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Judge backs expansion of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper pipeline across Minnesota

ST. PAUL, Minn. - An administrative law judge on Thursday recommended that Minnesota regulators approve an expansion of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

Enbridge wants to increase the line's capacity from 570,000 barrels per day to 800,000 by adding new pumping stations.

Judge Eric Lipman concluded that Enbridge has demonstrated a need for the added capacity. His recommendations now go to the state Public Utilities Commission, which must approve major energy projects in Minnesota.

Climate change activists oppose the Alberta Clipper and other Enbridge construction or expansion projects in the works because they carry Canadian oilsands oil. Extracting that oil is an energy-intensive process that generates greenhouse gases.

But Lipman said in his written order that "no party demonstrated that there was a safer, more affordable or more reliable alternative," Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

The Alberta Clipper runs about 1,600 kilometres from Hardisty, Alta., across northeastern North Dakota and northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.

It's the second expansion of the pipeline. State regulators last year approved the line's Phase I expansion, and that work is underway. Because the project carries Canadian oil into the United States, it also requires a permit by the U.S. State Department. Potomac-Hudson Engineering Inc. of Gaithersburg, Maryland, has been retained to conduct an environmental review of the project, a State Department official told the Star Tribune by email.

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved an air construction permit for expanding storage tank capacity at Enbridge's Superior terminal. The company wants to build three new above-ground storage tanks at the terminal, WDIO-TV reported. The terminal currently has 40 above-ground storage tanks. Two other new tanks, which already received regulatory approval, are scheduled to be in service by the middle of the year.

The Wisconsin agency approved the permit after receiving more than 200 written comments and about 3,400 emails from the public. However, most concerned Enbridge's pipeline, which is not part of the air permit review, the agency said.

Enbridge expects the new tanks to be in service by 2016.

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