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DNR releases details of more Line 3 aquifer breaches

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has released details of more groundwater leaks caused by the construction of the Line 3 oil pipeline last year.

The DNR has completed its investigation of three sites where crews installing the pipeline breached underground aquifers, causing uncontrolled - and unauthorized - flows of groundwater.

State regulators previously identified one of the three locations, near Enbridge's Clearbrook terminal. In January 2021, crews installing the replacement pipeline dug deeper than planned, piercing the top layer of an aquifer under pressure.

Enbridge reported that flow was stopped nearly a year later, after releasing at least 50 million gallons of groundwater.

The DNR now says a second breach occurred around Aug. 2 near LaSalle Creek in Hubbard County, and released about 9.8 million gallons of groundwater before Enbridge reported it had stopped the flow four months later.

A third breach was identified around Sept. 10 near the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation in St. Louis County, when groundwater began welling up as crews removed sheet piling after finishing construction on that stretch of pipeline.

The DNR said Enbridge has substantially slowed - but not completely stopped - that leak, which has resulted in the release of nearly 220 million gallons of groundwater. The agency said the breach potentially could affect nearby Dead Fish Lake, an important wild rice water for the Fond du Lac Band.

State regulators ordered Enbridge to stop the groundwater flows and restore the sites. The company already has paid more than $3 million for the violations, and could face additional penalties.

In a statement released Monday, Enbridge said they regret the breaches and "are taking steps to improve our procedures to prevent this type of occurrence in the future. We are dedicated to resolving these matters quickly and thoroughly as we continue to work with the regulatory agencies on the ongoing restoration and monitoring at all three sites."

An Enbridge spokesperson said the vast majority of the water discharged at all three sites was returned nearby, while a small amount was removed for treatment.

The DNR said it has investigated whether other aquifer breaches occurred along the Line 3 route, but has not confirmed any other breach sites. The agency said it will complete its final assessment following the spring thaw.

The 340-mile replacement pipeline, which follows a partly new route across northern Minnesota, began pumping crude oil last fall.

This story originally appeared at https://www.mprnews.org/story/2022/03/21/dnr-releases-details-of-2-more-line-3-aquifer-breaches.

Fond du Lac officials address breach

Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee members addressed the Enbridge aquifer breach in a press release earlier this week, reprinted below:

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (FDL) was notified by Enbridge on September 10th, 2021 of an aquifer breach that occurred earlier that month, located off the FDL Reservation. Due to the breach, the aquifer is discharging its water content within the boundaries of the Reservation upstream of Deadfish Lake. As of March 21, 2022, the volume of water discharged was approximately 219,600,000 gallons. The flow could potentially violate the Band's water quality standards and impact the Band's natural resources, including one of the wild rice waters of the Reservation.

As a sovereign entity, the Band adopted stringent water quality standards in 1998 which put regulations and safeguards in place that surpass those at the Minnesota State level. These water quality standards prompted decades of specialized, technical investment in stewarding our cultural and natural resources; the breach's hydrologic alteration could threaten that work.

The aquifer breach presents a complicated, multi-jurisdictional challenge involving rapidly changing developments under investigation. Several public entities are working to ensure Enbridge is held responsible for mitigating any damages discovered. The government agencies involved include FDL, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Army Corps of Engineers, and St. Louis and Carlton Counties.

Although the Band was not the permitting entity tasked with ultimately approving Line 3 or Enbridge's construction plans, the Band issued a 401-water quality certification and a wetland activity permit which imposed separate conditions on Enbridge to protect the Band's waters. In addition, the Band closely followed on-site events associated with Enbridge's construction plans on and near the Reservation.

Once notified of the breach, we immediately allocated resources to independently assess the breach's ecological, cultural, and economic ramifications. These actions, along with the Band's water quality standards ordinances, will help protect the Band's resources. The Band is currently assessing all options to ensure that Enbridge mitigates and repairs damages arising from the breach.

As of Feb. 16, the corrective action plan was approved by all necessary state and tribal agencies. Enbridge has completed the majority of the work to plug the aquifer and has reduced groundwater seeps to six gallons a minute.