Pipeline project generates mixed response at PSC hearing

One unhappy landowner changed the tone of a public hearing that otherwise brought overwhelming support for Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline Thursday.

“Fix the stuff that’s already wrecked before we make another disaster,” said Marlo Stromberg, who farms north of Minot, at a North Dakota Public Service Commission hearing in Minot.

Stromberg’s view, which got the commission’s attention, differed from the comments of Minot community leaders, labor union representatives and other landowners who spoke of Enbridge’s positive community and industry reputation and the need for more capacity to deliver crude oil from the Bakken.

Enbridge is proposing a 299-mile pipeline carrying 225,000 barrels of oil a day from near Tioga across North Dakota to Clearbrook, Minn., where capacity would increase to 375,000 barrels a day. The $2.6 billion pipeline would terminate at Enbridge’s facility in Superior, Wis.

Thirteen members of the public spoke regarding the project, and most of the comments were positive.

“From a business perspective, Enbridge makes efforts like no other business that I have seen, that I am aware of, in any industry with regard to safety, with the exception of the medical industry,” said state Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot. “Knowing there’s a pipeline commitment from Enbridge will go a long way to improve the perception that the industry will be here for generations to come.”

John Zimmerman of Minot, who is involved in an investment company in the Bakken, told of the benefit of the pipeline to confidence in the industry.

“It sends a signal to the market that it’s sustainable,” he said. “It sends the market a very important signal that it’s not just something that’s going to be a flash in the pan.”

Stromberg opposed the pipeline coming onto his land because of his experience with the Pecan natural gas pipeline, installed across his property about five years ago. Aux Sable, owned by Enbridge, purchased Pecan’s Bakken assets in 2011.

“It’s bad,” Stromberg said of the pipeline. “We are out leveling from when the pipe was put in. Holes two to three feet deep. We are still pulling up cribbing from when they put it in.

“Maybe they should go back and fix this stuff,” he added of Enbridge. “I know they didn’t do it, but they own it.”

Stromberg’s problems put him squarely against the PSC approving the Sandpiper pipeline.

“Is there anything that can be done to eliminate your opposition?” commissioner Julie Fedorchak asked.

“Move it,” Stromberg replied.

Commissioners directed Stromberg to document his problems with PSC staff so they could follow up.

“We can’t get the infrastructure in place without landowner support,” Fedorchak said. “I believe landowners will support it if they are treated well.”

Commissioner Brian Kalk, who was on the commission when it approved the Pecan pipeline, said the PSC expects things to be done as directed when it approves a project.

“My frustration is I don’t ever hear when they don’t do it right until now,” he said. “We have to hear back when things aren’t the way that they were told to us so we can rectify them.”

Travis Zablotney of Minot also said his family’s land was damaged by Pecan.

“We are going to be a little bit more difficult to work with because of that,” he said. However, regarding Sandpiper, he added, “I am not opposed to the pipeline because we need to move this product. But they should be on notice to make sure their reclamation efforts are 100 percent and that they take the steps to make sure that happens.”

Ken Sletten, a Souris landowner who spoke after Stromberg, urged the commission to weigh the pros and cons but approve the Sandpiper.

“On balance, this is not a close call,” he said. “On balance, compared to shipping it by truck or by train, if done carefully, especially in river crossings and other sensitive areas, pipelines are clearly, by a huge margin according to the statistics, the best way to do it.”

The PSC previously held hearings in Grand Forks and Devils Lake, where it heard opposition from the Sierra Club and support from representatives of the Laborers’ International Union. The union members also spoke at the Minot hearing.

Concerns were raised at a previous hearing about routing the Sandpiper pipeline around the waters of Devils Lake. At Minot’s hearing, state Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, presented testimony that 10 miles of the pipeline would be under the elevation considered to be the lake’s peak. Although Enbridge disputed the calculations, the PSC admitted the testimony into the record, which it will be reviewing before making a final decision on the project.