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BLOOMINGTON - Don't expect gas prices to drop if a Canadian company constructs a crude-oil pipeline through Central Illinois.

Enbridge Inc. wants to install a 175-mile pipeline from its Flanagan terminal near Pontiac to Patoka in Southern Illinois. The line would funnel 400,000 barrels of crude oil each day to refineries throughout the Midwest.

"I don't think it will affect gas prices at all," said David Sykuta, director of the Illinois Petroleum Council in Springfield.

Canadian crude is heavy, lower-quality oil than that coming from the Middle East, Sykuta said.

"It sells for less per barrel than Mideast oil, but it's not cheaper because you have to spend more to turn it into gasoline," he said.

Plus, refiners will need to invest heavily to handle the extra supply. Many already are, Sykuta said.

Still, the pipeline would "diversify" the nation's oil supply, potentially easing future supply-and-demand concerns, said Enbridge spokesman Joe Martucci.

"But we can't say gasoline prices are going to drop immediately because of this project," he said.

Citing significant public need, the Illinois Commerce Commission recently granted Enbridge eminent domain powers for a different pipeline expansion that would cut through LaSalle and Livingston counties, connecting Wisconsin lines to the Flanagan terminal. The commission said the project was in the public interest to meet the demand for crude oil in the Midwest.

Enbridge has not sought eminent domain for southern expansion through Central Illinois yet, but Martucci said the company would file a request for a certificate of good standing with the ICC in July.

The certificate would allow the use of eminent domain but Martucci said that is a last resort.

Meanwhile, a bloc of eastern McLean County landowners want to thwart construction of the pipeline. Among several concerns, they fear a crude-oil leak on fertile Central Illinois farmland.

Enbridge has operated crude-oil pipelines in the United States for decades, including a line from south Chicago to Oklahoma that runs through Woodford and Tazewell counties.

Woodford County Administrator Greg Jackson couldn't find any records of a pipeline leak there.

Enbridge did suffer spills in January and February in Wisconsin, though, but Martucci said spills are a rarity.

"Leaks in the Enbridge system are extremely rare when you consider we operate 15,000 miles of pipeline in the U.S. alone," he said. "Enbridge has a long and successful history in the U.S. and in Canada."

While plans are preliminary, the pipeline to Patoka would run east of Bloomington-Normal and west of LeRoy and Arrowsmith, crossing Livingston, McLean, DeWitt, Macon, Christian, Shelby, Fayette and Marion counties.

If approved, construction would start in 2008 and the pipeline would deliver oil by 2009.


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