Shifting Focus to Dakota Access Pipeline, Enbridge Abandons Sandpiper Project

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A month ago, the Calgary, Alberta-based energy transportation company Enbridge Inc. announced it had reached an agreement to buy a $1.5 billion stake in Dakota Access LLC’s Bakken pipeline system, which includes its $3.8 billion pipeline that it’s building from oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa and to a hub in Patoka, Illinois.

At the time, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the move cast the future of another Enbridge project into doubt: the $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline that would transport crude oil from the Bakken shale through Minnesota — “including pristine lake country,” the paper noted — and to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.

On Friday, the project’s demise was apparently confirmed; the Star Tribune reported that Enbridge was withdrawing its state application for the Sandpiper pipeline and requesting that regulatory proceedings, including an environmental impact study, be ended for the project, which had been tied up in the regulatory process for the past two and a half years.

Enbridge didn’t kill off the project entirely. In a conference call with reporters, the paper noted, Mark Maki, president of Enbridge subsidiary Enbridge Energy Partners, said the Sandpiper pipeline “needs to be delayed.” But, he added, the project was “outside the company’s current five-year planning horizon” and that “extensive and unprecedented delays have plagued” it.

The Sandpiper pipeline was controversial in Minnesota, where water quality regulations are far more robust than they are here, and faced more resistance than the Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa, where agricultural interests have won out, keeping measures mostly voluntary. The pipeline would have crossed through Mississippi River headwaters and part of Minnesota’s extensive lake system, a major tourist attraction. It also faced resistance from Native American groups concerned that a spill would pollute waters used to produce wild rice.

Meanwhile, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota is still awaiting a federal judge’s decision by Sept. 9 on whether the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction there will remain halted as the tribe seeks an injunction on the grounds that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated federal environmental and historic preservation rules in approving permits for the project.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.