Oil in Your Backyard – MN PUC Approves Enbridge’s Certificate of Need
On July 17, 2013, The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to approve the Phase 1 expansion of Enbridge Energy LLP Certificate of Need, to expand Line 67 (Alberta Clipper) from the current rate of 450,000 bpd to 570,000 bpd. This increase will be the result of 5 additional 6,000 watt pumps to be installed, there will be no new pipeline put in the ground.
While this is not the end of the fight, it is an interesting event. Over 100 protesters packed the PUC hearing room. When the project was introduced, 4 people, Kathy Hollander, Stan Sattinger, Winona LaDuke (Honor the Earth), and Marty Cobenais (IEN) all walked to the front of the room and sat down at the speaker’s table to speak for the group present and for the people who were unable to attend this meeting. Immediately, Chairwoman Heydinger announced that there would be no public comments at this meeting and that comments were heard at public hearings held in Clearbrook and Deer River Minnesota. It should be noted that Enbridge has a strong presence in both of these towns: Clearbrook is a pipeline hub and it contains over 1.5 million barrels of oil per day in its 9 tanks, and is also a large pumping station, Deer River has a pumping station just outside out town. It should also be noted that the third public comment hearing scheduled in Viking, MN was cancelled due to a snow storm and never rescheduled.
All three of these towns have also experienced pipeline leaks. While waiting for the docket to be called it was observed that in all 7 other projects heard that day the opposing side was allowed comment time.
When this was announced the crowd stood up in unity to demand that the 4 people seated at the table be allowed to speak. After threats to take a 10 minute recess and pleas to quiet down and sit down (the protestors remained standing throughout the preceedings), then the Commission heard from Enbridge Attorneys, MN Commerce, and Michael Kaluzniak (PUC staff member that wrote the briefing paper in favor of the proposed project). They then introduced Jonathan Wolfgram, Principle Engineer for the Office of Pipeline Safety, who gave a brief speech about pipeline safety and who is responsible for spills and clean up.
The crowd was loud with hisses when the speakers spoke with their favorable comments. Several members of the crowd yelled at the Commissioners. Marty Cobenais (IEN) spoke briefly after Commissioner Lange made the motion to approve the Certificate of Need. Informing the Commission that Enbridge failed to show that the Diluted Bitumen (Dil-Bit) would stay in the region as part of their criteria to approve such a permit. It was also asked that they deny the permit as Enbridge has been operating 4 illegal pipelines within the boundaries of the Red Lake Reservation since 1949, and that issuing a new permit while they are operating illegally doesn’t make sense. (The Alberta Clipper pipeline does not cross the Red Lake Reservation, but is located across the road under the lake, so if there was a leak under the lake it would affect the Red Lake Land. However, it does cross the Leech Lake and Fond-du-Lac Reservations.) The PUC Commission then voted unanimously to approve. Mrs. Hollander and Marty Cobenais (IEN) asked for a contested hearing on this matter, no comment was made.
The Commissions Criteria A states:
The probable result of denial would adversely affect the future adequacy, reliability of efficiency of energy supply to the applicant, to the applicant’s customers, to the people of Minnesota and neighboring states.
Enbridge Energy has posted on their Website plans to increase capacities on several pipelines, reverse the flow and increase the capacities in others, and even construct new pipelines. The result of all this would make it possible to have 3 export pipelines. This proves that Criteria A has not been met and that the Dil-Bit will not stay in the Minnesota or the surrounding states.
PUC Commissioner Lange is traveling to Germany next week as part of a tour to look at clean energy solutions like Solar and Wind. Yet she made the motion to expand the importation of the tar sands from Alberta, Canada. The Tar Sands are energy and resource intrusive, they produce 3 times the amount of carbon emissions than conventional oil, require 10 tons of dirt for 1 barrel of oil, 4 barrels of water to make 1 barrel of oil. They also produce large hazardous tailing ponds that leak into the Athabasca River and are linked to high cancer rates to First Nations people downstream including rare Bile Duct Cancer, usually effecting 1 out of 100,000 people, yet 3 people in a small community of 1,200 have been confirmed. Polluted waters disease and kill animals and fish that drink from the river or land in the ponds. This appears to be a complete contradiction to clean energy solutions and continues the addiction to fossil fuels.
Phase 2 of this project is seeking permission to increase the amount of Dil-Bit, from 570,000 bpd to 880,000 bpd. Enbridge is proposing new pumps for the following communities: Donaldson, Plummer, Cass Lake, and Floodwood. Let it be noted that there has already been a pipeline leak at the Cass Lake pumping station. This has not yet, to date, been completely cleaned. A Public Comment Period is expected to open soon and public hearings have been requested, but not yet announced. Keep a close eye on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s website www.puc.state.mn.us for updates to public hearing openings. IEN will also post these announcements.
The final process that is required for Phase 1 & 2 to be put into action, is the issuance of a Presidential Permit from the State Department. The Presidential Permit is due to the amount of the increase and that it is coming from a foreign country (Canada). The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has not yet been released from the State Department, but a public comment period and are required prior to any decisions.