ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has approved a certificate of need for the proposed Sandpiper pipeline route through northern Minnesota as it goes from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields to Superior, Wisconsin.
While the PUC agreed 5-0 Friday that the $2.6 billion, 610-mile pipeline - about 300 miles across Minnesota - is necessary, they didn't foreclose the possibility of more changes on its proposed path, the Associated Press reported.
The PUC said it still might reroute Enbridge's proposed route away from environmentally sensitive lakes, streams and wetlands in northern Minnesota. Enbridge Energy will still have to go through a lengthy review of its proposed route and a proposed alternative.
Enbridge says it would like to have it operating in 2017.
The proposed route goes from the oil field near Tioga, N.D., near Williston, to Superior, Wis., where ocean-going vessels can dock just below Duluth on Lake Superior. In North Dakota it follows fairly closely to U.S. Highway 2.
The Minnesota portion would go 75 miles from Grand Forks, N.D., east to the main Enbridge junction at Clearbrook, Minn., with 24-inch pipe with a capacity of 225,000 barrels per day.
Then for a 225-mile leg, it jogs south to Park Rapids, Minn. - which is on a line east of Fargo - and then east to Superior with a 30-inch pipeline with a capacity of 375,000 barrels per day, according to Enbridge.
At a capacity of 375,000 barrels a day across Minnesota, the Sandpiper would carry the equivalent of about 525 rail tanker cars, each holding 714 barrels, or about five trains of crude oil, every day.
Enbridge says Sandpiper is needed to move the growing supply of North Dakota crude safely and efficiently to market.
But environmentalists and tribal groups say the risk of leaks is too high.
North Dakota regulators have already approved Sandpiper.
North Dakota produces about 1.2 million barrels of oil per day, about 13 percent of U.S. production; roughly two-thirds of it leaves the state by train.
Recent explosive derailments of oil trains have informed the debate over building new pipelines.