After four days of oral arguments and intense questioning of both supporters and opponents of the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline over the past two weeks, Minnesota utility regulators are set to begin deliberations over whether or not to approve the contentious project, and if they do, what route the pipeline should follow across northern Minnesota.
Those decisions could come as early as Thursday, although the Public Utilities Commission indicated the deliberations could spill into Friday.
Enbridge Energy has proposed replacing its existing Line 3, which carries crude oil from Alberta, Canada, with a new pipeline that could carry nearly twice as much oil.
The current line, built in the early 1950s, is corroding and cracking. The company has reduced the amount of oil it ships through the pipeline to remain safe, but says building a new pipeline with thicker steel and modern technology would be safer.
Enbridge has also proposed building the line through a new corridor across northern Minnesota that would avoid the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations, where the current Line 3, in addition to five other oil pipelines, currently cross.
Much of the questioning so far has focused on the need for the oil the pipeline would carry.
Project opponents, including environmental groups and several Indian tribes, as well as the Minnesota Department of Commerce, have argued that oil demand in Minnesota is flat and will drop in the future as new technologies like electric vehicles are adopted.
They contend Minnesota refineries already have access to all the oil they need, and that most of the oil Line 3 would carry would travel to other refineries in the region, as well as to the Gulf Coast, potentially for global export.
Enbridge has argued that there isn't enough capacity on the current line to meet the demand from oil shippers, including refineries, and that space on Line 3 needs to be rationed.
At the same time, members of the commission appear to be struggling with the prospect of the current, deteriorating Line 3 continuing to operate if they reject the proposed new line.
Enbridge has said it would operate the line for at least the next 11 years, until easements across the two Indian reservations expire.
Meanwhile, the hearing grew heated late Thursday when the discussion shifted to what the state could do to prevent clashes between protesters and private security or law enforcement in the event the pipeline is approved.
"What happened in North Dakota is not going to happen here if I have anything to say about it," said commissioner John Tuma, referring to confrontations near the Standing Rock reservation over construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in late 2016.
Winona LaDuke, executive director of the group Honor the Earth, told Tuma she has no confidence that can be prevented.
"The proposals you are discussing would put the citizens of Minnesota at great risk. I find that of deep concern, that you're talking about how many police, enough riot gear, enough large weapons to be used against us, and how that's going to be financed," she said.
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