As Enbridge races to finish Line 3 construction, more suspected frac-outs

Water Protector Shanai Matteson points to the Willow River frac-out. Screengrab from Honor the Earth video.

On July 6, water protectors found an Enbridge Line 3 frac-out at the Willow River.

On Monday, Honor the Earth reported a suspected Line 3 frac-out at the Shell River. [Update July 22: The MPCA says there was no frac-out on the shell. It did report that Enbridge has had frac-outs at nine different construction sites. Updated blog coming soon.]

Today, the Indigenous Environmental Network reported a suspected Line 3 frac-out near the Mississippi headwaters. (Video here.)

Details of the frac-outs are still coming in.

It’s possible to see frac-outs on the surface of rivers and wetlands. There could be other frac-outs below the surface that remain unseen.

How many frac-outs will it take for state regulators to require something different, or do they dismiss frac-outs as an acceptable environmental cost?

Monday Tweet from Honor the Earth

The Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline is being built across 337 miles of northern Minnesota, crossing more than 200 water bodies, 78 miles of wetlands, and 41 miles of public/municipal land, mostly state forest lands.

At 21 water crossings, Enbridge is using a large drill to bore under the waters and wetlands. The technique’s called Horizontal Directional Drilling or HDD. Once drilled, heavy equipment is used to pull the string of welded pipeline through the tunnel.

The HDD process requires drilling mud, a viscous fluid that lubricates and cools the drill bit and brings the drilled rock and soil to the surface.

One HDD risk is that pressure will force the drilling mud into cracks in the soil and finally get pushed well outside the tunnels’ walls. That’s a frac-out. Frac-outs can happen in rivers, wetlands or on land. They can rise to the surface, or remain below the surface.

Enbridge originally proposed Line 3 as a two-year construction project (that language is still on its website). Enbridge started construction in December, appears poised to finish by August, and has announced plans to begin operating the pipeline in the fourth quarter of this year.

Screen grab from Enbridge’s website this month.

In other words, Enbridge doubled it’s original construction pace. In other words, it’s rushing. Is rushing leading to frac-outs?

Drilling problems shouldn’t come as a surprise. Back in 2009, a section of Highway 2 in Bemidji collapsed as Enbridge was installing the Alberta Clipper Pipeline under the highway, the Park Rapids Enterprise reported.

And remember experienced state employees from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aren’t on site doing the regular monitoring. Instead, there are “Independent Environmental Monitors” on the ground, the eyes and ears for the MPCA and DNR.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved key Line 3 permits. They required Enbridge to pay for these Independent Environmental Monitors, who are to report directly to state agencies.

Problem is, the PUC allowed Enbridge to select and train the independent monitors. A review of 25 resumes showed that half the “independent” monitors had worked for Enbridge in the past, raising questions about their independence.

The frac-out near the headwaters happened in nearby wetlands. Screen grab from the Indigenous Environmental Network Facebook Page.

Friends of the Headwaters, one of the groups suing to stop Line 3 in court, was getting questions from supporters about frac-outs. It posted the following summary Monday:

  1. The additives to drilling mud enable the bore, but they can also cause long-term pollution. (And Enbridge doesn’t want to tell us what those additives are.)
  2. Drills are usually at least 20 feet underground/under the river. That means there could be other releases that remain underground, unseen by monitors, unacknowledged by the company.
  3. When a pipeline company is trying to remove frac-out material, they access the visible stuff and whatever settles at the bottom of the wetland or river. That means there’s plenty of stuff that isn’t removed. EVER.

The public needs to hear from informed citizens who care about these issues. Friends of the Headwaters urges you to WRITE TO LOCAL AND REGIONAL NEWSPAPERS.

Your letter could urge the state to stop construction due to the drought. At the very least, these letters should insist that the state require Enbridge preparedness.

As long as Enbridge is working on stream crossings and befouling northern Minnesota’s pristine wetlands, the company should have sand bags, vac-trucks, and inspectors at the ready, prepared for construction mishaps and issues like frac-outs.

2 thoughts on “As Enbridge races to finish Line 3 construction, more suspected frac-outs

  1. […] 9. The PUC approved a plan that let Enbridge select and train the “Independent Environmental Monitors” that are working on behalf of state agencies to monitor Line 3 construction. The MPCA and DNR don’t have their permanent staff on site. A review of the Independent Monitor’s resumes showed that half have worked for Enbridge in the past. How “independent” are they? Do the DNR or MPCA have any concerns that these agency stand-ins are providing sufficient scrutiny? Why isn’t the state’s permanent, full-time regulatory staff on site when there are significant problems, such as recent frac-outs? […]


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