ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved plans Wednesday by Enbridge Energy to boost the capacity of its oil pipeline in the state.
Environmental and Native American protesters showed up to voice their opposition to the plan, which would enable the company to move more crude oil from the tar sands region of Alberta to the U.S.
The Minnesota Commerce Department, which reviews energy projects, supported the upgrade, saying it would ensure “a continued, reliable cost-effective supply” of crude oil to Minnesota and the region.
If the pipeline isn’t built, the department projected that a likely alternative — shipping crude by railroad — would require 7,000 tank cars traveling through the state.
The PUC voted that the project is needed, citing its favorable economics, the Star Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/12xa8PP ).
“There is no need for this pipeline,” John Munter, who lives with his family in Warba, about 4 miles from the Enbridge line. Munter stood outside the PUC’s offices with a sign that said, “No Tar Sands Genocide.”
Many of the roughly 50 protesters wanted to address the commission, but it declined to take additional testimony. The commission held two public hearings about the matter earlier this year, and did not address environmental concerns.
The protesters included activists from MN350.org, a climate change advocacy group, and Honor the Earth, a group led by Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota.
Separately, the U.S. State Department is conducting an environmental review of the Enbridge expansion plan because the project also requires a presidential permit to expand oil shipments across the border.
The Minnesota project is part of a plan by Enbridge to upgrade pipelines in the U.S. and Canada to ship more Canadian oil to the Midwest and beyond.
Enbridge intends to spend $40 million to upgrade three Minnesota pumping stations, at Viking, Clearbrook and Deer River. That would allow the stations to push 27 percent more oil through the 3-foot-wide Alberta Clipper pipeline, which runs 1,000 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wis.
With the upgrade, the pipeline could carry 570,000 barrels per day. Enbridge officials hope to begin construction of the larger pumps next month.
Climate change activists have been campaigning against Canada-to-U.S. pipelines, hoping that stopping them will slow or halt production in northern Alberta. The Natural Resources Defense Council says producing oil from tar sands releases three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production. The oil industry disputes those claims.
Protesters were disappointed but not surprised by the PUC decision.
“Our goal is to keep tar sands crude in the ground,” said Tom McSteen of MN350.org, which now plans to press the environmental case with the State Department.