wrote in a letter to the governor. “While we remain a fossil fuel economy at present, sending one new pipeline … across the beautiful North Country is wrong and is not a good move for Minnesota.”
The group has taken its message public, too, with colorful roadside billboards and horseback rallies in hamlets like Backus, Minn., where the pipeline is proposed to cross an arterial highway just south of the Corner Store Restaurant & Gun Shop, a local gathering spot.
On a recent afternoon, Dave Sheley, the Corner Store’s owner and proprietor for 18 years, said the Sandpiper project has been a regular topic of conversation, both pro and con, among patrons of his cafe.
He described Backus and surrounding Pine County as “a poor community in general with a rich sub-community of cabin owners,” many of whom trek north on weekends from the Twin Cities to fish, swim, boat, bicycle or hunt in the region that otherwise has little happening economically.
While some are encouraged by Enbridge’s promise of 1,500 construction jobs and an estimated $25 million in new annual tax revenue, others say such benefits are countered by the intrusion of a major oil pipeline and the long-term risk of an accident or spill.
Sheley said he has seen a smattering of new business from surveyors and consultants working along the corridor route, which parallels an electricity transmission line. But he also knows that any surge in business during the line’s construction would be temporary, and the greatest economic benefit will go to landowners who have cut deals with Enbridge to route the pipeline across their property.
“I don’t own any land where they want to build, so I don’t have skin in the game,” he said. “For the most part, I’d say those people tend to be the most positive about it. But I can also see why the cabin owners and naturalist groups are concerned. A spill would be a big bummer if it happened.”
As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk
By Edward McAllister, Mar 23, 2015 4:45pm EDT
(Reuters) – Volunteers at the Galena, Illinois, fire department were hosing down the smoldering wreck of a derailed BNSF oil train on the east bank of the Mississippi River on March 5 when a fire suddenly flared beyond their control. Minutes later, the blaze reached above the treetops, visible for miles around.
“They dropped the hoses and got out” when the flames started rising, said Charles Pedersen, emergency manager for Jo Daviess County, a rural area near the Iowa border which includes Galena. “Ten more minutes and we would have lost them all.”
No one was hurt in the fire, which burned for days, fed by oil leaking from the ruptured tank cars. But an increase in explosive accidents in North America this year highlights the risks that thousands of rural fire departments face as shipments of oil by rail grow and regulators call for improved train car standards.
Nearly two years after a crude oil train derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013, there are no uniform U.S. standards for oil train safety procedures, and training varies widely across the country, according to interviews with firefighters and experts in oil train derailments and training.
About 2,500 fire departments are adjacent to rail lines transporting oil in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa alone, according to figures provided by the Department of Transportation, but no nationwide statistics exist. The DOT does not know which of these fire departments are in need of training, a spokesman said.
The scenario concerns experts who say more needs to be done for sparsely equipped, rural, mostly volunteer-run fire departments to prepare as oil train accidents increase. Already this year, four oil trains have derailed and exploded in North America, double last year’s tally.
No deaths have occurred as a result of U.S. derailments. Oil trains have been a consistent feature on U.S. rails only since 2009.
“Is it acceptable that we just let these fires burn out?” said Thomas Miller, board member of the National Volunteer Fire Council and principal at the National Fire Protection Association, which draws up training guidelines.
“We have to have a comprehensive plan to identify training levels required and to make sure training is available,” he said.
CART BEFORE HORSE
Railroads have increased safety training in the nearly two years since Lac-Megantic, a period during which nine trains have derailed and exploded in North America.
Berkshire Hathaway-owned BNSF, CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern Corp and other railroads have bolstered their own network of hundreds of hazardous-materials experts and equipment centers dotted around the country that react if an accident occurs.
The major North American railroads last year spent $5 million to send more than 1,500 first responders on a new three-day oil train program in Pueblo, Colorado, the first site dedicated to oil derailment training in the United States.
The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is developing an oil derailment training module, expected to be completed in May.
But PHMSA funding to state and tribal governments for hazmat training has declined from $21.1 million in 2010 to $20.2 million last year, even as oil derailments increased. Moreover, interviews with fire departments across the country reveal stark disparities in training.
In Galena, where up to 50 oil trains roll through each week, the fire department had received some basic hazmat training provided by BNSF last year. But when the train came off the rails in March, Galena firefighters were still waiting for a slot at the Pueblo, Colorado facility.
“It was a bit cart-before-the-horse,” said Galena volunteer fire chief Randy Beadle. “It just happened that we had an incident before we could get the guys out there” to Pueblo, he said.
It is unclear what exactly the Galena firefighters might have done differently given proper training and greater resources, but other firefighters who have received extensive training say it is vital to countering an oil train blaze safely.
In Casselton, North Dakota, the fire department has been “bombarded” with training after an oil train collided with a derailed soybean train in December 2013, setting 21 oil cars ablaze and causing a fireball whose heat was felt from over a quarter of a mile away, said Casselton’s volunteer fire chief, Tim McLean.
