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It has been eight years since Enbridge first proposed the replacement of the Line 3 oil pipeline. The pipeline became operational on September 30th, 2022. In the time between its proposal and completion, the pipeline drew heavy criticism and spurred years of protests. The resistance is lead primarily by the Anishinaabe and Chippewa people in northern Minnesota, as well as other Indigenous folk and water protectors in the Midwest.

Concerns about the pipeline stemmed from a number of issues: Enbridge's previous projects resulting in oil spill and the likelihood it will happen again, the need to divest from fossil fuels including the highly polluting tar sands carried by the pipeline, the wetland and forest destruction resulting from the building of the pipeline, the violation of the treaty rights of the Anishinaabe people, and the pollution of drinking water, aquifers, and waterways that sustain northern Minnesota.

With the completion of the projects comes an end to the construction. Now government agencies, including the MN Department of Natural Resources and the MN Pollution Control Agency, have completed their investigation into Enbridge's failure to comply with water quality permits. The resulting fines and fees will cost Enbridge around $11 Million, which amounts to less than 1% of Enbridge's revenue in 2022.

The Damages

- Enbridge breached 3 aquifers during the construction process. This would normally result in a stop to construction, but Enbridge did not notify the permitting authorities and continued construction, resulting the breach of the 3rd aquifer and the loss of over 25 Million gallons of freshwater pouring out of the ground. These aquifers provide drinking water to many northern Minnesota communities.

- Construction resulted in 28 spills of drilling mud, many of which were polluted with drilling fluid. This includes sites where rivers were drawn down and tunneled under to accommodate the pipeline. Enbridge failed to notify permitting authorities of the pollution sites, which leaves the true extent of the impacts unclear.

An official list of violation and fines was released by the MN Pollution Control Agency on October 17th, and can be found here.

This is case forces us to ask ourselves a number of important questions:

- In cases of environmental and/or human health, who bears the responsibility to prove the safety of a company's projects and methods?

- Are the current regulations and penalties enough to deter wealthy companies from move ahead with destructive ventures focused on short-term gain instead of long term sustainability?

- Can we continue to afford allowing companies to damage our dwindling natural resources and spaces?

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Picture: Two students from Tri-City United collect data from a nearly dry creek bed outside Montgomery, MN.

River Watch had a great fall sampling season. Check out the details in our Fall Newsletter!

RW Newletter Nov '22
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River Watch was lucky to present at State Fair’s Eco-Experience Building on September 3rd, sponsored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Joining the other incredible stations presenting on water topics in Minnesota, River Watch focused on challenging fair-goers' ideas of the quality of large rivers in Minnesota, and spread awareness about common water pollutants found in one’s home.

With two fish tanks of water, one sample from the Minnesota River, one sample from the Mississippi, fair-goers were asked to identify which water came from which river. People of all ages, from the very young to the elderly took a guess based on the appearance of the water samples. The water from the Minnesota River, taken from a stretch in Bloomington, was clouded with sediment, and was impossible to see through. The water from the Mississippi, taken near the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, was generally clear with only a slight haze to the water. What became clear throughout the day is that people throughout Minnesota (and US) had drastically differing experiences with the Mississippi River, many of which reflected a version of the Mississippi after it had joined with the Minnesota River. This is because the Minnesota River is a large contributor of sediment to the Mississippi, so those that experience the Mississippi after its confluence with the Minnesota River know the river to be murky with sediment, and unpleasant to swim in. These perceptions lead many folks to incorrectly identify the Minnesota River water as the clearer water sample, and make clear the impact living downstream can have on one’s relationship with the river.

It was fascinating to talk to people from all backgrounds, and listen to their questions, observations, and stories about water quality in Minnesota. Many were surprised to learn that lawn waste, sediment, and road salt are all common water pollutants that cause very different problems. Luckily, reducing one’s contribution of these pollutants to water only takes a few easy changes to regular home tasks. My hope is that all those that visited the booth learned some way they can help improve water quality in their community; and also took some time to reflect on the importance of Minnesota’s water resources, a resource that is frequently taken for granted.