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Richard Smith of Friends of the Headwaters used a light reflector to show how large the sandpiper pipeline will be: 30 inches in diameter. He and other lake associations are opposed to the pipeline, citing environmental concerns. - photo by Kate Perkins

Friends of Headwaters expresses concerns over sandpiper pipeline route

Web posted July 29, 2014
By Kate Perkins, Northland Press Correspondent

More than 50 people gathered at the Fifty Lakes Foundation Tuesday, July 22, to hear about Friends of the Headwaters’ opposition to the proposed Enbridge Sandpiper oil pipeline route. Friends of the Headwaters (FOH), a citizens’ group formed to protect natural resources, says that the pipeline jeopardizes the natural environment for which the area is known.

Richard Smith is president of FOH and spoke at the meeting July 22.

“We’re not an anti-pipeline group,” Smith said. “We just look at this and say, there has to be a better way to do this.”

Maps from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) show areas of land that are most susceptible to groundwater contamination. Smith pointed out that the proposed sandpiper pipeline route traverses those areas with the highest susceptibility. It travels through areas with a high percentage of wetlands, and the areas with lakes with the best clarity in the state. It also travels through areas that also have a high rate of naturally-occurring wild rice.

“You couldn’t pick a worse place to put a pipeline,” Smith said.

The proposed route currently tracks from Grand Forks, ND, to Clearbrook, Minn., to Superior, Wisc. In Cass and Crow Wing counties, the proposed route travels from McKinley Township in western Cass County north of Pine River and Chickamaw Beach in Pine River Township.

From there it cuts across the northwest corner of Crow Wing County before entering Blind Lake Township and heading east just north of the Crow Wing County and Cass County border, north of Outing.

Christine Davis, community outreach specialist for Enbridge, said by phone the pipeline will be 30 inches in diameter where it runs through Cass and Crow Wing, and will carry 375,000 barrels of crude oil through the area every day (one barrel is 42 gallons). It will be buried roughly four feet below the ground, except at stream crossings, where it will be buried deeper.

“We’ve prepared what we believe is the best route based on people and the environment,” Davis said.

Smith disagrees. He said that the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) is responsible for creating a comparative environmental assessment for the pipeline, but that there will be no environmental impact statement (EIS) on the project. Smith added that in 2005, legislation was passed that moved that responsibility from the pollution control agency to the DOC.

“What’s the DOC’s responsibility? To promote business,” Smith said. “There will be no EIS on this process unless we make a huge raucous.”

He pointed out that the oil will not be going to refineries in Minnesota, as those are at capacity-- it will travel to other states.

“We don’t need to take all the risk up here for their profit,” Smith said.

Davis said that oil travelling through the area will go to existing refineries in the Midwest and East. She said that oil transported on Enbridge pipelines helps offset oil from other places, sometimes from lands that are unstable or don’t share U.S. interests.

Another of Smith’s major concerns is oil spills. An oil spill would reduce property values by 30-40 percent, he said. He pointed to a spill near Marshall, Michigan, from an Enbridge pipeline. The spill happened in 2010 and spilled 843,000 gallons of oil. Four years later, Smith said, Enbridge has spent around $1 billion and has still not finished the cleanup.

Davis said that Enbridge will monitor the Sandpiper pipeline 24-7. She said Enbridge has ways of monitoring the pipeline’s flow and pressure to determine if there is a leak along the pipe. The pipeline can be shut off anywhere along the route, but said that the number of shut-offs along the route has not been finalized, Davis said, adding that shutoff valves are only one component in a multi-layered system to prevent releases.

Enbridge has put more than $4 billion in the past two years toward enhancing and maintaining its pipeline facilities, Davis said.

“We’re investing billions to make sure that our systems operate to safety standards that prevent releases and we have systems to respond quickly to contain and clean up, in the unlikely event that we have a release,” Davis said.

Smith said that among the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Enbridge was ranked lowest for safety, quality of workmanship and inspections. Davis said she wasn’t familiar with that ranking, but that Enbridge has an emergency response plan to which PHMSA has given huge accolades.

Wanting to change the pipeline’s route, Friends of the Headwaters utilized a DOC program allowing a citizens’ group to propose alternate routes for the pipeline. FOH submitted several alternate routes, but all of them will not be considered because they didn’t meet Enbridge requirements that FOH hadn’t been aware of.

Enbridge will recommend two alternate routes to the public utilities commission, Smith said. That commission will ultimately make the final decision on the pipeline.

“I’m of the mind that the alternate routes they are proposing are just placebos,” Smith said. Smith was happy to report that the MPCA had recommended some of Friends of the Headwaters’ routes, before they were dismissed. He viewed having that agency on their side as an indication the FOH may be making headway in moving the pipeline to a different route.

That won’t happen, though, unless lots of people get involved and lend their voices to the effort, Smith said. He urged the community to attend meetings or submit comments on the project.

Anyone interested can find more information at www.friendsoftheheadwaters.org. Enbridge has information on its website at www.enbridge.com/sandpiperproject, and the DOC has information on the project, including documents and a timeline, at http://mn.gov/commerce/energyfacilities/Docket.html?Id=33599.

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