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Landowners say latest pipe blast confirms concern

BISMARCK - TransCanada Corp. plans to bury a 30-inch pipeline 516 feet from Paul Mathews' house near Cogswell and then push 590,000 barrels of crude oil a day through it.

Graphic: Map

BISMARCK - TransCanada Corp. plans to bury a 30-inch pipeline 516 feet from Paul Mathews' house near Cogswell and then push 590,000 barrels of crude oil a day through it.

That's why the fatal oil pipeline explosion at Clearbrook, Minn., on Wednesday worries him, even though it involved a different company, Enbridge.

Mathews is among North Dakota landowners who oppose or want changes in TransCanada's Keystone route through several eastern counties. Construction could begin in May if the North Dakota Public Service Commission approves a route permit.

If approved in the coming weeks, the line would run from near Walhalla to near Cogswell, on its way from Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma.

"I'm very concerned," Mathews said Thursday. Clearbrook "confirms my concerns are very real and threatening to my home and family."

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He asked the company and the PSC to move the route at least 1,000 feet away from his house, but says TransCanada won't negotiate and instead threatens to take the easement it wants through eminent domain proceedings.

Farther north, the farm of John and Janie Clapp of Lankin is also targeted for the Keystone route. If it can't be stopped, its route should be moved to the Interstate 29 right-of-way, they've said.

"My first thought went out to the families (of the Clearbrook workers killed)," Janie Clap said Thursday. "You try to convince them there's no risk in a pipeline."

Throughout the hearing process, TransCanada has "been trying to convince us there is not any risk. This just proves there is risk," she said.

The city of Fargo has also questioned the route, saying the line could leak and harm Lake Ashtabula, Fargo's secondary municipal water source.

Mayor Dennis Walaker said the Clearbrook accident "emphasizes what can go wrong." The city wants the line moved farther east of Lake Ashtabula than is planned.

Richard Starke of Burlington, another landowner and pipeline opponent, owns land near Valley City that would be crossed. He appealed to the PSC by e-mail early Thursday.

With a news story about Clearbrook attached, he wrote, "You must live with your Conscience for you are ACCOUNTABLE for your decisions ... You have ONE CHANCE to redeem yourselves. DENY THE APPLICATION GOD HELP YOU."

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Commissioners said the Clearbrook tragedy is a horrible coincidence, but should not, in and of itself, transform their TransCanada decision.

"It's important not to react with a knee-jerk reaction," Commissioner Kevin Cramer said. "It's no more likely to keep people from building pipelines than the I-35W bridge collapse (in Minneapolis) keeps people from building bridges."

Commissioner Tony Clark said the Clearbrook explosion "does reinforce that pipeline safety is important, that the siting process is important." He also said pipelines are still the safest transportation method for gas and oil.

Cramer said the explosion highlights the PSC's role in ordering a pipeline route that avoids homes and other buildings where people could be hurt by an accident.

"The fundamental thing we can draw from it is accidents can and do happen," he said.

Keystone project spokesman Jeff Rauh said Thursday that the explosion's timing - within hours of the PSC's last hearing on the Keystone route - is uncanny. But more importantly, it's a tragedy for the families of the two young men killed, he said.

"It's a shame it happens anytime," he said. "We look forward to building Keystone and it operates safely and operates well."

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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Landowners say latest pipe blast confirms concern Janell Cole 20071130

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