A tour of Deer River Enbridge Lakehead Pump Station

Dave Keith, on the left, and Vance Peters explained some of the operations in one of the above ground areas for the Enbridge Lakehead Pipeline System.
Dave Keith, on the left, and Vance Peters explained some of the operations in one of the above ground areas for the Enbridge Lakehead Pipeline System.

by Louise H. McGregor, staff writer
An invitation only guided tour of the Enbridge Lakehead Pipeline pumping station just east of Deer River took place on Oct. 24.

The individuals invited for this tour were Deer River Mayor Steve Geving, Deer River Vice Mayor Pat Richards, Itasca County Board of Commissioners Chair Mark Mandich, Itasca County Auditor/Treasurer Jeff Walker, Senator Tom Saxhaug and WIR Staff Writer Louise H. McGregor.

But, the only invited guests that did not have a previous commitment who were able to take part in the tour were McGregor and Saxhaug.

The guests who responded to the invitation were instructed to meet at a central location in Deer River. There, they were greeted by Becky Haase, Enbridge Specialist, Stakeholder Relations of U.S. Public Affairs Liquids Operations and Projects, Shannon Gustafson, Public Affairs Advisor U.S. Public Affairs Liquids Operations and Projects, and Darrel Bunge, Consultant of Government Affairs.

The van then transported everyone to Gate 3 at the pumping station. After clearing through security at the gate, the group advanced to a meeting site on the grounds where they were greeted by Enbridge operations group employees at the station, Dave Keith, Vance Peters and John Pechin.

“This is our third tour this week in Minnesota,” said Haase. “Earlier in the week we did a tour at Viking and Plummer. Our next tour will be in Swan River.”

After introductions and as the guests were outfitted in coveralls, safety vests, hardhats and safety glasses, some general information about the pumping station was offered by the Enbridge crew.

Pechin said, “We are the ones responsible for maintaining the equipment. This station is within the Superior region which goes from the Canadian border to 100 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge in Wisconsin. There are six pipes that run through this area. The Deer River site has five stations. The pump stations increase the pressure in the pipes to keep the product moving along. All of the lines out of the Deer River station run to the south, except for a sixth one that runs to the north.

“We carry crude oil in the five pipelines and we have one line that transports a natural gas liquid product on occasion. The pipeline that runs north carries a product from the midwest refineries to the northwest that is used to help cut the crude.”

Saxhaug asked Peters if there were only five pipes running through Itasca County.

“There are six,” said Peters, “Great Lakes Gas has the one line that has a compressor station just on the other side (west) of Deer River and I believe their lines are south of us here. We parallel most of the way starting at roughly around Clearbrook to Canada.

“Deer River,” continued Peters, “is one of our larger pumping stations in Minnesota as we pump on five of the six lines that we have here. The only larger station we have is at Viking where they are pumping through six lines….The only differences between the stations are the number of pipelines, which can be anywhere between 18 inches and 48 inches, and the horsepower needed to operate everything.

“There were three original pumping stations in Minnesota,” said Peters, “for the one line in existence then. Deer River was one of those three, as well as Viking was. That’s where I grew up. The three original stations have been at their present sites since sometime in the 50s when the pumps were operated by diesel engines.”

Bunge asked Peters to offer the tour guests some information about the new expansion going on right now.

“Sure,” said Peters. “One of our newest lines, Line 67, is a 36-inch line that goes from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wis.”

“Is that the one that just went through three or four years ago?” asked Saxhaug.

“Yes,” said Haase. “It is a two-phase expansion and Deer River is part of the first phase and also will be affected by the second phase. “We received our Certificate of Need from the Public Utilities Commission in June, so there is a lot of additional work going on here to install the pumps to increase the capacity without installing an entirely new pipeline.”

Phase 1 of the Line 67 Upgrade Project is the addition of new pumping units and related equipment to bring the average annual capacity of that line to 570,000 barrels per day (bpd).

Phase II of the Line 67 Upgrade Project involves a capacity increase on the line to increase the pumping capacity of Line 67 from 450,000 bpd to its full capacity of 800,000 bpd.

“In the second phase of the expansion,” said Peters, “there will be intermediate stations built. That is planned for next year sometime.”

“This is all happening,” said Bunge, “because we are bringing the Canadian crude in to supplant the crude that we formerly got from places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. So, we are getting more North American products.”

Saxhaug wondered if any crude was coming from North Dakota. “That,” said Bunge, “is another phase or project.”

“We are proposing the Sandpiper project,” said Haase, “and that will be bringing more of the Bakken crude to Clearbrook, and there it can get to the Twin Cities or travel along our line to the market destination.”

Peters and the rest of the operations crew had additional information for the group before they moved on to began the tour.

There were two separate projects going on at the pumping station on the day of the tour. The work for the installation of the new pumps was in progress on one side of the site and in another corner a new transformer was being installed to replace a worn out one.

The first stop was made in the electrical control building. Inside were controls for the valves, pump motors and the computer system for regulating and monitoring all of the pipeline operations at the Deer River station with the capability to shut everything down if there ever was a problem.

The second stop was at one of the pumping rooms. It was quiet inside that building, as that pump wasn’t in use.

“The entire station has a moat with a berm around it for containment,” said Peters, “in the event of a release. It is rated for full flow for X amount of minutes to keep any of our product from leaving the company’s property.”

“There is also a clay base in the soil,” said Haase, “and gravel to help keep any release in one place to contain it so it wouldn’t get into rivers or any of the waterways.”

Before the tour ended a stop was made near the construction site for the new pump. Then the group made their way back to the office building to shed themselves of the safety gear and get seated in the van for the return ride to Deer River.