When Enbridge Energy was fined more than $3 million for breaching a groundwater aquifer during Line 3 pipeline construction, then not telling state regulators about it, the company was given 30 days to fix its mistake.
That deadline came and went, and the issue is still unresolved.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said Friday that Enbridge notified the agency its clean-up work near the Clearbrook Terminal "won’t be complete by the DNR’s deadline." Enbridge, the DNR said, has "made progress" toward a fix, but groundwater continues to flow uncontrolled from the illegally breached aquifer.
"We told you this would happen," tweeted Rep. Heather Keeler, one of the 32 lawmakers that signed a letter demanding more transparency. "Do you really think a multi-national corporation really cares about cleaning up their mess in Northern MN? No. They turn their back on protecting Mother Earth just like our Top State Leaders did. But hey...... we got jobs right. 🤷🏽♀️"
The breach dates back to early 2021, when Enbridge "did not follow the construction plans it had provided to DNR," the DNR wrote in a Sept. 16 news release. Instead of constructing a trench 8-10 feet down, the company went as deep as 18 feet, with sheet piling inserted 28 feet into the ground.
This broke through the outer layer of an artesian aquifer (an underground, pressurized source of groundwater), spilling 24.2 million gallons of water between the initial breach and Sept. 5, the DNR said. In addition, Enbridge didn't notify the DNR about the situation, and the agency wasn't able to identify the potential breach until June 15.
The Clearbrook Terminal is about 25 miles northwest of the Mississippi Headwaters.
The DNR fined Enbridge Energy $3.32 million for its blunder, and gave the company 30 days to stop the groundwater flow from the breached artesian aquifer.
For failing to meet the deadline, Enbridge will pay an additional $40,000 to compensate for 30 days' worth of lost groundwater, the DNR said. The company also agreed to pay for future losses, and will not appeal the September restoration order.
A spokesperson for the DNR told Bring Me The News Monday that Enbridge "continue to make progress on correcting the uncontrolled flow near Clearbrook." The agency will be the one to come up with a new timeline and deadline as part of a final enforcement agreement.
And what if Enbridge isn't able to fix the breach? If that happens, that final enforcement agreement will "address any additional actions that may be necessary," the spokesperson said.
As part of the original enforcement action from September, Enbridge must put $2.75 million (the company reported second-quarter earnings of $1.4 billion) in an escrow account by Nov. 1, 2021, for any fen restoration or mitigation work that is needed. The DNR said the company paid $550,000 for initial mitigation and monitoring on Oct. 14, and paid the $20,000 penalty (the maximum allowed under state law) that same day.
There may be more fines and penalties to come.
The DNR said it is actively investigating two other sites where Enbridge my have illegally tapped into an artesian aquifer, resulting in uncontrolled groundwater flow. The agency said it cannot comment further because the investigation is ongoing.
And in August, the MPCA said it had found 28 instances of Enbridge releasing drilling fluid during Line 3 construction, 12 of which occurred at river crossing. Thirteen of the releases were into wetlands, which is a violation, the agency had said.
An MPCA spokesperson said the discharges are "still under active investigation," and that the agency has told Enbridge it should expect "enforcement action."
Rep. Sydney Jordan, who also signed the aforementioned letter, suggested lawmakers could pursue more stringent permitting requirements during the upcoming legislative session.
"Enbridge ruptured an aquifer, imperiled a rare calcareous fen, didn’t notify the state, and missed their deadline to clean up their mess," Jordan wrote. "This fine is nothing for this corporation. Expect a hard push to change the laws around permitting and APO next winter at the #mnleg."
Bring Me The News has reached out to Enbridge for comment.