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Twin Ports mayors back Enbridge pipelines

The site at the Enbridge Terminal where new storage tanks are being built for oil products in Superior. Each of the two tanks under construction is expected to hold 650,000 barrels of product when completed. (File / News Tribune)

The mayors of Duluth and Superior are adding their support to Enbridge Energy’s proposed pipeline projects planned for the region.

Don Ness and Bruce Hagen have scheduled a morning news conference today “to show support for the proposed Enbridge expansion projects and express the importance of benefits to not just Superior, but the whole Twin Ports.”

But their support already was being criticized Tuesday as indirect support for more additional carbon dioxide emissions blamed for spurring climate change because of the type of oil that would be carried on some of the pipelines.

While Enbridge is based in Calgary and Houston, the Twin Ports are the northern U.S. home for Enbridge, which bases about 750 jobs here (employees and contractors) with a more than $62 million payroll.

Superior is the hub of an elaborate network of pipelines and massive storage tanks for vast amounts of North Dakota and northwestern Canadian crude oil that first crosses Minnesota and is then transferred to other pipelines on its way to refineries in the Midwest, East and South.

The company says it paid $34 million in Minnesota property taxes alone in 2011.

“Yes, I support the Enbridge projects,” Ness said Tuesday. “In my mind, pipelines are the most responsible and safest way to transport oil. We are seeing the problems associated with moving crude by truck and rail — transporting by pipeline reduces the energy consumption and risk of accident to transport. Our decision is not whether crude will come from Canada or North Dakota, the question is whether it’s coming on rail or pipeline. In my mind, pipeline transport is the much better option.”

The projects Enbridge proposes include:

  • The all-new $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline from western North Dakota to Superior, part of it along new routes from past lines, mostly to handle oil from the Bakken oil fields. The company is seeking state approval for the project.
  • A $7 billion replacement of Enbridge’s old Line No. 3 to nearly double the capacity of oil shipped from northwestern Canada to Superior by replacing an old line with a new line. The route of the new line has not yet been determined. It’s not clear if the project will need federal approval because it is replacing an existing line, but the company said it will seek state approval in Minnesota.
  • The Alberta Clipper expansion project to increase the amount of oil flowing on the existing pipeline by 40 percent to 800,000 barrels per day, or 33.6 million gallons of oil each day. The Alberta Clipper, also called Line 67, runs 1,000 miles from Canada to Superior, where it connects with other pipelines to move the oil to Chicago and beyond. Finished in 2010 at a cost of $1.2 billion, the pipeline was built to handle more oil if the pumping capacity was increased, as is being proposed.
  • Construction of additional storage tanks in Superior.

Both the Line No. 3 project and Alberta Clipper expansion would carry the same heavy Canadian crude oil — mined from tar sands in Alberta — as the more infamous Keystone XL pipeline proposal under review by the federal government. Critics say that heavy tar sands oil requires more energy to refine and creates more carbon dioxide pollution, and thus more climate change impact, than other energy alternatives.

Supporters counter that the Midwest needs the extra oil and that pipelines are the safest, least expensive way to get it here. Enbridge notes it is merely a transportation company supplying the energy being used by U.S. citizens.

Andrew Slade, northeast program coordinator for Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said Ness’ support for economic development is laudable but said the mayor’s support for Enbridge projects like Alberta Clipper “doesn’t match his stated goals of protecting our climate and natural environment.”

“Mayor Ness, as a city councilor in 2001, was the author of a resolution pledging cooperation of the city of Duluth to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Alberta Clipper expansion will actually increase greenhouse gas emissions,” Slade said. “Tar sands oil is energy-intensive to extract and transport and also contains more carbon than traditional light crude oil. Tar sands oil sinks in water, so spills along the pipeline route will endanger our precious local lakes and streams. If we support Enbridge’s expansion, we support adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Surely there are more sustainable ways to develop our economy than by endangering freshwater resources and adding to climate change.”

Ness downplayed those criticisms.

“The pipeline makes no impact on the carbon consumption in the city of Duluth,” Ness said. “ I understand the leap of logic, but there’s not a real connection there.”

But Nathan Ness, director of organizing for the group MN NORML and an environmental activist, disagreed.

“What some people don’t want to acknowledge, Mayor Ness included, is that the debate about tar sands oil is not a debate about its ‘mode of transportation’; it is about whether or not the use of this oil will result in runaway climate change,” said Nathan Ness, who is the mayor’s brother.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is deciding whether to approve a certificate of need for the Alberta Clipper project, and this week, Enbridge is holding hearings across the pipeline route, including today in Cass Lake and Thursday in Floodwood at 10 a.m. and the Duluth Holiday Inn at 6:30 p.m.

The Alberta Clipper expansion also requires federal approval in addition to the state PUC approval. But that could be easier because the project won’t involve any new pipeline construction in new areas, unlike Keystone XL which would be an entirely new line.