Sandpiper hearing does little to clear up pipeline’s future
By Robb Jeffries
Forum News Service
ST. PAUL -- The proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline project got more complex Thursday as the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved moving forward with both the original and an alternative pipeline route.
The original route proposed by Canada-based Enbridge would run from near Tioga in northwest North Dakota to just south of Grand Forks, N.D., then cross the Red River to an existing terminal in Clearbrook, Minn., on its way to Superior, Wis. The alternate route diverts the pipeline south of much of Minnesota’s northern lakes country, where citizens are concerned about damage to the environment.
In addition to the alternate route, 53 changes to the original route were allowed to move forward. Environmental and feasibility studies are the next item of business for the commission and other interested parties.
“It appears things are getting more confusing instead of less confusing leading up to this meeting,” said Frank Bibeau, attorney for Honor the Earth, a group protesting the original pipeline route.
The project continued to meet significant resistance, this time at the commission hearing in St. Paul. People lined Robert Street in downtown St. Paul to protest the project’s potential environmental impact. Individuals, as well as established groups like Honor the Earth and Friends of the Headwaters, had the chance to offer public comment on proposed alternative pipeline routes during Thursday’s hearing.
Supporters of the original route say connecting to the Enbridge terminal in Superior is a must-have, as the terminal acts as a hub to connect to other pipelines in the northern United States.
“Without these essential ties, from North Dakota to Clearbrook to Superior, you have a different project,” said Christina Brusven, attorney for the North Dakota Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Enbridge.
Bibeau said Honor the Earth opposes Enbridge’s preferred route, and called the pipeline’s route passing through Clearbrook “a false assumption.”
“We don’t have an obligation to let them deliver the oil to points they want,” he said. “To do that over the needs of the environment is out of the question.”
Others echoed Bibeau’s point, citing unclear instructions from the Minnesota Department of Commerce regarding submission requirements for alternative pipeline routes.
Willis Mattison, who said he advised several groups that submitted alternate routes to the Department of Commerce, said a last-second change in submission guidelines may have denied members of the public their right to due process.
“For the first time, on the very last day of public comment, the Department of Commerce suggested --- but not required --- that (proposed alternative routes) pass through Clearbrook and end in Superior,” he said.
“(The process) has not taken into account all the voices in the room, and of the land,” said Andy Pearson, who spoke before the commission. “I would be embarrassed if we moved forward with the alternatives that we have been proposed.”
Paul Blackburn, attorney for the Friends of the Headwaters, suggested a citizen advisory committee be formed to help address the public’s environmental concerns.
“This is a very serious decision that will have implications for decades,” he said. “If this situation isn’t one that calls for a citizen advisory committee, what does?”
Michael Dahl gave the opposition of the original route a person to rally behind. A member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe and Honor the Earth, he gave an impassioned speech asking the commission not to consider the original Sandpiper route.
“What is progression?” Dahl asked the commission. “Is it something that puts the very foundation of this state in jeopardy? Is it something that continues to succumb to the powers of capitalism of a company that is not even American-based?”
The benefits of the pipeline should not outweigh the potential damage to the indigenous way of life, Dahl said. He highlighted the potential impact on the wild rice industry, saying about 50 percent of commercially sold wild rice in the world would be affected by the pipeline’s original route.
Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth, agreed.
“If we lose our rice, we will die. That is our reality,” she said. “Our water is worth more than their oil … we do not need to rush anything based on the corporate agenda.”