The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Farmers, Residents Battle Minnesota Oil Pipeline Plan

by Catherine Komp

Sept. 14, 2006 – Minnesota farmers, residents and environmentalists are fighting an oil-transport company’s plan to build a 300-mile-long oil pipeline through the state, arguing the project will adversely affect thousands of people and damage thousands of acres of cropland, forests and wetlands.

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The proposed $300 million "MinnCan" project would stretch from Clearbrook in the north of the state to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. MinnCan is a project of the Minnesota Pipe Line Company, which is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, a multi-billion-dollar, privately-held energy and investment company.

Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) says the project is unnecessary. The group refutes the company’s claim that the pipeline will benefit the public, stating instead that it will continue public dependence on fossil fuels to meet energy needs, while neglecting renewable-energy alternatives and conservation efforts.

MPIRG also questions Koch’s safety and environmental record. Koch was responsible for a recent spill of about 134,000 gallons of oil last June in Little Falls, Minnesota. And the company has been responsible for hundreds of oil spills, as well as illegal dumping, Clean Air Act violations and other criminal wrongdoing across the country. The firm’s transgressions have resulted in several multi-million dollar settlements with federal agencies.

Pipeline opponents question Koch’s safety and environmental record, including hundreds of oil spills, as well as illegal dumping, Clean Air Act violations and other criminal wrongdoing across the country.

Minnesota Pipe Line says the new pipeline is needed because the current pipeline system will not be able to accommodate the increase in Canadian crude-oil imports projected over the next ten years. Though the company estimates the pipeline will transport 60,000 to 135,000 barrels of oil per day, its permitting application states that the project could be expanded to 350,000 barrels if more pumping stations were added.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission held public hearings in towns and counties along the proposed pipeline corridor. Residents at a hearing last week in Scott County expressed concerns to the Star Tribune about decreasing property values and crop yields.

Though opponents may have an uphill battle against such a massive corporation, at least one Twin Cities-area farm is celebrating a victory. The owners of the Gardens of Eagan organic farm recently succeeded in convincing the company not to construct any of the pipeline on their 120-acre farm and to accept a mitigation plan that decreases potential harm to sensitive organic cropland.

Atina Diffley, co-owner of the 149-year-old family farm that has grown organic vegetables for more than 30 years, said they had been fighting the pipeline since May. "I would have loved to shut the whole thing down, of course, but that wasn’t the battle we chose," said Diffley.

"If it had gone through the way they originally planned it, we would have shut our farm down," Diffley told The NewStandard, adding that the pipeline would have destroyed six of their most profitable acres.

"If it had gone through the way they originally planned it, we would have shut our farm down," Diffley said.

The legal counsel for Gardens of Eagan believes the organic mitigation agreement negotiated with the company is the first such plan in the country. It requires Minnesota Pipe Line to work with organic farmers affected by pipeline construction, or with third-party organic consultants, to minimize the impact of construction on farms and potential organic decertification. It also prohibits the company from using pesticides, fertilizers, or storing fuel or lubricant on organic cropland. And it requires the company to remove and store topsoil, as well as implement erosion-control methods.

Diffley said the soil component of the mitigation plan is key because healthy soil is critical to fertility on organic farms, not to mention its value to pest and disease control. The company’s original proposal allowed for up to 18 inches of topsoil stripping.

"That just sort of made my heart stop," Diffley said. "I have trouble sleeping if I think I’m going to lose a quarter inch of top soil. So the thought of twelve inches was really quite horrifying."

Diffley said thousands of people signed letters on behalf of Gardens of Eagan.

Responding to the mitigation agreement, neighboring Wisconsin Department of Agriculture spokesperson Jane Larson told TNS that their staff will also inform any pipeline developers that they need to work directly with organic farmers to reduce environmental impacts to their crops.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) still needs to approve the organic mitigation plan, as well as the final pipeline route. Any violations of the plan would likely fall under MPUC jurisdiction. The agency recently assumed regulatory control of all large energy projects from the state Environmental Quality Board.

The MPUC must also approve a "Certificate of Need" to determine if the pipeline is in what it deems to be the "public interest" before construction can begin.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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