On Tuesday, protestors and supporters attended a Minnesota regulatory board meeting where commissioners debated with Enbridge lawyers about the demand for crude transported on the Line 3 pipeline.  Minnesota Public Radio photo.

Line 3 pipeline carries Alberta crude to Wisconsin

Protesters and supporters were on hand on Tuesday as Minnesota state regulators questioned Enbridge lawyers about the demand for crude shipped on the company’s Line 3 pipeline.

The hearing occurred ahead of an expected decision later this week on whether work can continue on the proposed expansion of the pipeline that carries crude from Alberta to Wisconsin.

Enbridge wants to replace the 1,031 mile-long pipeline, installed in the 1960’s, but the company needs approval for the construction from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

The commission will decide if the project is necessary and which route the pipeline will follow.

According to Reuters, commissioner Dan Lipschultz, said he felt “frustrated” that the commission had to rely on forecasts provided by Enbridge which were based on rising oil production, not refiners’ demand.

Eric Swanson, one of the lawyers for Enbridge said that global demand is growing and that Enbridge’s Line 3 is currently shipping less crude than crude producers request.

“We think it shows a compelling case that Line 3 plus the expansion will be fully utilized,” he said.

In response, Lipschultz asked Swanson if it would be reasonable for the commission to approve Line 3 for capacity of 500,000 b/d.  Swanson replied “no”.

According to commissioner Matt Schuerger, data for state refineries shows there is little idle capacity, and the state’s largest refiner, Flint Hills Resources, has said in the past that Line 3 is badly needed.

“They’re getting oil clearly,” Schuerger said.

Swanson replied that “The oil is getting to market somehow”. He added “The question is what is the most reliable, efficient means of getting it there.”

The aging pipeline only operates at half capacity due to integrity concerns.  Should Enbridge get the green light for construction on Line 3, it will allow the pipeline to return to its approved capacity of 760,000 barrels per day (b/d).

Anti Line 3 pipeline groups include environmentalists and some indigenous communities, which oppose the project over concerns that spills could damage tribal wild rice harvesting areas.  Business and labour groups lined up behind the Line 3 expansion project, citing job creation and tax revenue.

Reuters reports that at the hearing, Mysti Babineau, a member of Red Lake band, wore a baseball cap with a message, “Love water, not oil.”

Babineau said the possible cost to the environment is too high.  She added that fossil fuel-based energy is being replaced by renewables and compared oil to VCRs.

“It’s outdated technology,” she said.

Line 3 supporters showed up at the hearing wearing neon green T-shirts that said, “We support safe energy transportation.”

One of the proponents, grandmother Cheryl Grover, crocheted a scarf as the hearing progressed.  If built according to Enbridge’s preferred route, Line 3 would pass under her farm near Shevlin, Minnesota.

“Because public utilities pay so much (tax), we pay less,” she said.

Bottlenecks on pipelines shipping Alberta crude have resulted in a steep discount for heavy crude this year.