There have been 28 releases of drilling fluid along Enbridge Energy's Line 3 pipeline project, which is more than the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) first reported.
The MPCA on Aug. 9 confirmed there have been 28 "inadvertent" drilling fluid releases at 12 river crossing locations in northern Minnesota, with some river crossing locations seeing multiple releases, including Willow and East Savannah. The agency also provided details in a letter sent to 32 legislators who had previously voiced concern over the reported spills, particularly during the ongoing drought.
Of the 28 fluid releases:
- There was one spill into a river (on July 6, at least 80 gallons of fluid flowed into the Willow River in Aitkin County)
- There were 13 releases into wetlands
- There were 14 releases in non-surface water areas, although one release did flow into a wetland
These releases occurred between June 8 and Aug. 5, according to the MPA's letter. Previously, the MPCA had reported nine drilling fluid releases, including the Willow River incident.
The release of drilling fluid in any wetland, river or other surface water is a violation of the MPCA's 401 Water Quality Certification. The MPCA says it is investigating these incidents of fluid and "taking appropriate enforcement action."
Bring Me The News has asked the MPCA what the penalty is for these types of violations.
Enbridge was expected to be done with the river crossings earlier this week, so there shouldn't be any further issues like this, Darin Broton of the MPCA told Bring Me The News.
Drilling fluid is used in something called horizontal directional drilling (HDD). The MPCA has said this process uses pressurized drilling mud, which is potentially mixed with additives. It is composed mainly of bentonite clay, water and a xanthan gum additive, and is considered nontoxic.
Enbridge said in a statement in the majority of instances, the drilling fluid was contained entirely on land and cleaned up under the supervision of trained environmental inspectors and third-party agency monitors.
Related [July 19] DNR temporarily suspends some of Enbridge's Line 3 surface water permits
After a years-long review and permitting process, Canadian-based Enbridge Energy got the approvals it needed last fall to begin construction in December 2020 on a Line 3 replacement pipeline. It will carry crude oil from the tar fields in Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, via 337 miles in northern Minnesota. Once the oil pipeline is complete — likely by the end of this year — it will carry millions of gallons of oil per day.
Related [Aug. 9]: Here's what the UN's climate report says about Minnesota's future
The Line 3 project has proved a controversial one, dividing those who want the jobs boost that such a construction project would bring – backed by many state Republicans – with those who fear the potential environmental risk of a pipeline cutting through areas of natural beauty and watersheds, including through wetlands and near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, as well as those who seek a shift away from fossil fuels.
Enbridge has stressed the pipeline is safe.
Shaymus McLaughlin contributed to this report.