Crews Dig Through Mo. to Build Canadian Oil Pipeline

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JOHNSON COUNTY - Thousands of workers are digging trenches in rural Missouri to build a pipeline that will carry thousands of barrels of Canadian crude oil through the Show-Me State.

Enbridge, a Canadian energy transportation company, is constructing the Flanagan South pipeline to carry the crude oil from the "oil sands region" of Alberta to refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast regions in the U.S. The Flanagan South pipeline travels in a northeast to southwest trajectory from Flanagan, Ill. to Cushing, Okla. In Flanagan, it connects with existing pipelines that run northwest to the oil sands. Enbridge began construction on Flanagan South in mid-August after the company finished two years of negotiations with landowners. Enbridge also got approval from several state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers.

Flanagan South will cross through 11 Missouri counties when crews finish work, including Randolph, Macon, Shelby and Saline counties. The pipeline will be able to carry more than 600,000 barrels of oil per day when it is finished. Flanagan South will be built parallel to the Spearhead pipeline, which is also owned by Enbridge. Sinclair built the Spearhead pipeline in the 1950s and it currently carries 175,000 barrels per day.

Thousands of workers head out each day to the "spreads," or streches of pipeline construction. In Missouri, one spread is based in Johnson County near Warrensburg and the other works out of Randolph County, near Moberly. Crews work long days and are able to lay more than one mile of pipeline each day.

After surveying the area, crews dig out the topsoil to form a trench. Crews then bend and weld sections of pipe to follow the contours of the land. After crews place the pipe into the ground, they cover the trench with topsoil.

The pipeline will eventually carry diluted bitumen, known as "dilbit." The raw product found in the Candian oil sands is called bitumen and it does not flow in its natural state. Bitumen is refined to extract the sand, which forms dilbit, a product that is less dense and can flow through a pipeline.

Nearly 1,000 workers set out each day on each spread and Enbridge said the workers spend money in communities along the right-of-way and generate an economic boost.

David Gaines, the President of the Moberly Area Economic Development Corporation, said the influx of workers has generated an economic "shot in the arm" for the region. 

"It is millions of dollars of payroll in the multi-county region that had not been there this time before," Gaines said. "So as a result we're seeing folks shopping in our grocery stores, our retail stores and our laundromats. So it has been very good for a lot of people in the area."

Enbridge expects the project to generate $25 million in sales tax revenue for Missouri.

The company using the services of several contractors, including Texas-based U.S. pipeline. The company said those contractors have agreements with local unions and hundreds of the pipeline workers are local hires.

Although the pipeline is providing a short-term economic boost, environmental groups oppose the construction.

Heather Navarro, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said Missourians will be left with volatile infrastructure that will receive only occasional monitoring from the company. Enbridge expects Flanagan South to generate 2 permanent jobs in Missouri.

An Enbridge pipeline spill in Michigan in 2010 caused 1.1 million gallons of crude to pour into streams. The company has spent $750 million in recent years trying to clean up the mess.

Navarro said the company does not have a good record and said communities may not be adequately prepared to handle an emergency.

Flanangan South received approval from the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers through a process known as a Nationwide 12 permit. The nationwide permit process does not require public comment and is an expedited approval process because it is completed with the understanding a project will have a minimal environmental impact.

Henry Robertson works as an attorney for Great Rivers Environmental Law Center and filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment against the Corps. Robertson said the Corps. did not provide the information he requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Robertson said the Corps. treated each stream crossing as a separate project instead of looking at the pipeline's environmental impact in its entirety.

"When you add the whole thing up, 2,000 stream crossings and 600 miles of pipeline, That's not a minimal project," Robertson said. "That's a major project and that should be subject to stricter regulation and a little public scrutiny."

Robertson said he hopes he can get documents from the Corps. to explain how the project was approved, but he said he knows he cannot stop the construction at this point.

Although the pipeline has received some opposition from environmental groups, Enbridge spokeswoman Lara Burhenn said many Missourians have embraced the project and realize it is important to American energy independence.

"We're getting this crude from a North American source which is helping us not rely on those more volatile sources from overseas," Burhenn said. "Consumers understand there's a larger demand and therefore the need for this additional infrastructure."

Enbridge expects to complete the pipeline in mid-2014.