Minnesota regulators on Wednesday approved the first phase of a plan by Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc. to transport more crude oil through the state.
The company's Alberta Clipper pipeline has been operating since 2010, but Enbridge wants to increase its capacity from 450,000 barrels per day to 570,000 barrels per day. The second phase of the company's expansion would increase capacity to 800,000 barrels per day.
The crude is extracted from the oil sands in Canada in a process that has raised environmental concerns.
A few dozen environmental activists attended Wednesday's Public Utilities Commission meeting, and several tried to interrupt the proceedings to protest the plan. They cited concerns about safety and threats to human health if spills were to occur along the line. Others have argued that Minnesota officials should not endorse energy extraction processes that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
Commission Chairwoman Beverly Jones Heydinger ruled the protesters out of order, explaining that the public comment period for the plan had already taken place.
The commission's unanimous vote of approval came after a representative from the Minnesota Department of Commerce explained that Enbridge still faces an in-depth environmental review by the federal government as part of its application for a presidential permit.
But environmentalists had hoped the commission would reject the plan regardless of the federal proceedings.
"We have the control through the Public Utility Commission's governing body to really speak to the needs of Minnesotans, so this is our opportunity to hold ourselves accountable and be responsible for the well-being of our state," said Kate Jacobson, coordinator for the environmental group MN350. "If it does go to the State Department we will certainly be participating and showing our opposition there as well, but it will be much more difficult to have a direct influence there."
Jacobson said the group is considering its legal options to contest the decision.