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State agencies analyze oil transportation in Minnesota

Robb Jeffries Forum News Service ST. PAUL -- Everyone involved admits it remains an impossible task, but several members of an interagency team presented the most comprehensive report to date on oil pipelines in Minnesota to the state's Environme...

Robb Jeffries
Forum News Service
ST. PAUL - Everyone involved admits it remains an impossible task, but several members of an interagency team presented the most comprehensive report to date on oil pipelines in Minnesota to the state’s Environmental Quality Board on Wednesday.
The 114-page report was built by more than 30 staff members from 11 different state government agencies. Aptly named “Interagency Report on Oil Pipelines,” the document gives a broad overview of many aspects surrounding pipelines in the state, from human and environmental health issues to permitting and taxation.
“The report doesn’t offer any recommendations,” said Deputy Commissioner Bill Grant of the Department of Commerce. “We didn’t write this to be directed at legislators, or state agencies or the governor. It is for all Minnesota citizens.”
Members from the committee presented sections of the report to the committee via slide show and fielded questions from the EQB. Board staffer Courtney Ahlers-Nelson said the document provides observations that could be used by various agencies and legislators as a guide for developing policy.
“We’re just trying to compile the facts about moving crude oil in Minnesota,” Grant said.
Each topic in the report falls under one of four categories: economics, environment and human health, permitting and safety.
However, Grant did provide a quick breakdown of the current state of oil transportation in the state.
According to the report, about 2.7 million barrels of crude oil from the Bakken oilfields in North Dakota and Montana, and from the Alberta oil sands, are transported across Minnesota daily by pipeline.
Up to 600,000 barrels of oil per day are moving through Minnesota by train.
Minnesota’s current daily pipeline capacity for Bakken crude falls near 400,000 barrels per day.
Weston Merrick from the Department of Employment and Economic Development pointed out the demand for oil pipeline shipping falls well below production in the Bakken. Even if all four projects going through the permitting process through the Public Utilities Commission - including Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline - are approved, Minnesota pipeline capacity could not accommodate all the Bakken’s oil, even if production did not grow over the next 10 years.
“Even if oil production (in the Bakken) flatlines, and if all the proposed pipeline projects are approved - and those are two very big ifs - we are still going to need rail to help meet transportation needs,” Merrick said.
The presenters also touched on the role of oil transportation in the state on climate change. The report states transporting oil has negligible emissions of pollutants, but “Minnesota plays a role in the approval of the development of infrastructure to support the extraction, refinement and combustion of oil, gas and coal reserves in neighboring states and Canada.”
Steve Lee, who worked with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency until his recent retirement, presented on safety and said the role the state plays in transporting oil can have a negative effect on the environment.
“Every spill creates damage, and no spill can ever be completely recovered,” he said.
The version of the report presented Wednesday is a draft that will be revised, Ahlers-Nelson said. For now the report will stand open to public comment until May 30, when the interagency team will meet to review the comments and submit a final draft to the EQB.

Online

   To view the full report, go to http://bit.ly/192P6BJ .
Public comments may be submitted in writing to pipelines.eqb@state.mn.us , or by mail to: Environmental Quality Board, 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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