DNR fines Enbridge $3.3 million for breaching aquifer during Line 3 construction

The agency said Enbridge deviated from its plans and dug too deep. It's referred the matter to the Clearwater County attorney for criminal prosecution.

FILE: Line 3 construction
Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline under construction near the intersection of Hohensee and West Moorhead roads in Carlton County in January. (Clint Austin / 2021 file /

Minnesota regulators have fined Enbridge $3.32 million for breaching an aquifer near Clearbrook when it deviated from its construction plans of the Line 3 oil pipeline, leading to the release of more than 24 million gallons of groundwater.

In a news release Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced it was issuing the fine and would be referring the matter to the Clearwater County Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution because Minnesota law bars the taking of "waters of the state without previously obtaining a permit from the commissioner."

“Enbridge’s actions are clear violations of state law and also of public trust," DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in the release. "This never should have happened, and we are holding the company fully accountable."

According to the DNR, Enbridge deviated from construction plans it submitted to the agency near its Clearbrook Terminal that were meant to avoid a calcareous fen wetland, which "is a unique type of wetland, with stringent statutory protections, that relies upon upwelling of mineral rich groundwater to thrive," the DNR said.

Instead of digging an 8- to 10-foot-deep trench as planned, the company dug an 18-foot-deep trench and installed a sheet piling to a depth of 28 feet. That breached the artesian aquifer's confining layer, the DNR said, leading to "an uncontrolled flow of groundwater into the trench." Enbridge then "failed" to notify the agency, the DNR said.


"Enbridge began work at the Clearbrook Terminal site in early 2021 but did not follow the construction plans it had provided to DNR," the DNR said. "The DNR relied upon these plans in determining that proposed work at the Clearbrook Terminal could proceed without effecting nearby calcareous fen wetlands."

Through Sept. 5, approximately 24.2 million gallons of groundwater have been released from the aquifer, the DNR said.

The DNR said excess water in the trench was first observed in January 2021 but it wasn't until June when it was determined the company had not followed its plans. The DNR said it approved a plan from Enbridge last month to stop the groundwater flow.

Of the DNR's $3.32 million in fines, it ordered $2.75 million be placed in escrow to restore and mitigate any damage to the calcareous fen wetlands. Additionally, $300,000 is for "initial mitigation funds to pay for the loss of groundwater resources," $250,000 is for the DNR's monitoring of the wetlands near the breach and $20,000 for an administrative penalty order.

In an emailed statement to the News Tribune, Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said the company had just heard from the DNR and was "in the process of reviewing the document." She did not answer questions on whether Enbridge leaders thought the amount was fair or if they planned to appeal the fine.

"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," Kellner said. "We share a strong desire to protect Minnesota waters and the environment and are committed to restoration. We will continue to work closely with the agency on the resolution of this matter."

Construction is nearly complete on the 340-mile-long pipeline across northern Minnesota. It is expected to go into service by the end of this year.

Once complete, the new pipeline will carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's terminal in Superior. The new lines in North Dakota, Canada and Wisconsin are already complete.


Opponents of Line 3 have long argued it violates treaty rights and poses a risk to the environment.

"No pipeline should have been built this way," the Resist Line 3 Media Collective tweeted Thursday evening. "We need to #StopLine3 ."

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
What To Read Next
Get Local