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Other Views: Pipeline opposition simmering

At a time when more pipeline capacity is being touted as one answer to the glut of oil on the rails, an uprising against more pipelines is simmering. In rural Minnesota, the simmer has boiled over into outright opposition.

It’s a serious and troubling development because, on balance, transporting oil in underground state-of-the-art pipelines is safer than 100-plus-car oil trains that rip through populated areas with their loads of volatile Bakken crude from western North Dakota’s oil country.

In areas where a pipeline or two was tolerated, if not welcomed in the past, the prospect of additional lines in or near the same corridors is raising ire among landowners, lakeside residents and others. Where damage to the surface environment from a single pipeline can be minimal, the potential for permanent long-term damage to forests, lakes and rivers is far greater as corridors widen to accommodate more and bigger pipes.

The depth of concern in Minnesota lakes country and north woods should not be minimized by pipeline advocates. The areas already are crossed by several lines; more are planned. The newest proposal would connect North Dakota oilfields to Superior, Wis. It would run near Itasca Park, a route that already has four oil pipelines. Residents of the area and others are questioning whether it’s wise to turn the Mississippi River headwaters region into a pipeline conduit.

The concern is more widespread than a few anti-pipeline or anti-oil voices. Two recent meetings in area towns turned out more than 150 people at each session. Sentiment against another pipeline was overwhelming.

Critics of the project have charged the company has not been responsive to their concerns, and that state regulators have been speeding the review process in order to reduce the number of comments against the pipeline. If so, the company and state are setting themselves up for allegations they are manipulating the process.

Such shenanigans aside, the objections to digging more pipelines into an environment that is among the most treasured in the nation cannot be dismissed out of hand. The logic that moving oil by pipeline is a better option than using railroad tank cars won’t compute when the threat to waterways and the landscape is figured in.