DNR orders Enbridge to pay $3.32 million over environmental violation

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has ordered Enbridge Energy to pay $3.32 million after an alleged violation of environmental laws during construction of the Line 3 replacement pipeline and referred the matter to a prosecutor for possible criminal charges.

The DNR says Enbridge failed to follow environmental laws when it "breached the confining layer of an artesian aquifer, resulting in an unauthorized groundwater appropriation." The incident happened during pipeline construction near Enbridge’s Clearbrook Terminal in northwestern Minnesota.

According to the DNR, Enbridge’s plans for the site called for a trench that would have been 8 to 10 feet deep, but the trench was instead about 18 feet deep with sheet piling installed to a depth of 28 feet. The DNR said the change allowed an uncontrolled flow of groundwater into the trench.

The DNR alleges that Enbridge failed to notify the DNR of the situation, and that an independent monitor working for the DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency first noticed "unusual amounts of water in the trench" in late January 2021.

The DNR says an estimated 24.2 million gallons of groundwater have been released from the aquifer. The water has been treated to remove sediment and released to a nearby wetland.

On Thursday, the DNR said it has ordered Enbridge to stop the unauthorized groundwater flow within 30 days and pay for a re-inspection of all areas along the Line 3 route where construction depths deviated from plans.

The DNR said it has also referred the matter to the Clearwater County Attorney for possible criminal prosecution, alleging that Enbridge violated a state statute that makes it a crime to appropriate "waters of the state without previously obtaining a permit from the commissioner."

"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," DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in a news release issued late Thursday afternoon.

The regulator issued a $20,000 administrative penalty, the maximum allowed under state law. Enbridge was also ordered to put $2.75 million into an escrow account to restore and mitigate any damage to wetlands, $300,000 to pay for the loss of groundwater resources, and $250,000 to pay for DNR monitoring of the wetlands.

READ: Restoration Order Enbridge Energy 09/16/21 and Administrative Penalty Order Enbridge Energy 09/16/21

Enbridge submitted a groundwater investigation plan in July and a remedial action plan in August, both of which have been approved by the DNR.

Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said the company is in the process of reviewing the DNR document issued Thursday.

"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 are committed to restoration. We will continue to work closely with the agency on the resolution of this matter," Kellner said.

The company has said that construction of the new Line 3 across Minnesota is more than 90% complete.