Officials Address the Safety of Minnesota’s New Sandpiper Oil Pipeline

Oil pipelines have been a hot-button topic across the U.S. in recent years, often pitting environmentalists against oil and energy companies. One of the latest pipelines to be met with opposition is the Sandpiper crude oil pipeline in Minnesota.

The oil pipeline would run through part of the lakes area, which has safety officials concerned. The proposal is currently being discussed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, and last week, representatives from Enbridge (the company that’s proposing the pipeline) addressed safety issues with area firefighters and emergency responders.

Representatives discussed the pipeline proposal, then went over safety standards and systems in place to identify and prevent crude oil leaks.

Bemidji area operations manager John Pechin said that trees and other structures need to be kept clear of the pipeline to allow safety crews to fly over every two weeks to check for leaks. Enbridge will also perform regular integrity digs along the pipeline, as well as use devices called “smart pigs” and advanced computer monitoring to check for issues inside the pipeline.

Emergency workers and civilians will also be able to play a part in watching for leaks. Discolored grass or snow, dead animals, flying dirt, fountains or sprays of oil, and flames can all be signs of serious problems, Pechin said.

“What we could use from the general public and especially first responders is if you see some activity in a given right-of-way that doesn’t look right to you, give us a call,” Pechin said, according to the Pine and Lakes Echo Journal.

Pechin added that pipeline corridors will feature markers that show the name of the company, the contents of the pipeline, and emergency numbers for contacting someone in case of emergency.

Safety officials were then given instructions on what to do in the event of a leak or accident with the pipeline. Evacuating the area for Enbridge employees to deal with the problem safely was a major factor.

Pechin also recommended that local fire crews stick to forming a perimeter rather than dealing with the leak, since most fire crews are not prepared to handle hazardous materials. The statement was met with some resistance from fire chiefs worried about the pipeline contaminating waterways. Firefighters were also concerned emergency crews wouldn’t be able to get to affected areas that were hard to access.

Pechin said that Enbridge emergency crews would arrive in one to two hours, and could access the pipelines using temporary roads made out of rig mats.

Local emergency crews will also be able to receive response training once the pipeline is established.

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