Public to have say on northern Minn. oil pipeline expansion

Pipeline workers
Pipeline workers take a break at a work site in Bemidji. Enbridge Energy officials say they expect to pay about $276 million in wages for the project. The $1.2 billion U.S. segment is part of an $8 billion pipeline exansion.
Tom Robertson/MPR News, file

State regulators are hosting public hearings across northern Minnesota this week on a proposed oil pipeline expansion.

Enbridge Energy plans to boost the capacity of its Alberta Clipper pipeline that carries oil from Edmonton in the Alberta Tar Sands region to Clearbrook, Minn. and then to Superior, Wis.

More: Enbridge eyes third oil pipeline project through northern Minn.

The company is seeking state and federal permits from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the U.S. State Department to upgrade the pipeline to carry 800 thousand barrels of oil a day.

Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said the oil will then be shipped to refineries around the country and Canada.

"What it does is it helps to provide that supply that they're looking for from a secure, reliable, friendly neighbor, so they can use that to produce the products that we rely on every day," Little said.

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Environmental groups warn of potential spills and say the pipeline will contribute to climate pollution.

Andy Pearson, Midwest tar sands coordinator for the environmental group MN 350, said the expanded pipeline isn't needed.

"It's not going to serve Minnesota and the region," Pearson said. "This is not an expansion that our climate can afford."

Enbridge aims to complete construction of seven new pump stations along the pipeline by mid 2015. The upgrade is one of three new or expanded pipelines Enbridge has proposed to transport oil out of western North Dakota and Alberta, where production is soaring, through northern Minnesota. The total cost of the projects is over $10 billion.

Public hearings are scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday in Thief River Falls and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Cass Lake. On Friday, a 10 a.m. meeting is scheduled for Floodwood, and a 6:30 p.m. meeting is set in Duluth.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hosts a final meeting April 3 in St. Paul. The public comment period for the proposed pipeline expansion closes on April 14.