State Department approves Enbridge's Alberta Clipper oil pipeline

The US Department of State issued a permit on Aug. 20 for Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership to build a cross-border pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands deposits to US refineries. Four environmental organizations said they would legally challenge the decision.

Noting that the White House delegated presidential authority to review applications for facilities including pipelines at US borders to it, the department said that it issued a presidential permit for the Enbridge Inc. division’s Alberta Clipper project from Hardesty, Alberta, to Superior, Wis.

The department said in a statement that it found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of US strategic interests. “These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions, shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies, and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer,” it said.

The statement called Canada “a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the security of this energy supply.”

The 1,000-mile pipeline would resolve capacity constraints created by growing US demand for crude oil from Canadian oil sands, according to information at Enbridge’s corporate website. Initial capacity would be 450,000 bbl a day, with capacity up to 800,000 b/d available, it said.

Sees broken promise

But Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy jointly said that the decision contradicts US President Barack H. Obama’s promise to cut global warming pollution, reduce US addiction to imported oil, and invest in a clean energy future.

“The State Department has rubber-stamped a project that will mean more air, water, and global warming pollution, particularly in the communities near refineries that will process this dirty oil,” said Sarah Burt, an Earthjustice attorney. “The project’s environmental review fails to show how construction of the Alberta Clipper is in the national interest. We will go to court to make sure that all the impacts of this pipeline are considered.”

The environmental organizations said that groups also have appealed to the US Forest Service to not let the pipeline cross parts of the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota, and that a group of tribal members have apparently gathered enough signatures on a petition for a referendum on the Leech Lake Tribal Council’s agreement to allow the project to cross tribal land.

In its announcement, the State Department said that it consulted all relevant agencies and parties “with extensive public and stakeholder participation and outreach” before making its decision.

Other groups applauded the decision. “We were very happy to see that the project received the permit. We were also pleased with the analysis of the issues,” Thomas J. Corcoran, director of the Center for North American Energy Security, told OGJ on Aug. 21. “This administration has a very high priority for green issues and environmental protection, but it achieved a nice balance here and came out with the right result.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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