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Drawing a Line in the (Tar) Sands

January 2, 2008

St. Paul, MN – Drawing a "line in the sand," in the form of a pipeline from Canadian tar sands to the Midwest, may be harder than it looks. Opposition is growing in response to the proposed oil pipeline that would pass through northern Minnesota.

The Enbridge Pipeline Company wants to move crude oil from Alberta tar sands to refineries in the Midwest, but the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is calling for an environmental review of the plan. The group's Legal Director, Janette Brimmer, says this type of oil production contributes to the problem of global warming.

"They account for more pollutants than conventional oil because of all the energy it takes to get it out of the tar sands and to refine this very heavy type of dirty crude oil."

Brimmer mentions environmental damage as another negative byproduct of the proposed pipeline, which would run through the Chippewa National Forest, the Fond du Lac Reservation and the city of Clearbrook to a refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. She also notes that the plan includes construction of more refineries across the Midwest.

Brimmer says the biggest concern is what happens when the petroleum gets here.

"We will be expanding or building new refineries potentially in South Dakota and in Superior, and building bigger ones on the shores of Lake Michigan, down in the Chicago area. This is refining at a level that we have not seen previously in the Midwest. And, as you can imagine, refining crude oil is very, very polluting."

Brimmer explains that the tar sand is steamed to extract petroleum, which is then sent to refineries. She says the mining process is destructive, especially to large areas of boreal forest habitat, including peat bogs. And, she notes, the mines' wastewater can contaminate water supplies.

However, Enbridge says the nation's energy needs are increasing, and have to be met with new ways of acquiring oil.

Jim Wishner/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MN