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Enbridge fined for pollution resulting from Line 3 construction

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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