A number of Thunder Bay residents say they want energy regulators to take a hard look at the proposed TransCanada Energy East Pipeline.

The Ontario Energy Board held a public meeting in the city Wednesday night to get input on the project. About 100 people attended the discussion.

Many, like Natalie Gerum, were concerned about what pumping oil through northwestern Ontario could mean for the environment.

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Some Thunder Bay residents say they have mixed feelings about TransCanada's plans to convert thousands of kilometres of natural gas pipeline to carry oil. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

“What are pipelines going to do to our drinking water? I know that oil and water don't mix, and I'm really concerned about spills affecting the lake that I get to call home,” she said.

"As I'm sitting here in Thunder Bay, I'm thinking about water. We live on the shores of the largest lake in the world and that is something to be proud really of. It's also something that comes along with a huge responsibility because it means that we are protecting the drinking water of millions of people downstream."

Terry Varga said any changes to the pipeline need to come with environmental safeguards, but he added the project’s job opportunities and potential spinoffs can't be ignored.

“These pumping stations they're talking about, they're probably … a year-and-a-half, to two years’ construction,” he said.

“For these small towns like Geraldton and Longlac, and smaller communities like that, it`ll mean many jobs. The businesses, the hotels, motels, restaurants, it'd be spinoff for all the retailers selling cars, because all the workers will be making money, and it would be good for the economy in Ontario in general."

'Very real considerations'

Ontario Energy Board spokesperson Alan Findlay said input from public meetings will be part of the province's submission to national energy regulators.

“Whether it's employment or concerns about the environment, any impacts on water from any environmental risks … all very real considerations.”

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About 100 Thunder Bay residents have added their voices to the discussion on the proposed Energy East pipeline. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

The board expects to be back in Thunder Bay for more discussion this summer, he noted.

TransCanada wants to convert thousands of kilometres of natural gas pipeline to carry oil.

It’s a prospect that gives Bev McRae mixed feelings.

“Construction jobs have always put the food on our table and paid the bills,” she said.

“But this job, if it does happen, it needs to be a clean, safe job, and it needs to protect the environment.”

McRae said she doesn't want the project to go ahead if TransCanada takes what she calls, "a band-aid approach."

"I really think they [the OEB] should impose on them in their report is that TransCanada Pipeline build the right kind of pipeline to handle the bitumen, not converting it."

Another meeting attendee, Raphael Shay, also brought up environmental concerns, related to climate change, and investing in an expansion of a fossil fuel project.

"I'm concerned that, by investing so much money in this infrastructure, we're basically locking ourselves into a path that doesn't have the flexibility we need to address the climate crisis,” she said.

The OEB is holding community discussions in a number of communities along the proposed route. It was in Kenora earlier this week and is now on its way to Nipigon.

The board says that in preparing its report it will also consider input from a variety of stakeholders including industry (gas, petroleum, pipeline), environmental groups and the Council of Canadians.