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MPCA acknowledges 8 more drilling fluid releases during Line 3 construction, including into wetlands

Few details are available, with the agency citing an ongoing enforcement investigation.

Three weeks after 80-100 gallons of drilling fluid leaked spilled into the Willow River during Line 3 construction, the state's pollution authority has acknowledged similar fluid releases have occurred at eight additional sites along the pipeline's route.

Details about the incidents are scarce, with Darin Broton a senior advisor and director of communications for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) citing the "ongoing enforcement investigation" related to the drilling fluid releases.

Social media posts provide some information. That includes photos shared on Facebook of what appears to be a drilling fluid release (sometimes called a "frac out") near the Mississippi River in Shevlin, Minnesota, on July 21.

Broton did confirm nine total incidents, including the one into the Willow River in early July. The eight others, he told Bring Me The News, occurred on land and not in waterways, though at least one happened in wetlands.

Releasing drilling fluid into wetlands is a violation, Broton added.

An Enbridge spokesperson told Bring Me The News that in all eight cases, the drilling fluid was "contained entirely on land and cleaned up," adding it is standard procedure for drilling operations to be shut down as soon as an inadvertent release of the "mud," as it is called, is noticed.

Drilling fluid is used in something called horizontal directional drilling (HDD). Enbridge and the MPCA have said the drilling fluid released in the Willow River incident is nontoxic, composed mainly of bentonite clay, water and a xanthan gum additive.

But these eight newly revealed releases of drilling mud sparked concern among a group of state legislators. Thirty-two DFL lawmakers sent a letter to MPCA Commissioner Peter Tester Tuesday asking for "transparency."

"To date, the public has had access to information only through social media posts, Enbridge’s press releases and individual conversations or email exchanges with your staff," the letter reads. 

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They provided a list of questions, including information about exactly when and where these releases occurred, the materials involved, how close the fluid came to waterways and information about monitoring, enforcement and clean-up methods.

Citing the "frequency and nature" of these incidents, as well as the ongoing severe drought that has hit northern Minnesota particularly hard, the lawmakers also called on Tester to immediately stop all drilling on the Line 3 project. Drilling should be paused "until the state is no longer experiencing drought conditions and until a thorough investigation can be completed by your agency so that the causes of these releases are fully understood and further releases can be avoided."

Broton told Bring Me The News they "appreciate the questions from legislators," adding there has been some "misinformation on social [media] in the past few weeks." 

And while the MPCA plans to answer some of the lawmakers' questions in the days ahead, it "cannot release detailed information about locations and dates of the releases at this time," as it might undermine an active enforcement investigation.

He said the MPCA's investigation includes "a few other things" not related to horizontal directional drilling, and that they're waiting to see "if any additional releases occur on these crossings."

Enbridge said Line 3 construction is 70% complete and expected to be done by the end of 2021. The spokesperson did not provide a response when asked about the release of drilling fluid into wetlands.

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