Oil flows through Line 3, but clean-up remains at the site of the aquifer rupture
CLEARBROOK, MINN. – Oil began flowing into the newly constructed Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota on Friday, ending a chapter in the hotly contested large construction project.
Now comes a new one: clean up the mess left behind.
Forced by state regulators, Calgary, Alta.-Based Enbridge launched a major cleanup effort in Clearwater County to repair aquifer crews burst during construction in January. Artesian groundwater has been gushing for more than eight months near this rural community, wasting at least 24 million gallons and threatening to dry out two nearby rare and protected wetlands called fens.
“I just don’t want people to lose precious water,” said Jenna Olson, who works at the Clearbrook gas station, 464 Residents. “This is something serious.”
The breach is a major blunder on one of the largest construction projects in the state’s recent history, but it has been largely out of public view given the location and the fact that the company has not informed regulators about this for several months.
The state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) did not reveal the problem until last month when it ordered Enbridge to pay $ 3.3 million for the damage and gave it 30 days to stop the uncontrolled flow of water.
Enbridge now faces an Oct. 15 deadline to essentially plug the artesian well it has created. His plan is to drill a new well to pump some of the water, then inject tons of grout into the ground to try and seal it.
Clearwater County attorney Kathryn Lorsbach said her office is awaiting the DNR investigative reports, due in a few weeks, to review possible criminal charges.
Outraged environmental groups, scientists and Ojibwa gangs opposing the pipeline dismissed the state’s enforcement action as too weak, too late. They say the snap is exactly the kind of problem they warned would happen in the Minnesota waterscape.
“The damage has been done”
White Earth tribal lawyer Frank Bibeau argued in court documents that MNR would have learned of the break-up much sooner if it had held the requested public hearing before extending the permit by nearly 10 times. appropriation of water from Enbridge.
“MNR is unwilling or unable to stop Enbridge’s destruction of the environment… at any cost,” Bibeau wrote in the motion seeking an injunction to prevent MNR from allowing Enbridge to operate. appropriate water.
Others say state regulators should have stopped work on Line 3 when Enbridge was found to be non-compliant, and they don’t understand how Enbridge was allowed to start the oil flow.
In a press conference on Wednesday, White Earth Nation President Michael Fairbanks denounced the overall impacts of Line 3, including the rupture of the aquifer, and said he felt that appeals to lawmakers and regulators had fallen on deaf ears.
“Please come see this and come see this devastation on nimaamaa-aki, Mother Earth,” Fairbanks said. “The damage is done now.”
MNR said on Friday it had taken all actions within its authority and reiterated the commitment of MNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen to hold Enbridge accountable for violations of the law and public trust.
“We immediately ordered Enbridge to stop the pipeline installation at the Clearbrook site when we learned of the breach,” said MNR Deputy Commissioner Barb Naramore. “It was not until a corrective action plan was approved that they were allowed to resume the installation. To facilitate remediation activities, the pipeline installation had to be completed prior to repairing the breach. the aquifer. “
MNR does not have authority over when the pipeline begins to operate, Naramore said, and the aquifer breach and trench dewatering license amendment for Enbridge is “completely unrelated.”
“No public hearing on this amendment or any other matter would have prevented the rupture of the aquifer at Clearbrook resulting from Enbridge’s too deep excavation,” she said.
Enbridge said it has been monitoring the breach since January and working closely with MNR.
“We share a strong desire to protect Minnesota’s waters and environment, and we are committed to restoring them,” said Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner.
The breach occurred at Enbridge’s large Clearwater Terminal, a major pipeline junction, as crews were digging deeper than expected for the Line 3 trench. The accident occurred on the Flint Hills property Resources, Kellner said.
The rural complex of huge white tanks is on a dirt road northwest of Bemidji. The 340-mile Line 3 pipeline carrying oil from the Canadian tar sands to Superior, Wisconsin, is one of many pipelines crossing it.
A home for rare species
The ruptured aquifer is approximately one mile from the fens of Deep and Steenerson Lakes. Unlike peatlands fed by rainwater, calcareous peatlands, rich in calcium, are fed by groundwater and the loss of pressure from the aquifer could destroy them. They are home to endangered plants such as the hairy hedgehog and the little white lady’s-slipper.
“They are some of the rarest freshwater ecosystems, and we are just starting to learn all the secrets behind these beautiful little places,” said Laura Triplett, chair of the geology department at Gustavus Adolphus College.
The pierced aquifer isn’t the only accident along the Line 3 construction route. In August, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency revealed at least 28 documented spills creating at least 10,000 gallons of sludge.
Ron Turney, a resident of Bemidji, a member of the White Earth group and the Indigenous Environmental Network, documented them with his camera and drone, posting them on his Facebook page. He called the breach in the aquifer a “violation of our mother” and said he wondered how many other undisclosed accidents could have happened.
“It’s right here,” Turney said. “What else is going on? “
Ken Oraskovich, who lives on Deep Lake next to one of the threatened bogs, said he didn’t want him injured. The swamps help clean up the water, which is all related, he said. He fears that the level of the lake will drop permanently.
“If this were to go wrong, what would happen to everything else in the area here?” said Oraskovich, pointing to the larches, maples and poplars around the lake.
Pump and grout
The company’s remediation plan, prepared by Barr Engineering, calls for the drilling of a new well to pump enough groundwater to stop the flow to the surface. Then, a contractor will inject a quick-setting clay and cement grout to try to seal the rupture, according to the plan attached to the MRN restoration order.
The grout will be injected through 400 two-inch pipes driven into the ground about three feet apart. If that doesn’t stop the flow, the contractor may need to try eight-foot-wide columns.
As for the fen, Enbridge must submit a new fen management plan to MNR. Equipment has been installed near the fens to monitor the pressure of the groundwater. The DNR said it might take a few growing seasons to see how they’ve been affected.
Aerial footage of the area around the rupture site shows a large area with accumulated water and mud, as well as a road and staging area constructed of wood planks for equipment.
Jeff Broberg, a professional geologist who reviewed the footage of the site by Star Tribune drones, said they showed prep work for remediation and called Enbridge’s plan a fairly standard approach.
Broberg, who heads the Minnesota Well Owners Organization, said the aquifer loses enough water to fill four one-foot-deep acres every day, based on state estimates.
“It’s a lot of water,” he said.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683