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Indian environmentalists battle Sandpiper pipeline

ST. PAUL - An American Indian environmental group led by nationally known Winona LaDuke is fighting a northern Minnesota oil pipeline.

Honor the Earth officials say the Sandpiper pipeline is planned to go near or through some of the most environmentally fragile areas of the state, including the country's largest wild rice bed. Enbridge, Inc. officials say they have 65 years of safe experience with Minnesota pipelines.

"This is a pipeline that is going through the middle of the lakes," LaDuke said, adding that makes it an issue concerning all Minnesotans, not just Indians.

But Enbridge's Lorraine Little said "as part of routing any pipeline, there is extensive evaluation" and state and federal agencies look into any potential problem.

Honor the Earth urges state officials to reject Enbridge plans to route its $2.6 billion pipeline from northwest North Dakota, to just south of Grand Forks, east to Clearbrook, southeast to Park Rapids and east to Superior, Wis.

LaDuke, Honor the Earth executive director and a founder, said the organization opposes the pipeline because it would it would environmentally endanger northern Minnesota's lake country, it could affect Indians financially and federal treaties give the area's Chippewa tribes a say in whether the pipeline is built.

Instead of building the pipeline through the lakes region, Honor the Earth suggests routing it from Grand Forks south to Fargo, along the western side of Interstate 29 in North Dakota. It proposes the pipeline continue from Fargo to the Twin Cities on the southern edge of Interstate 94 to oil refineries in Rosemount and St. Paul Park.

Little said she has not seen the interstate plan, but the state Public Utilities Commission could consider it. However, the oil destination would not fit with Enbridge's plan to pipe oil from Superior to the southern and eastern United States and eastern Canada.

The pipeline would run a mile from "the motherlode" of wild rice in the world, LaDuke said. It is important to keep the rice beds unpolluted, LaDuke said, because "it is our most sacred food."

With decades of Minnesota experience, including in northern Minnesota, "we are not aware of any degradation to wild rice," Little responded.

"Environmental impacts are studied and evaluated," Little added, and agencies as varied as the state Department of Natural Resources and federal Army Corps of Engineers can order changes to a pipeline plan.

Honor the Earth also opposes the Sandpiper pipeline because it would go close to the Mississippi River headwaters, an important environmental area. Little said that Enbridge already has two pipelines that go under the Mississippi, with no problems.

Western Minnesota's White Earth Nation reservation is the country's largest producer of leeches, used for fishing bait, LaDuke said. The pipeline could affect that business, she said.

Also part of the debate are 1800s treaties between the federal government and Chippewa tribes such as White Earth that give tribes the right to make decisions in much of the northern part of Minnesota, attorney Frank Bibeau said.

Bibeau said that while such jurisdiction disputes may be federal issues, those fighting Enbridge do not have the money to take the issue to federal court.

The debate is only beginning, Little said. "We are still relatively early in the process."

Landowners all along the route should have received letters telling them about the plans, she said.

Enbridge spokeswoman Christine Davis said easement acquisitions are 90 percent concluded through North Dakota, so the company is turning its attention to Minnesota.

The Sandpiper is planned to begin near Tioga, N.D., to transport crude oil being pumped from western North Dakota's Bakken oilfield.

The pipeline, due to be in service in 2016, would be 24 inches and transport 225,000 barrels of oil a day from Tioga to Clearbrook. From there to Superior the pipe would be 30 inches and pump 375,000 barrels a day. However, oil could be diverted to other places, such as the Twin Cities, at Clearbrook.

While Enbridge is based in Calgary, Alberta, and Houston, the Duluth-Superior area is the northern U.S. home for Enbridge, which bases about 750 jobs in the region (employees and contractors).

Other Enbridge projects include:

• A $7 billion replacement of Enbridge's Line No. 3 to nearly double the capacity of oil shipped from northwestern Canada to Superior. The route of the new line has not been determined.

• An Alberta Clipper expansion project to increase the amount of oil flowing on an existing pipeline by 40 percent to 800,000 barrels per day. The Alberta Clipper runs 1,000 miles from Canada to Superior.

• Construction of additional storage tanks in Superior.

Reporters John Meyers and Sarah Smith contributed to this story.


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