By Robb Jeffries
Forum News Service
ST. PAUL – Regardless of environmental feasibility, the Sandpiper pipeline project might not happen if the originally proposed route is not followed.
Paul Eberth, Sandpiper’s project manager, testified Tuesday at an evidentiary hearing for the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that the North Dakota Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Enbridge, may scrap their application for the roughly 616-mile pipeline if it doesn’t follow what the company deems as critical factors in the application — a pipeline that stretches from near Tioga, N.D., to Clearbrook, Minn., and on to Superior, Wis.
Eberth was asked if a pipeline built along one of the eight proposed “system alternatives” — routes proposed by entities other than NDPC, most of which do not pass through Clearbrook or Superior — could benefit the local economies of towns near the route.
He agreed towns along system alternative routes would benefit financially from having a pipeline near them, but said he doesn’t think any pipeline outside of Enbridge’s preferred route would actually be built.
“I personally don’t think those benefits would be realized because there isn’t economic support for the system alternatives,” Eberth said.
Economic support comes in the form of shipping agreements, and Eberth said the agreements Enbridge have secured hinge on the Sandpiper’s route passing through Clearbrook and Superior.
“The system alternatives proposed by others are fundamentally different projects,” Eberth said after Tuesday’s session. “Connections at Clearbrook and Superior are the underpinnings of our contracts with shippers and our approved Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rate structure. There is no commercial support for the system alternatives.”
That particular route gives Enbridge a high degree of interconnectivity to existing terminals and pipelines. Oil could be sent from the Clearbrook terminal to Twin Cities refineries, while Bakken crude sent to Sandpiper’s proposed terminus could be sent south to refineries in Illinois. Routes that do not hit those two terminals give Enbridge’s clients, the oil companies shipping the crude oil from the Bakken, fewer options on where to refine their product, Eberth said.
The evidentiary hearing will continue daily at 9 a.m. through Friday in St. Paul. Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman, who is presiding over the hearing, will submit a report to the PUC in April, with a final decision on the project’s certificate of need coming from the commission in June.
Pending approval of the certificate of need, the tall task of approving a route will be the next order of business for the PUC.