Enbridge may drop Sandpiper pipeline

A crew works on an Enbridge pipeline in Alberta, Canada, in 2012 (Jason Woodhead, Flickr CC)

A coating crew works on an Enbridge oil pipeline in Alberta, Canada, in 2012 (Jason Woodhead, Flickr CC)

The controversial Sandpiper oil pipeline that would have cut across Northern Minnesota’s lakes region might be going down the drain.

Enbridge, which sought to build the pipeline connecting Canadian shale oil supplies to a refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, is now working with a partner to buy into a different pipeline. Enbridge and Marathon Oil would pay $1.5 million to access the Bakken Oil Pipeline, instead sending North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a refinery in southern Illinois.

Enbridge stated that it would now re-evaluate the future of the Sandpiper project.

“The scope and timing of the Sandpiper Pipeline Project will be evaluated during the quarter to ensure that it is positioned to meet the growing need for pipeline capacity while offering customers competitive tolls and strong netbacks,” read a company statement.

Environmental groups celebrated the news.

“We are pleased that Enbridge is reconsidering its investment in the ill-conceived Sandpiper Pipeline project,” said Richard Smith, President of Friends of the Headwaters, a citizen group formed in opposition to the Sandpiper’s proposed route across northern Minnesota. “This project would have put many miles of wetlands, lakes, rivers, streams and wild rice waters at risk of a catastrophic oil spill, and if this project does not move forward, it is a victory for clean water in Minnesota.”

It would appear, in the short run, the Sandpiper pipeline is going nowhere. The long run will depend on a variety of market and political factors.


  1. Independent says

    Now all those pesky high paying jobs can go out of the area and we can ensure terrific $8/hr jobs with no benefits in the wonderful tourism industry of northern Minnesota. Good thing the state of minnesota tied this one up forever and forced them into a plan B.

  2. Pipelines:

    1.) From an ecological point of view, pipelines are superior to other choices for transportation of oil. Railroads, trucks, and tanker ships all have worse records for spills and ecologic damage, as well as using more energy to transport the oil, and having a larger carbon footprint and producing more other pollution. Pipelines’ record for injury to humans and to human property is far superior.

    2.) From a financial point of view, pipelines are superior to other choices, with oil transport costing substantially less mile for mile than other choices.

    3.) The Achilles heel of pipelines is the fact that although they have many fewer spills, when spills occur they are sometimes much larger than individual spills from either railroad or truck transport, creating more local damage to the environment at the focal spot of the spill.

    Res ipsa loquitur, oil pipelines should not be routed through sensitive and unique ecosystems that can easily be damaged by spills. It is simply foolish to take that risk, especially since with the cost advantages pipelines can easily absorb the relatively small extra cost of detours around those areas.

    3.) Pipelines do not stimulate oil usage. Oil usage is dependent on human behavior and economic conditions. If we wish to decrease our use of oil, we must use less oil ourselves, making decisions in our own lives to reduce our energy footprint. We can also push for increased use of alternative forms of energy, but at this time we must recognize that alternative energy is more expensive, and will cost more for us, the consumers. In addition, social justice norms imply that the additional cost for low income people should be defrayed by us, the taxpayers. Perhaps some day alternative energy will cost the same or less than oil, but that day has not arrived.

    Finally, I would speculate that the main driver of the Enbridge decision is the existing financial conditions, wherein the purchase of volume in an already existing pipeline was significantly cheaper than building a new line and met transportation needs, and the current market for oil did not justify pursuing the building of the line. Enbridge is a veteran of the pipeline wars, with many victorious battles over pipeline opponents behind them, and certainly was capable of pursuing this battle as well. The dollars just did not justify building a new line in the face of declining price and demand.

    • Gray Camp says

      Who decides what areas are sensitive and contain unique enough ecosystems to warrant re-routing? Under current conditions, seems like a recipe for political and activist maneuvering rather than a societal decision. I think I would more vote for extra safety margin for pipes thru sensitive areas to make sure they don’t leak in those areas.

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