Enbridge oil pipeline expansion up for consideration by Minnesota regulators

State regulators on Wednesday will consider whether an oil pipeline crossing northern Minnesota should be able to carry more crude from Alberta's oil sands.

Enbridge's proposed expansion for its Alberta Clipper line, which opened in 2010, needs permission from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and a permit from the federal government before it can go forward.

The decision by the PUC expected Wednesday could allow for the first phase of expansion — an increase from 450,000 barrels per day to 570,000 barrels per day. Enbridge has also applied for a certificate of need for the second expansion, which would increase capacity to 800,000 barrels per day.

Enbridge has said the expansion is needed to meet demand and increase the country's access to North American crude oil supplies instead of Middle East sources. Company officials said no new pipeline construction is required for the expanded capacity, but upgrades would be carried out at pump stations and terminals.

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The Minnesota Department of Commerce has recommended the PUC approve the first phase of the expansion.

But environmentalists have fought the proposal, arguing that allowing the expansion would endorse the energy and resource-intensive practices needed to extract the oil. The extraction and refining processes rely heavily on fossil fuels, which increase greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change, MN350 and other groups have argued.

In addition, the expanded capacity increases the risk for spills that can harm the environment and pose a risk to human health, said Kate Jacobson, lead coordinator for MN350.

"This is an opportunity for Minnesotans and for Minnesota decision makers to really hold Enbridge accountable to answer the questions around risk," Jacobson said, adding that most of the crude oil traveling through Minnesota will be used elsewhere.

MN350 and the Indigenous Environmental Network plan to attend Wednesday's meeting in St. Paul.