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Paynesville Press - September 6, 2006

Oil pipeline proposed to run near Paynesville

By Michael Jacobson

A proposed pipeline - to bring Canadian crude oil to the Twin Cities - would run through Stearns and Meeker counties and near Paynesville.

Through Stearns County, the proposed pipeline would cross Interstate 94 by Albany, would head due south right past Farming, would cross the Sauk River between St. Martin and Richmond, would cross Highway 23 between Roscoe and Richmond, would veer east to miss Pirz Lake, would run between Rice Lake and Big Lake, and would head south past Eden Valley.

Map of pipeline in area In Meeker County, it would continue south of Eden Valley, running parallel to Highway 22, would cross Highway 22 approximately four miles south of Eden Valley, and would run southeast towards Forest City, where it would cross the North Fork of the Crow River. Then it would continue to head southeast towards Dassel.

According to the permit application, submitted in January to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the MinnCan Project would consist of a 24-inch pipeline running for 295 miles from Clearbrook, Minn., to the Flint Hills Resources refinery in Rosemount, Minn. At Clearbrook, the proposed pipeline would connect with another pipeline that brings crude oil to Minnesota from Canada.

The proposed MinnCan Project would run through both Stearns and Meeker counties, coming south from Albany past Farming, crossing the Sauk River between St. Martin and Richmond, running between Pirz and Rice Lakes and Big Lake, and continuing south past Eden Valley. A public hearing about the project continues at the courthouse in Litchfield on Monday, Sept. 11, at 5 p.m.

"Over the next decade, Canadian petroleum producers will significantly expand the production of oil sand reserves in Alberta and Saskatchewan," states the permit application. "The MinnCan Project will expand the abilities of (the Minnesota Pipeline Company) to bring this Canadian crude oil into the Minnesota mark and provide the region with greater capability and flexibility to meet the expanding local demand for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, asphalt, and other petroleum product. ...Because the existing pipeline system into the Twin Cities area is at maximum capacity, it cannot accommodate the additional volumes of oil from Canada."

From the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the Minnesota Pipeline Company needs to get a Certificate of Need and to get its proposed route approved for the MinnCan Project. In addition, the company would need nearly 20 other permits, including county and watershed district permits as required by individual counties and watershed districts.

To show need, according to the presiding judge at a public hearing about the project in Melrose last week, several factors will be considered: the long-term energy demand (and the accuracy of company projections for demand); the effects of conservation and alternative fuels on energy projections; the benefits of pipeline; and the alternatives.

Further, the company would need to get its proposed route approved. Factors to be considered in the routing, according to the judge, include density and location of population; environment impacts; land use; ability to mitigate effects; and cumulative effects.

For the first 119 miles, the proposed pipeline would follow existing right of way owned by the Minnesota Pipeline Company. But in Morrison County, the company proposes using a new route - or "greenfield" route - for 176 miles.

Instead of reaching the Flint Hills refinery using the northern route of the present pipeline through Benton, Sherburne, Anoka, and Washington counties, the proposed pipeline route would circle the Twin Cities on the east and south through Morrison, Stearns, Meeker, Wright, McLeod, Carver, and Scott counties.

The new route is needed, according to the permit application, "to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and developed areas near the Twin Cities metropolitan area."

The company would need to add 35 feet to the right of way for the first 112 miles of the new pipeline, requiring 476 acres; would need to acquire a 50-foot right of way for the new route, requiring 1,104 acres of land, totalling 1,580 acres of land for the project. During construction, the company also would need 50-foot construction easements, totalling a temporary use of 1,515 acres.

Of the 295-mile route, according to the permit, 211 miles (72 percent) is agricultural land; 46 miles (16 percent) are forest; 34 miles (12 percent) are wetlands; two miles are open lands; and one mile is developed land. It crosses private land for 93 percent of its route.

On ag lands, the pipeline would be covered by 4.5 feet of soil, requiring a trench at least 6.5 feet deep. In other areas, the pipeline only needs to be 3.0 feet deep, requiring a trench only 5.0 feet deep.

The pipeline would cross 64 perennial streams and 119 intermittent streams (including the Sauk River between St. Martin and Richmond and the Crow River by Forest City) and would run through 14 watersheds (including the North Fork of the Crow River watershed and the Sauk River watershed).

The cost of the project is estimated at $300 million for right of way acquisition and construction. If approved, it would be constructed in 2007 and hopefully would be ready for service in 2008.

If built, the pipeline could move 60,000 to 165,000 barrels of crude oil per day. By adding seven additional pumping stations along the route, the maximum throughput for the pipeline would be 350,000 barrels of oil per day.

Last week, on Wednesday, Aug. 30, a public hearing was held in Melrose with about 30 people attending and a half dozen speakers, most affiliated with the Minnesota Public Interest Resource Group (MPIRG) and opposed to the project.

Wearing T-shirts stating "Stop MinnCan," their questions ranged from pipeline spills and safety precautions to the location of the public hearing. The pipeline, noted one speaker, runs close to Albany, not Melrose, though the only two public hearings for the project in Stearns County were held in Melrose.

A public information meeting was held previously in Albany in March and attracted 150 people - noted a Minnesota Public Utilities representative in charge of scheduling - and a larger venue was deemed necessary for the public hearing, though all the spots in Albany were booked.

To the presiding administrative judge, a company representative said the company had only two leaks in Minnesota in the pipeline right of way since 1988: 2.4 barrels in 2003 and 3,200 barrels in Little Falls, plus other spills inside its pump stations that had been completely contained. During that time, it had moved 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil through its pipeline.

But the number of pipeline spills was questioned at last week's public hearing by Paynesville native Marilyn Ampe, citing government records. Ampe lives in St. Paul but owns property by Swanville affected by the proposed pipeline.

"Our company is committed to the goal of zero release from our pipeline to the environment," said a representative of the Minnesota Pipeline Company. "Any release is unacceptable to our company."

"That sounds good," said a MPIRG speaker whose question had spurred this statement, "but in Little Falls the pipeline hadn't been checked since 2002 and 134,000 gallons were released."

According to its permit application, the pipeline would be tested hydrostatically (with water) before using it to transport crude oil.

The Koch Pipeline Company, which owns the Minnesota Pipeline Company, operates a monitoring center in Wichita, Kan. "The control center provides a 24-hours-per-day, seven-days-per-week operation," again according to the permit application, that uses "a real-time hydraulic model to continuously monitor the system for the possibility of a potential release."

The company also needs to follow state and federal rules and regulations for inspecting its pipeline, monitoring it, and mitigating and cleaning up after any spills.

A public hearing about the MinnCan Project in Meeker County is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 11, at the county courthouse in Litchfield at 5 p.m.

Written comments about the MinnCan Project can be submitted until Friday, Sept. 22, to: Office of Administrative Hearings, 100 Washington Square, Suite 1700, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2138.

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