BEMIDJI, Minn. — The Minnesota Environmental Partnership criticized state agencies Thursday, Sept. 23, in a Zoom call regarding action taken on the Line 3 replacement project.
The event was in response to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources revealing information about an artesian aquifer being breached in January near Clearbrook. The breach occurred while work was being done on the new Line 3 oil pipeline, just about a month after construction started.
Artesian aquifers are confined aquifers underground containing water. The water is surrounded by rock or clay, which applies pressure to the water contained within the aquifer.
According to Jeffrey Broberg, a licensed Minnesota geologist on the Zoom call, the specific aquifer forms springs in the Lost River headwaters. The Lost River acts as a tributary for the Clearwater River. As a result of the breach, 24.2 million gallons of water have been lost and the aquifer started losing its natural flow into nearby springs.
In response to the breach, the DNR fined Enbridge, the owner of Line 3, $3.32 million and referred the matter to the Clearwater County Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution. DNR claims Enbridge deviated from its construction plan submitted to the agency near its Clearbrook terminal.
Those plans had stated Enbridge was to avoid unique types of wetlands with statutory protections. For the project, the DNR states Enbridge dug an 18-foot trench, rather than an 8- to 10-foot deep trench as planned. It then installed a sheet piling structure to a depth of 28 feet, breaching the aquifer's confining layer.
The move led to an uncontrolled flow of groundwater into the trench and Enbridge failed to notify the DNR in the following months. It wasn't until June that the DNR determined the company had not followed its plans.
The $3.32 million fine will be used in the following ways:
- $2.75 million into escrow to restore and mitigate any damage to wetlands.
- $300,000 for initial mitigation funds for the loss of groundwater resources.
- $250,000 for the DNR's monitoring operations at the wetlands.
- $20,000 for an administrative penalty order.
In response to the situation, Enbridge Communication Specialist Juli Kellner sent the following statement to the Pioneer, "Enbridge has been working with the DNR since June to provide the required site information and approval of a corrective action plan which is currently being implemented. We share a strong desire to protect Minnesota waters and the environment and are committed to restoration."
The aquifer breach was one of several issues related to Line 3 brought up during MEP's meeting. Another was the situation related to "frac-outs."
In mid-August, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency stated there had been 28 inadvertent releases of drilling fluid, often a mud material, at 12 construction sites along the Line 3 project route. The MPCA states 13 of those went into wetlands and 14 into uplands.
Enbridge has stated the drilling fluid was contained and cleaned up under the supervision of environmental inspectors and independent monitors.
The MPCA also said it required Enbridge to include detailed plans on potential frac-out incidents in its permit application and has plans to clean up spills. MPCA also required Enbridge to install curtains on numerous other river crossings to minimize impacts in the event of water releases.
In response to the aforementioned releases, the MPCA stated they're under investigation for possible violations.
In a study, Broberg wrote, "Enbridge, their contractors and consultants, the independent environmental monitors and the Minnesota DNR regulators failed to meet their obligations and created an ongoing risk. Even with the failures, there are only minor consequences related to the actual costs of fixing the problem. There are no penalties for over five months of evasion and no deterrence that makes it risky to violate the law."
During the meeting, Broberg went on to say, "these are serious issues we're not taking seriously enough. It has to be a hard stop on any future action until all of this has been assessed. How can we allow this to continue to occur and put oil in that pipeline knowing we have ongoing problems with our waters."
Broberg also wrote in his paper, "our water resources are at risk. ... Once the total damages have been restored, heavy fines and penalties must be levied for every unreported infraction."
In a recent construction update, Enbridge officials said the Line 3 project is more than 90% complete and is on schedule to be online in the fourth quarter of 2021. In 2022, Enbridge will continue working on restoration and cleanup operations, which will be finished by the end of the year.
The new pipeline will replace the original Line 3, which was installed in the 1960s. The current pipe runs at half capacity because of its age and condition, and the Canadian company is investing nearly $3 billion to install the new Line 3.
The pipeline will be 1,000 miles long, with the Minnesota section amounting to 337 miles. Construction began in December 2020 after six years of a regulatory process with Minnesota agencies.
Both the original and new Line 3 begin in Canada and go through North Dakota through northwest Minnesota until they reach Clearbrook. From there, the existing pipeline takes a direct path east to a terminal in Superior, Wis., going through the Leech Lake Nation.
The new route, meanwhile, goes south of Clearbrook to the border of Hubbard and Wadena counties, and then shifts east to Wisconsin. Once finished, the new Line 3 will carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton to Superior.