Political Matters: PUC approves Sandpiper
Friday, July 10 2015
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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mordecaispecktor-web.jpgPUC approves Sandpiper

In early June, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge, Inc. ( a certificate of need to build the Sandpiper pipeline from the Bakken oil patch in No. Dakota to Superior, Wisc.

Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, still face many months of deliberations over the path of the pipeline. As I reported in this column last November, the PUC previously decided that six pipeline routes should be considered for Sandpiper — alternatives to the preferred Enbridge route. The route of Sandpiper purposely skirted reservation land; however, it would still run through the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory, where members of Ojibwe bands have retained their rights to hunt, fish and gather.

So, Ojibwe bands in Minnesota (White Earth and Fond du Lac) have expressed concerns about the environmental threat posed by Sandpiper, as has Honor the Earth, a group founded, in 1993, by Winona LaDuke, and Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, of the Indigo Girls.

I watched some of the live webcast of the PUC’s Sandpiper hearing last month; and my heart goes out to the environmental activists who have to sit through such deadly dull proceedings. Like Winona.

“Fracked oil from the Bakken poses a serious risk to the North Country — particularly in light of the… 800,000 gallon oil spill in a remote area of North Dakota [in 2013],” Honor the Earth notes on its website ( “That spill, on a six-inch Tesoro line, went unmitigated for almost a week due to an understaffed Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and all figures presently released come from Tesoro, the owner of the pipeline. The Sandpiper would carry that same oil, which has proven to be very volatile. In northern Minnesota a lot of our towns are 15-20 miles apart, with fire departments and rescue squads being even further apart. Response times are not quick and sometimes oil spills go days before discovered.”

The Tessoro pipeline was carrying Bakken oil to the Stampede rail facility near Columbus, No. Dakota, when it ruptured, according to a Reuters story, which noted that a “farmer harvesting wheat discovered oil spouting from the line,” on Sept. 29, 2013.

Like Texas-based Tessoro, Enbridge has had its share of pipeline failures, notably the 2010 Kalamazoo River spill. An Enbridge pipeline burst and spewed some 1.1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into surface waters — the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. The spilling took place for 18 hours before a Michigan utilities employee alerted Enbridge about the unfolding environmental disaster.

In my Nov. 2014 column — about PUC action on Sandpiper, the Line 3 pipeline expansion and oil pipelines running through the Fond du Lac reservation — I quoted Rick Gitar, the Fond du Lac band’s water regulatory specialist. Among other things, Gitar mentioned that Enbridge has pipelines that run under a lake on the Leech Lake reservation. He told me that an emergency drill was held to practice containing an oil spill in the lake.

“Enbridge just totally failed that exercise,” Gitar recalled.

If the Sandpiper oil pipeline is built and it fails, readers of “Political Matters” can refer back to Enbridge’s 2013 Operational Reliability Report, which notes that the company’s role in the oil business “comes with tremendous responsibility. That’s why safety and operational reliability is our Number 1 priority. It has to be, and it always will be. Because safely and reliably delivering the energy you count on means identifying and addressing problems before they occur, and being vigilant, disciplined and prepared. That’s why we continue to invest billions of dollars and why our team devotes hundreds of thousands of hours of effort every year to keep our systems running smoothly and without incident.”

Like the Enbridge system that befouled the Kalamazoo River.

The pipeline company’s website describes the Sandpiper project as including a 30-inch diameter pipeline from Clearbrook, Minn., to Superior, Wisc. The entire pipeline — from Tioga, in the northwestern corner of No. Dakota, to Superior — will span 616 miles.

Enbridge’s Sandpiper project — a partnership with a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corp. ( — totals $2.6 billion in “privately funded investment in new energy infrastructure,” according to the company, which adds, “By comparison, the new Minnesota Vikings’ stadium will cost approximately $1.2 billion.”

On this point, it occurs to me that the Vikings might have another lousy season when they move into their new downtown Minneapolis stadium. The runners might fumble and the defense could give up a lot of points; but they likely won’t pollute the Mississippi River.

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