It was big news in April when an administrative law judge - after listening to five days of testimony and poring over more than 2,000 letters - recommended that the proposed Sandpiper pipeline go ahead and be built, that Minnesota needs it. The state Department of Commerce and staff from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission reached similar conclusions.

This week, after more oral arguments, the commission can keep this now clearly necessary oil-transporting infrastructure project moving forward by granting a “certificate of need,” the largest remaining hurdle before construction can begin, hopefully early next year.

“We’re optimistic that the commission will find it’s the right thing to do,” Enbridge’s Paul Eberth, Sandpiper’s project director, said in an interview yesterday with the News Tribune editorial board. “The benefits extend, really, to three areas: the economy here in Minnesota, energy supply in the Midwest, and safety, efficiency and reliability.”

Like it or don’t that America still is running on oil (and if you’re in the “don’t” camp, you have to be heartened by ambitious efforts to get energy from wind, solar and other “green” sources, as we all should be), but don’t expect the demand for crude to wane anytime soon. That’s just unrealistic. Nearly 1.2 billion gallons of North Dakota crude are traveling through Minnesota every year to refineries, including the one in Superior. With pipelines nearing capacity, more and more of it is being moved via rail and highways.

And that’s not the best option.

Trains are backing up, causing motorists, especially in cities, long waits. Fiery train accidents are grabbing headlines. And other commodities that normally move by rail or truck are being forced to wait. A study by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture said Minnesota corn, soybean and wheat growers are losing nearly $100 million in revenue to increasingly overcrowded rails because they can’t get their products to market.

Safety concerns are increasing, too. The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced in March that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half-mile of tracks that carry crude oil trains, most of them from western North Dakota’s Bakken oil field. That’s more than 300,000 Minnesotans fretting over a possible derailment.

Yes, pipelines sometimes fail, too, spewing oil and causing environmental damage. But pipelines still are the far safer option, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The department has determined “pipelines are the safest way to transport large volumes of crude oil over long distances,” as Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said Monday. A report from the Manhattan Institute confirms the determination. So do data posted by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in Washington, D.C.

“Over the last 10 years we’ve transported about 13 billion barrels of oil, and 99.9993 percent of it has reached its destination safely,” Little said. “And while an opponent may look at that and say, well, it’s the .0007 (percent that we’re worried about). But that .0007 is what Enbridge is focused on, making sure that turns into 0 percent. Ultimately, our goal is zero instances.”

Enbridge has invested $4 billion toward that goal since July 2010. That was when one of its pipelines burst in Michigan, polluting 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River, a mess that took two years to clean up.

Rather than costing money, the 600-mile Sandpiper pipeline promises to pour billions into the Minnesota and North Dakota economies. Construction costs are estimated at $2.6 billion, about 3,000 workers are expected to be needed to build it, and it’s to generate about $25 million in property tax revenue for the state of Minnesota in its first year of operation alone. Similar annual tax revenue can be expected in subsequent years. It’s unclear how many permanent jobs will result from construction of the Sandpiper line. But Enbridge already has plans to open a new office in Hill City and perhaps another in Pine River.

Enbridge already employs about 800 workers in Duluth and Superior.

That’s a lot of important economic impact - with the least amount of risk.

Enbridge has been moving oil successfully and safely in Minnesota since 1949. Much of the new Sandpiper line will follow existing underground utility lines. Most Minnesotans won’t even realize it’s there - just like they rarely think about the 275 billion gallons of oil already coursing beneath their feet through existing pipelines each year.

Sandpiper’s construction will mean about 1,700 fewer oil cars on railroad tracks daily, improving safety and efficiency. No wonder so many entities are seeing the need for the project. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission this week can be next, maintaining momentum for a project already two years into the permitting process.

“(The commission’s granting of a certificate of need) will establish the fact that the pipeline is needed here in Minnesota. Then, moving forward, it’ll just be a question of which route,” Eberth said. “We need energy. You use it. I use it. And pipelines, we talk about the safety aspect, but they’re also clearly the most cost effective and efficient mode of transportation. While we’re using fossil fuels, we believe we need to have pipelines. (The Sandpiper project) is … good for the economy. It’s good for the environment. And it’s good for Minnesota.”