Supporters and opponents of a proposed pipeline descended on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in St. Paul Monday for the first day of hearings on whether the commission will grant Enbridge a certificate of need for the replacement of Line 3 - a proposed 340-mile oil pipeline running east-west across the state.
The commission is expected to make a decision by June 27 - the fourth and final day of hearings and deliberations. Under law, the PUC will approve the pipeline if: denial would hurt the "adequacy, reliability or efficiency" of energy supplies for the region, there is no better alternative, the benefits outweigh the risks and the project meets all laws and regulations.
Central to the hearing's opening arguments was whether Enbridge demonstrated a regional demand for more oil.
Based in Calgary, Enbridge wants to replace the aging Line 3 with a new oil pipeline between Alberta and the company's terminal in Superior. Minnesota regulators have been reviewing the proposal and taking public comment since 2015.
Speaking to the commission in a large hearing room Monday, Enbridge officials said the current Line 3 is operating at capacity and they need to transport more oil.
During the question and answer period, commissioners challenged Enbridge on demand forecasts, requesting they separate those from supply forecasts.
"I'm not seeing the demand," said PUC vice chair Dan Lipschultz.
During opening statements, several opposition groups said oil demand would fall as more and more people switch to renewable energy and electric cars.
Eric Swanson, an attorney for Enbridge, argued that without a new Line 3, oil would still need to be transported by the existing Line 3 pipeline - which is aging - or by rail, which is more dangerous.
Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, warned the commission of the environmental destruction caused by oil, regardless of transportation method. She then rephrased Enbridge's question, replacing "oil" with "heroin."
"How do you want your heroin delivered? Do you want it delivered by pipeline? Or do you want your heroin delivered by rail?" LaDuke said.
Bill Grant, a deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Commerce, said Enbridge failed to show sufficient need for a new pipeline.
"Enbridge is asking a lot of the state of Minnesota - 340 miles to be exact - but they did not meet Minnesota's standards," Grant said.
The Department of Commerce determined in September 2017 that Enbridge failed to demonstrate that the state needed a new pipeline. The agency said the pipeline would primarily benefit people outside of the state and warned that "the serious environmental and socioeconomic risks and effects outweigh limited benefits."
Other opponents giving opening statements echoed the Department of Commerce's concerns about demand.
"Enbridge has not shown need nor has it made any showing that it can prevent the spill and climate change impacts for which it and its industry is well known," Sierra Club attorney Leili Fatehi said.
In an email to the News Tribune after the hearing, Enbridge said further studies of demand were not needed.
"The demand for replacing Line 3 is based on the demand of Enbridge's system to transport crude oil from our customers to refineries - the buyers of crude oil," Enbridge said. "The argument that a refined product demand outlook is needed to assess need is without merit as Enbridge transports crude oil, not refined products and Minnesota is not an independent energy island, meaning that it both imports and exports refined products."
Enbridge Line 3 project manager Paul Eberth said in an interview after the hearing that he felt good about how it went.
"The commission took a deep dive into the supply and demand forecasts ... we still believe we have a strong case," Eberth said.
Attendees filled the large hearing room and spilled into smaller overflow rooms. Supporters of the pipeline wore fluorescent green or orange T-shirts while opponents carried blue flags, waving them instead of clapping for speakers they supported.
The groups lined up outside the PUC - housed inside the Metro Square building - hours before the hearing began at 9:30 a.m. Group members held signs on adjacent street corners and parked their respective busses with large letters reading "Minnesotans for Line 3" and "Stop Line 3" in front of the building.
Throughout the day, the two groups "were getting along well," according to Mysti Babineau of MN350, a climate justice group, and member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.
"There wasn't a lot of tension," she said. "There was actually some laughing in between."
Some opponents also paddled canoes through the Mississippi River, exiting near the Union Depot in St. Paul, then portaging - walking with a canoe carried above their head - through downtown to the PUC.
The commission will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday for a second day of hearings. Next week, the commission will meet June 26-27 for deliberations.