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Sandpiper pipeline approved by N.D. Public Service Commission

BISMARCK – A new pipeline will do the work of 4,300 trucks daily in transporting oil to and from North Dakota, Public Service Commission Chairman Brian Kalk said Wednesday.

The PSC unanimously approved permits for construction of the $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline during its regular meeting.

Starting at the Beaver Lodge oil and gas field near Tioga, the Enbridge pipeline will extend through Williams, Mountrail, Ward, McHenry, Pierce, Towner, Ramsey, Nelson and Grand Forks counties. It will then stretch through to a terminal in Clearbrook, Minn., and end at a terminal in Superior, Wis.

In North Dakota, more permits are still needed for construction to officially begin. The State Historic Preservation Office is doing a final review of the pipeline route, which is expected to conclude this summer, Kalk said.

The 616-mile pipeline will carry 225,000 barrels of oil each day. Construction is slated to begin in North Dakota in the fall. Enbridge predicts the pipeline will begin transporting oil in 2016.

The pipeline satisfied environmental requirements in the eyes of the commissioners, Kalk said, but they are requiring denser piping for underwater routes.

Commissioners cited reduced industrial rail and road congestion as reasons for the approval.

“(The pipeline) will carry more than twice as much North Dakota oil as the Keystone XL would, and has capacity to be upgraded significantly,” Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann said. “This is a major step forward in moving oil in the safest and most efficient way possible.”

New pipes, ranging from 24 inches to 30 inches in diameter, will allow oil to be shipped to Canada, and the southern and eastern United States. Canadian energy delivery company Enbridge will supervise pipeline construction.

Project managers say the pipeline will offset oil imports, increase North American energy independence and create thousands of new jobs.

Opponents have maintained that the pipeline will negatively affect wooded areas and farmland, citing the impact of last year’s 20,600-barrel oil spill near Tioga. Others have also said it will increase fossil fuel use, contributing to climate change.

A representative from Callaway, Minn.-based conservation group Honor the Earth called the decision “extremely disappointing.” The group has said the pipeline will harm rivers, lakes and state rice beds.

Enbridge community relations advisor Katie Harsaager said her company has taken necessary steps to make sure another massive spill doesn’t happen again.

“We’ve done our due diligence both on the regulatory and environmental side,” Harsaager said.

According to the commission, Enbridge has an emergency response plan, developed with the federal Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to combat emerging spills. The pipeline will also be constructed with a safety alarm system that can detect subtle drops in pressure. Enbridge will also train the public and first responders about safety and emergency response issues.

A little less than half of the pipeline in North Dakota will closely follow existing Enbridge pipeline infrastructure. More than 75 percent of the new pipeline will also snake along current utilities right-of-way routes.

Regulatory boards in Wisconsin and Minnesota have not yet decided the pipeline route’s legality, nor have federal regulators given the final green light.

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission is still deliberating approval, as Native American tribes say they deserve a bigger say in the process. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has not received an application of any kind yet, said spokesman Nathan Conrad.