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Enbridge to pay $11 million for aquifer breaches during Line 3 construction

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa will receive almost $1.5 million.

A pipe running through a channel in the ground surrounded by snow.
Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline under construction near the intersection of Hohensee and West Moorhead roads in Carlton County in January 2021.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Enbridge Energy will pay $11 million to the state and an Indigenous band after a series of aquifer breaches during the construction of its Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota last year.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources on Monday said the money would be spent on penalties, ongoing monitoring, environmental projects and financial assurances for three aquifer breaches near Enbridge's Clearbrook Terminal, LaSalle Creek in Hubbard County and just west of the Fond du Lac Reservation.

The MPCA also found Enbridge "violated a series of regulations and requirements including discharging construction stormwater into wetlands and inadvertently releasing drilling mud into surface waters at 12 locations between June 8, 2021, and August 5, 2021."

Additionally, the office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Monday announced Enbridge admitted to the January 2021 breach in Clearwater County and that the company "further admitted that it understood or should have understood that the aquifer breach resulted from its construction activity, and that it delayed notifying the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about the breach as required."

Repairs have stopped uncontrolled groundwater flow at the Fond du Lac Reservation breach while work has slowed the uncontrolled flow at the Clearbook breach to 20 gallons per minute and the LaSalle Creek to less than 1 gallon per minute, the MPCA and DNR said.

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Of the $11 million, $1.45 million will go to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

"Today we assert our sovereignty through this enforcement action and demonstrate that the FDL Band will hold accountable any actors that violate our strong environmental standards," Fond du Lac Band Chairperson Kevin Dupuis said in a news release.

In a separate release, DNR commissioner Sarah Strommen said agency appreciated working with Fond du Lac in the aquifer breach investigation.

Line3Web_4.jpg
Enbridge Line 3's route through Minnesota.
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

"In entering into these comprehensive enforcement actions, the DNR is holding Enbridge fully accountable and ensuring that the DNR has the resources needed to address the aquifer breaches," Strommen said.

MPCA's investigation requires Enbridge pay $2.4 million to the state and $2.6 million to fund environmental projects in affected watersheds along Line 3.

“At the start of this project, the MPCA issued our most stringent water quality certification to date and permits that were strong, enforceable, and protective — and this enforcement action holds Enbridge accountable for the violations that occurred during construction,” MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler said in the release.

In a statement, Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said: "We appreciate that we were able to come to agreement with the agencies and are committed to making this right."

Ellison filed a misdemeanor count against Enbridge in State District Court in Bagley for appropriating state waters without a permit through construction.

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Kellner said the charge would be dismissed if it complies with state water rules for a year.

Ellison's office and Enbridge have entered into a diversion agreement that would dismiss the charge because Enbridge admitted to facts of the aquifer breach and will pay the maximum $1,000 fine. Enbridge has also agreed to fund up to $60,000 in wetland restoration in Marshall and Polk counties.

"The facts that Enbridge admits today about its breach of the aquifer constitute in the State’s view a criminal violation of the law," Ellison said in the release. "Corporations rarely admit facts that constitute a violation of criminal law."

Line 3 supporters, who touted the project as a boon for jobs, called the Monday's announcements "heavy handed."

"It's clear these fines — which are coming less than a month before the election and 12 months after the project was completed — are politically motivated by the demands of far-left Democrat environmentalists,” state Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, and state Rep. Spencer Igo, R-Grand Rapids, said in a joint statement.

The 340-mile-long Minnesota segment of Line 3 came online last year and was the last segment in the 1,000-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's Superior terminal. It faced stiff opposition from environmental groups and Indigenous bands who said the pipeline is unneeded, at risk of an oil spill, worsens climate change and violates Indigenous and treaty rights.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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