DULUTH, Minn.—"Build it," the early crowd said. "No way," was the chorus as the sun went down while the state lent its ear to Duluth-Superior to hear how residents felt about the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline.
In a crowded Wednesday afternoon hearing at the city's convention center packed with Enbridge employees, pipeline supporters ticked off a dozen reasons to replace the 50-year-old oil pipeline, which crosses northern Minnesota, with a new one on a largely new route, while opponents gave their own set of arguments against it.
Ahead of the evening hearing, dozens of pipeline protesters disrupted downtown rush-hour traffic and walked to the convention center, chanting and pounding drums. Far more dissenting opinions were on display during the second half of the well-attended hearing.
No new ground was broken, and minds likely remained unchanged. But the voices of many were added to a record that could ultimately sway the final decisionmakers.
Administrative Law Judge Ann O'Reilly presided over the hearings and gave an upbeat tone to the proceedings, which often moved from one written statement to another — though one woman offered her comments in song, to bipartisan applause from the audience.
After trial-like evidentiary hearings next month, O'Reilly will be compiling the public record into findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendation for the Public Utilities Commission by the end of February. In April, the PUC is supposed to decide whether to approve the new pipeline and let Enbridge clean out and leave the existing Line 3 in place.
Enbridge started things off Wednesday by presenting its case — the Line 3 replacement, which would carry 760,000 barrels per day of heavy crude from Alberta to Superior, would improve the safety and reliability of oil imports from Canada and reduce the need to disrupt landowners and the environment with ongoing Line 3 work.
"We would have to engage in an intense maintenance program to keep it operating safely," said project manager Paul Eberth.
The new pipeline, which would return Line 3 to its original capacity, would also free up room in a crowded pipeline system that now requires oil to be apportioned and not delivered in full to U.S. refineries, Eberth said.
The apportionment argument has come up more often recently in the wake of the state Department of Commerce's finding that the pipeline is not needed. Deputy Commissioner Bill Grant restated that position before the public hearing began.
"To date, Enbridge has not demonstrated a need for the proposed project," he said, summarizing testimony the department submitted last month. "The PUC could determine that Enbridge has not demonstrated that the minimal benefits to Minnesota of the proposed project outweigh the high socioeconomic and environmental costs."
Some agreed, some disagreed.
Tim Evans: "I can attest to the safety and environmental standards of Enbridge. In my opinion they are leading the industry."
Jamie LePage: "As long as there's demand for oil, Canada should be a supplier of choice."
Troy Palmer: "My attitude is get the old thing out of the ground, get a new pipeline in there, let's not worry about this any more. I'm a landowner, I've got more at stake in this than anybody."
David Ross, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce CEO: "Let's do the neighborly thing and stand in solidarity with our neighbors, friends and family members employed by Enbridge."
Deb DeLuca on behalf of Duluth Seaway Port Authority: "It's easy to overlook how much we all rely on petroleum in our daily lives. ... Pipelines are the safest and most efficient mode of transporting oil."
Beth Bartlett: "We do not need to add to the release of carbon into the atmosphere. The climate change issue alone should be enough. ... There are pestilences, and there are victims, and it is up to us not to join the pestilences."
John Fisher-Merritt: "They're going to make a lot of money transporting tar sands oil across Minnesota when we don't need it."
Linda Herron: "Minnesotans are depending on you to do the right thing. Remove the leaky, environmentally dangerous, now-to-be-abandoned pipeline."
Greg Boertje-Obed: "What do you think of the treaties with Native Americans that apply to this situation?"
Julie Davis:"The health and well being of indigenous people depend on the health of (the environment). This poses unnecessary and unacceptable threats."
Comment period still open
Public comments will be accepted on the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement through 4:30 p.m. Nov. 22. They can be made at mn.gov/puc/line3/participate/comment or sent to email@example.com, by fax to (651) 297-7073 or to Scott Ek, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, 121 Seventh Place E., Suite 350, St. Paul, MN 55101. Include docket numbers 14-196 or 15-137 when submitting comments.