Before that accident, McLean and his 28-strong fire team “had no idea oil trains were that explosive,” said McLean, a corn and soy farmer. Since then, eight firefighters from the department have been to the Pueblo site for intensive training and more will attend this year.
In Pembroke, Virginia, where CSX rerouted some crude oil trains last month after a derailment damaged its track in West Virginia, the volunteer department has had no specific oil training, said fire department president Jerry Gautier.
“We have reached thousands of people for hydrogen and ethanol training, but the oil program is in its infancy,” said Rick Edinger, a member of the hazardous material committee at the International Fire Chiefs Association. “It could take a couple of years to roll out.”
Meanwhile, oil train accidents remain at the front of people’s minds in Galena, especially for Pedersen, the emergency manager in Jo Daviess county, one of the busiest areas in Illinois for oil trains.
“Every time I hear a train go by now, I think a little differently about it,” he said.
Reroute oil trains? History suggests it’s a long shot
By Jim Spencer, March 21, 2015 – 8:22 PM
Industry says reinforced cars on current routes are better than trying to avoid heavily populated areas.
WASHINGTON – Last week, U.S. Sen. Al Franken asked the Federal Railroad Administration to consider rerouting trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota so they do not pass through Minnesota’s biggest cities.
For Franken, the possibility of rerouting is an integral part of a comprehensive response to a recent rash of fiery oil train derailments that also includes stabilizing Bakken crude before it is loaded into stronger tanker cars.
For the nation’s powerful railroad lobby, however, rerouting is an unwarranted intrusion into a rail safety system that the industry says works.
Government-ordered rerouting of private rail traffic is not exactly a snowball in hell. It is more like a blizzard in Bahrain — possible, but unprecedented.
In Minnesota and around the country, “rerouting issues ought to be high on everyone’s agenda,” said rail safety expert Fred Millar, who fought unsuccessfully against railroads to move chlorine trains out of the District of Columbia. “But rerouting has been pushed off the table.”
Congress created the Federal Railroad Administration in 1966. In nearly half a century it does not appear to have forced any railroads to reroute trains around big cities for safety reasons, despite computer modeling that estimates routing changes could lower citizens’ risks to hazardous materials derailments by 25 to 50 percent and reduce casualties in an actual derailment by half.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) last week estimated that 326,170 state residents live within a half-mile of rail routes that carry oil from North Dakota across Minnesota. A half-mile is the federal emergency response evacuation zone required in the event of a single tanker car spill and fire. Multiple-car fires require up to a mile evacuation.
MnDOT data shows that 156,316 of the Minnesotans subject to evacuation in an oil train derailment live in the Twin Cities metro area. Most North Dakota oil trains enter Minnesota at Moorhead, then travel on BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway tracks into the Twin Cities before turning south along the Mississippi River and east across Wisconsin. A few oil trains travel through western Minnesota into Iowa.
Although the National Transportation Safety Board has backed rerouting in some circumstances, federal laws passed in 2007 grant private rail companies wide latitude in determining when and where trains should move, even trains carrying hazardous materials.
Canadian Pacific did not comment specifically on rerouting trains in Minnesota, but in an e-mail to the Star Tribune, the railroad said it has voluntarily complied with the federal government’s Crude by Rail Safety Initiatives and performed “route risk assessments.”
BNSF, the largest crude-by-rail hauler out of North Dakota, declined to comment on rerouting and referred questions to the rail industry’s major trade group, the Association of American Railroads.
An AAR spokesman said the industry opposes re-routing oil trains because the existing routes are the safest, even when they pass through urban areas. The industry supports more structurally secure tanker cars, track inspections and training of emergency response teams, said AAR media relations director Ed Greenberg.
BNSF also has invested heavily in track improvements to increase safety along its existing Minnesota oil train routes.
“We’re using routing technology called the Rail Corridor Risk Management System developed by the federal government,” Greenberg said. The technology measures 27 factors — including population density — to determine the safest route for moving hazardous materials, including crude oil, Greenberg said.
“Rerouting isn’t the answer,” he maintained. “All it has accomplished in the past is to force rail traffic through other communities on tracks not built to accommodate products like crude oil.”
The Federal Railroad Administration declined to discuss rerouting oil trains in Minnesota. In an e-mail statement, acting administrator Sarah Feinberg said of Franken’s request: “Over the past 18 months we have taken more than a dozen actions to enhance the safe transport of crude oil while working on a comprehensive rule that is now in its final stages of development.”
The state has little say in the rerouting debate. “The railroads are regulated by the federal government,” Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said. “The state does not have the authority to move, or reroute, rail lines.”
Rerouting trains away from the Twin Cities is not part of a rail safety initiative unveiled March 13 by Gov. Mark Dayton. That proposal calls for spending $330 million over 10 years, much of it in greater Minnesota, mainly to make road-rail crossings safer and to improve emergency response.