The Enbridge logo is shown at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Alta., May 9, 2018. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has ordered Enbridge to pay $3.32 million for breaching an aquifer containing groundwater during construction of a trench near Enbridge’s Clearbrook Terminal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Enbridge fined for breaching Minnesota environmental laws during Line 3 construction

Enbridge fined for breaching Minnesota environmental laws during Line 3 construction

CALGARY — Enbridge Inc. has been fined and could face criminal charges for breaching Minnesota environmental laws during the construction of its Line 3 pipeline replacement.

The Calgary-based pipeline giant has been ordered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to pay $3.32 million for breaching an aquifer containing groundwater during construction of a trench near the company’s Clearbrook Terminal.

In a statement, the agency said Enbridge began work at the Clearbrook Terminal site in early 2021 but did not follow the construction plans it had provided. It said the company’s plans called for the use of traditional trench construction methods at a depth of 8 to 10 feet, but Enbridge instead constructed the trench at a depth of approximately 18 feet with sheet piling installed to a depth of 28 feet.

The resulting breach of the aquifer caused an unauthorized release of 24.2 million gallons of water, the DNR said, which has had to be pumped, treated and released to a nearby wetland. It also said Enbridge failed to notify the department of the groundwater situation.

The agency has referred the matter to the Clearwater County Attorney for criminal prosecution, saying Minnesota law makes it a crime to appropriate waters of the state without a permit.

“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,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen in a statement.

“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 said Friday it has been working with Minnesota since June on the issue and has implemented a corrective action plan to halt the flow of groundwater. It says it is committed to restoration and will work closely with the agency on a resolution.

“We share a strong desire to protect Minnesota waters and the environment, and we are committed to restoration,” Enbridge spokeswoman Tracy Larsson said in an email. “We will continue to work closely with the agency on the resolution of this matter.”

Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement is expected to be in service by the end of the year. The $9.3-billion project is expected to add about 370,000 barrel per day of crude oil export capacity from Western Canada into the U.S.

The Minnesota leg of the project — the last section remaining to be completed — has been met by protests along the route, with more than 500 demonstrators having been arrested or issued citations since December.

Opponents of the project — including Indigenous groups the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, as well as environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Honor the Earth — say the Line 3 expansion will accelerate climate change and also poses a risk of oil spills in environmentally sensitive areas.

The Line 3 expansion is a critical project for Canada’s energy sector, which has been hamstrung by a lack of pipeline infrastructure in recent years. An IHS Markit report from December found that delays in the expansion of the export pipeline capacity have contributed to lower prices in Western Canada, representing a loss of $17 billion for the crude oil industry over the last five years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2021.

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Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press