DNR orders Enbridge to pay $3 million for aquifer puncture

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ordered Enbridge Energy to pay a $3.32 million fine Thursday after the company pierced an artesian aquifer.

According to a release, the DNR is citing Enbridge for failing to follow environmental laws.

Enbridge started work on the Clearbrook Terminal site in early 2021 but didn’t follow the construction plans it had provided to the DNR, according to the release — the plans had ensured that nearby calcareous fen wetlands, which are under "stringent statutory protections," wouldn’t be affected by the build.

The original and approved plans stated that the trench construction would only go to a depth of 8-10 feet. However, Enbridge dug a trench 18-feet deep with sheet piling installed as deep as 28 feet. This unauthorized deviation from the plan led to puncturing the aquifer and uncontrolled groundwater flow into the trench. Enbridge didn’t notify the DNR of the breach, the department says.

As of Sept. 5, Enbridge’s actions have led to roughly 24.2 million gallons of groundwater being released from the aquifer, the DNR says.

The DNR’s civil enforcement orders are requiring that Enbridge pay $3.32 million in mitigation and penalty funds. That includes $300,000 for the loss of groundwater resources and $250,000 for the DNR monitoring of the calcareous fen wetlands nearby. Enbridge must implement its new plan to stop the groundwater flow within 30 days. The order also states that Enbridge must report results of additional groundwater and site monitoring and develop a calcareous fen management plan.

The Clearwater County Attorney, at the DNR’s referral, will also conduct criminal prosecution for Enbridge’s violation of a Minnesota law that states it’s illegal for anyone to appropriate state waters without a permit from the DNR commissioner.

If Enbridge violates the restoration order, it would be subject to additional misdemeanor charges.

On June 15, while speaking with independent environmental monitors — who conduct business on behalf of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the DNR — the DNR discovered there was a potential breach of an aquifer’s confining layer and began an investigation. The department simultaneously told Enbridge to pause construction until the DNR approved measures to stop the flow of groundwater leaking — fixing the leak is "technically complex." The DNR has since required Enbridge to investigate and submit a plan to correct the unauthorized groundwater flow. This process took just over a month.

“DNR is committed to its role as a regulator on this project and is taking seriously our responsibility to protect and manage natural resources within existing state law,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said. “Enbridge’s actions are clear violations of state law and also of public trust. This never should have happened, and we are holding the company fully accountable.”

Enbridge sent the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

"We have just received the communication from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and are in the process of reviewing the document. 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 we are committed to restoration. We will continue to work closely with the agency on the resolution of this matter.

"Replacing Line 3 is an essential modernization and safety replacement project, which replaces an aging pipeline with modern infrastructure. The project is nearly complete in Minnesota, and is providing significant economic benefits for counties, small businesses, Native American communities, and union members — creating thousands of family-sustaining construction jobs, millions of dollars in local spending and tax revenues."

Enbridge is in the process of constructing the Line 3 Pipeline Replacement Project, which is repairing a crude oil pipeline stretching from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. The U.S. portion of the replacement project includes 13 miles of new pipe in North Dakota, 337 miles in Minnesota and 14 miles in Wisconsin. The U.S. project costs nearly $3 billion.

“Enbridge is a rogue corporation that caused the largest inland oil spill in US history and has now damaged Minnesota’s most precious waters during construction of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline," Winona LaDuke, the executive director of Honor the Earth, said in a statement.