The Potluck

DFL lawmakers ask pollution control agency to suspend key Enbridge Line 3 permit

By: - July 28, 2021 12:37 pm

Welders worked on Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline near Hill City on Jan. 26, 2021. Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

Thirty-two state lawmakers sent a letter to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Tuesday, requesting the agency suspend a key permit for Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline until the ongoing drought lifts.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators — including Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, who is the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee — also asked for information about several recent spills of drilling fluid along the pipeline route. The fluid is a mixture of mud and non-toxic chemicals used as lubrication for drilling underneath rivers.

On July 21, the MPCA said it was investigating nine such releases that had been reported by Enbridge or independent environmental monitors.

“Given the frequency and nature of these releases, we are asking that you temporarily suspend the Section 401 Certification and order Enbridge to immediately halt all drilling along the Line 3 route until the state is no longer experiencing drought conditions and until a thorough investigation can be completed,” the letter says.

In an email, Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said the drought is “concerning to everyone.”

“We are focused on protecting and conserving water, and continue to work with agencies on next steps,” Kellner said.

According to the MPCA, drilling fluid spills are “not uncommon near the drill entry or exit points.” Fluid was released into a waterway in one of the reported cases, the MPCA says, which took place in the Willow River near Palisade on July 6.

In its permit applications, Enbridge was required to include plans to mitigate potential drilling fluid spills, as well as “install curtains on numerous other river crossings to minimize impacts,” according to the MPCA.

Kellner said when a spill is identified, workers stop drilling and follow the protocols for containment outlined in project permits. The drilling fluid in the Willow River was cleaned up under supervision of environmental inspectors and agency monitors, she said.

“There were no impacts to any aquifers nor were there downstream impacts because environmental control measures were installed at the location,” Kellner said.

Pipeline opponents have raised concerns that the substances could smother aquatic life in rivers.

The lawmakers asked the MPCA to provide information about each of the releases by Aug. 2, including the amount and type of substances released, how long it took to begin cleanup efforts, details on how the MPCA is monitoring drilling and Enbridge’s mitigation and containment plans.

Opposition to Line 3 has been intensifying since construction started in December, following six years of review, permitting and litigation. The 337-mile pipeline is more than 60% complete and expected to carry oil by the end of the year.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.