March 27--Spend even a few minutes learning about the permit being sought by Enbridge for its Line 67 oil pipeline -- the "Alberta Clipper," as it has been known -- and any controversy becomes hard to fathom.
The hundreds who turned out in opposition at an open house-style hearing in Bemidji, Minn., earlier this month surely must have been objecting to the continuing use of fossil fuels as a whole -- a worthy struggle being won with every outdated coal-fired power plant that shuts down and with every green proposal to encourage the use of renewable energy.
What Enbridge is seeking for Line 67 wouldn't contribute to big-picture problems related to the environment or climate change, however. A recently completed, 700-page draft supplemental environmental impact statement even found that the company's proposal would have "no significant adverse impact" at all. The determination wasn't for a lack of looking.
Line 67 runs for 999 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's terminal in Superior. Just opened in 2010, the pipe carries 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day. That is, except for a short, three-mile stretch right at the North Dakota-Canada border. There the pipeline is allowed to carry only 500,000 barrels per day. There the unused capacity in parallel pipelines is tapped to get the other 300,000 barrels per day from Canada to the U.S.
Enbridge is seeking a supplemental presidential permit so Line 67 can carry the 800,000 barrels per day it was designed and built to carry through the three-mile border crossing, too. Approval seems such a technicality and a matter of course that it shouldn't even raise an eyebrow, much less spark concern.
"All of the facilities are built. We just need this presidential permit to increase the capacity on the border crossing itself. ... That would allow us to operate everything as designed. And that's the most efficient way to operate that pipeline," Tom Hodge, a project director for Enbridge in Duluth, said in an interview with the News Tribune editorial board. "It's something that should be very easy to approve, we believe. We'd like to see it approved as quickly as possible."
Quickly? Approval has taken four long years and counting after the application got caught up in the Keystone XL pipeline debate. Encouragingly, the process continues now. A comment period on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement ends Monday. The comments will be used to shape the final environmental impact statement. With that and with a determination that increasing the pipeline's capacity at the border is in the national interest, the permit could be granted by as soon as late summer or this fall.
"This (nearly 1,000-mile pipeline) is already completely approved through the state of Minnesota, North Dakota, (and) Wisconsin. The (National Energy Board in) Canada has completely approved this project. We've just been waiting four-plus years for a three-mile segment," Enbridge's Patrick Hughley explained to editorial board members.
Without the permit approval, Enbridge could opt to move more Canadian oil on train cars. While pipelines are far from a spill-free option, they are 4.5 times safer than transporting by rail, according to a 2015 Fraser Institute study. In 2013, more crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents than during the previous 37 years, Forbes reported in 2014.
Rather than a problem, oil pipelines long have been an economic boon for northern Minnesota. Consider Enbridge's Line 3 replacement. The company is expected to invest $2.1 billion in Minnesota on that project alone. In addition, according to the Jobs for Minnesotans group, Enbridge paid more than $34 million in property taxes to the state in 2011. And its community investment program supported Minnesota nonprofits with more than $276,490 in 2014.
"It's a significant impact to have these kinds of facilities running through your area. (Building them) brings in temporary workers who stay in hotels, buy fuel, (and) go to the local restaurants. It's a significant positive local economic impact on those communities, They benefit from the work that's done," Hodge said. "We need to get (the Line 67 permit) approved now, too."
A significant and positive economic impact without any negative environmental effects: approving the Line 67 permit is a decision not even worth raising an eyebrow over.
TO LEARN MORE
The U.S. Department of State has posted the draft supplemental environmental impact statement for Enbridge's Line 67 permit application. To read it, go to: state.gov/e/enr/applicant/applicants/environmentalreview
TO MAKE A COMMENT
The deadline to offer a comment about the statement is Monday, March 27, 2017. There are two ways:
-- Submit a comment electronically at: regulations.gov/comment?D=DOS_FRDOC_0001-3982. In the subject line, type, "Line 67 Expansion SEIS."
-- Or mail a comment to Mary D. Hassell, NEPA Coordinator; U.S. Department of State; 2201 C Street, NW, Suite 2727; Washington, DC 20520. Label the envelope, "Line 67 Expansion SEIS."
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