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Pipeline construction is beginning

Construction of Enbridge Energy Corp.'s Alberta Clipper oil pipeline has begun. Heavy equipment operators dig along the Highway 2 bypass Tuesday afternoon. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Construction of the Alberta Clipper Pipeline is beginning in northern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.

Crews are beginning to clear land along the right-of-way. They also are stringing pipe - laying pipe along the right-of-way in anticipation of being welded and placed in trenches, according to Lorraine Grymala, community affairs manager for Enbridge Energy, which is building the pipeline.

The U.S. State Department last week approved the final permit needed for the company to begin building the pipeline between the oil tar sands region of Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wis.

The pipeline is being built along an existing Enbridge pipeline right-of-way that enters the United States near Neche, N.D., and runs through northwestern Minnesota, past Thief River Falls and Clearbrook, Minn.

The new pipeline will carry about 450,000 barrels of oil, or 19 million gallons, a day. That would be in addition to the 1.6 million barrels a day that the company already moves through an existing pipeline along the same route.

The $1.2 billion U.S. segment of the pipeline is part of an $8 billion expansion. From Superior, the oil could either be refined at the Murphy Oil facility or piped 450 more miles to Illinois.

Construction work is being done by Global Pipeline Partners, a partnership of Michels Corp. of Brownsville, Wis., Precision Pipeline of Eau Claire, Wis., and U.S. Pipeline of Houston.

The pipeline construction workforce is expected to expand to as many as 3,000. But most of the jobs already have been filled.

"The majority of workers on the project will be hired through the local union halls. The labor halls all have plenty of available, qualified people who are ready to start work on the project," Grymala said.

The Alberta Clipper and Southern Lights pipelines will be built simultaneously, with a projected completion of early 2010.

Alberta Clipper is a 326-mile-long 36-inch pipeline that will transport up to 450,000 barrels of heavy crude oil a day from the Tar Sands region of Alberta to a refinery in Superior. The project is designed to allow for expansion of up to 800,000 barrels a day.

Southern Lights is a separate 188-mile-long 20-inch pipeline between Clearbrook, Minn., and Superior. When completed, it will connect with other existing pipelines in the Enbridge corridor to return light hydrocarbons, or diluents, from U.S. oil refineries back to western Canada. The Alberta Clipper project will be built in four sections, or spreads, while the Southern Lights will be built in two spreads. Each spread will have 350 to 500 workers. The spreads are:

Alberta Clipper

Neche, N.D., to Viking, Minn. Viking to Clearbrook, Minn. Clearbrook to Deer River, Minn. Deer River to Superior.

Southern Lights

Clearbrook to Deer River, Minn. Deer River to Superior.