MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Pipe Line Co. announced plans Thursday to nearly double the capacity of a crude oil pipeline that carries oil from Canada and North Dakota to the two refineries in the Twin Cities that produce most of Minnesota's and much of Wisconsin's transportation fuels.
The company said it will ask the Public Utilities Commission to approve six new pumping stations and upgrades at two existing stations so that the newest of its four pipelines can carry 350,000 barrels per day from Clearbrook in northwestern Minnesota to the Flint Hills Refinery in Rosemount and the Northern Tier Refinery in St. Paul Park. The project will not require the construction of new pipelines or the acquisition of new right of way, it said.
"We think this is an essential project. It really is needed," said Jake Reint, spokesman for Flint Hills Resources and the Koch Pipeline Co.
Minnesota Pipe Line President Bob O'Hair said the Line 4 upgrade is intended to provide more reliable crude supplies to the two refineries by letting it carry more oil when the company's three older pipelines are taken out of service for maintenance and inspections or experience outages. The upgrade is not meant for increasing overall oil deliveries to the two refineries, which he said are already running at close to capacity most of the time.
Minnesota Pipe Line is a joint venture by the two refineries. Koch Pipelines operates all four lines, which run from Enbridge Energy's distribution terminal in Clearbrook to the Twin Cities. The three oldest lines follow a corridor established in the 1950s. Line 4, which went into operation in 2008, follows the same corridor for 118 miles but branches off in Morrison County of central Minnesota and takes a more southerly route though less-developed areas. The system currently has a capacity of 465,000 barrels per day.
While Line 4 was built to handle up to 350,000 barrels per day, it's currently set up to carry only 165,000. O'Hair said the full capacity wasn't needed at the time, though in hindsight it might have been better to build all the pumping stations back then. The proposed new pumping stations would be in rural areas of Hubbard, Wadena, Morrison, Meeker, McLeod and Scott counties, while existing stations near Clearbrook and Albany would be upgraded.
The $125 million project would create around 40 to 50 construction jobs and bring extra property tax benefits to the counties where construction would take place, the company says. It expects the permitting process to take about 20 months and for construction to take another 20 months.
The project is separate from Enbridge's proposals to upgrade its existing pipelines and build new pipelines to carry crude oil from Alberta's tar sands and North Dakota's Bakken shale oil fields across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. Those plans have drawn opposition from climate change activists because the Canadian oil requires more energy to produce.
Andy Pearson, tar sands coordinator for the environmental group MN350, said he didn't know enough about Minnesota Pipe Line's plan to comment on it in detail, but that he's skeptical of the company's statement that the project isn't meant to deliver more oil to the marketplace.
"We need to be keeping this oil in the ground, and that's what the climate science tells us," Pearson said. "Expanding it is the wrong direction for Minnesota and the global community."