State’s lack of transparency on Line 3 construction disrespects and traumatizes citizens

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) have utterly failed the public in proactively explaining what is happening on the ground regarding Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction.

The project has traumatized many Native peoples, who say Line 3 violates their treaty rights and threatens their sacred wild rice. It has traumatized many other citizens, particularly young people, who believe Line 3’s climate impacts will significantly damage their future.

Water protectors on the ground still see problems along the route and struggle to get answers.

It’s the state’s job to inform the public about matters of great public interest. The state’s lack of transparency is inexcusable and infuriating.

Enbridge could start pumping oil through the pipeline as soon as Friday. Those who have worked for years to stop it are understandably on edge, angry, and mistrustful.

At every turn, state regulators sided with Enbridge, rejecting arguments about Line 3’s climate damage and treaty violations, or the increased risks of sex trafficking during pipeline construction.

At every turn, the states’ only eyes and ears on the ground were the so-called Independent Environmental Monitors (IEMs) that Enbridge selected, trained and funded to work on behalf of state regulators.

At every turn, Enbridge-funded public law enforcement was treating water protectors as enemies.

Now we learn Enbridge violated its Line 3 building plans, broke through an aquifer, and illegally discharged millions of gallons of water. It happened in January. The DNR didn’t learn about it until June. The public didn’t learn about it until this month, seven months after it happened. It’s still not clear if Enbridge has fixed the problem.

We know the state has no deterrent to such bad behavior. The state imposed maximum fine: $20,000, a pittance for a giant multinational corporation.

Enbridge’s ability to keep this gross violation a secret has only heightened water protectors’ worries that state regulators have missed other environmental violations.

What happened here? The MPCA is investigating. Photo: Ron Turney, IEN)

Water protectors are still monitoring Line 3 and see worrisome signs. Regulatory agencies aren’t trying to anticipate questions and get in front of them. In addition, they have a credibility problem with water protectors, given the lack of scrutiny they gave Line 3.

Ron Turney of the Indigenous Environmental Network is one of those water protectors still monitoring the pipeline route. He has drone footage of what looked like more frac out problems near where Enbridge bored under the Mississippi headwaters. After workers removed the plank road, the water there looked very muddy, the sign of a possible frac out.

Seeing Turney’s images, I emailed the MPCA on Wednesday, Sept. 22, seeking an explanation.

I didn’t hear back until Tuesday, Sept. 28. Here’s the MPCA’s sparse answer: “Sorry for the delay. Yes, we’re aware of the conditions at the headwaters. IEMs have been at this site and it is not a frac out. The landscape scarring will be covered up as vegetation continues to grow in.”

I wrote back: “If it’s not a frac out, how do you explain the muddy water?”

The MPCA replied: “Without getting into details as all report findings are non-public information until the MPCA completes its ongoing investigation, it is our understanding that there was a prior rain event.”

Interesting to know it’s still under investigation. Could still be a frac out. Or maybe it was a rain event. If you look in the photo (above) of the standing water on either side of the river, one side is muddy, the other side looks clear. Seems like if it were a rain issue, both sides would look muddy.

More recently, Turney’s drone footage found activity near where Enbridge bored under the Clearwater River. There’s large holding tanks of water, and areas lined with hay bales for filtering the water discharge.

Drone photo near the Line 3 crossing of the Clearwater River. Photo: Ron Turney, IEN

The MPCA provided the following explanation: “This incident was reported to the duty officer earlier this week. The images are a construction-related groundwater dewatering process. The water in the lined holding pond was sampled and was just groundwater. The orange substance is algae that had iron-oxidation.”

Drone photo near the Line 3 crossing of the Clearwater River (in foreground). Photo: Ron Turney, IEN

I’ve emailed back to ask if there were any permit violations at this site. The MPCA responded: “Regarding dewatering, the DNR handles those permits. If there were violations in the dewatering process, agencies cannot comment on violations until the investigation is complete.”

I emailed the DNR, and got the following response: “This would be a question for MPCA.”

It feels like state-sponsored gaslighting. Agencies act as if everything is OK, making people question their own observations. At the same time, even if it’s a significant environmental problem, agencies might not let the public know for weeks or months.

Leaders speak out

Indigenous leaders and allies issued statements today about Enbridge’s plans to start operating Line 3 soon. They include the following:

I personally want to recognize the many Water Protectors over the years who came from Native communities, from Minnesota cities and from around the country to put their lives on hold to bear witness to the dangerous environmental folly that is Line 3. Your brave efforts about Enbridge’s Line 3 have reshaped the world’s views on the climate crisis we are in, the Treaty Rights of the Anishinaabe, and the escalating divestment in fossil fuels around the world and here at home. You are the true heroes of this tragic saga.”

Winona LaDuke, Honor the Earth

The Line 3 fight is far from over, it has just shifted gears. Do not think we are going quietly into the night, we will continue to stand on the frontlines until every last tar sands pipeline is shut down and Indigenous communities are no longer targeted but our right to consent or denial is respected. 

Indigenous Environmental Network

We are Camp Migizi, we made a solemn promise to stop line 3 and we intend to go down fighting. There is still work that needs to be done before the project is considered complete, we promise to disrupt and stop that work. We ask that you remember us, as we will still be here, fighting to protect all that is sacred, even if they build line 3 our community that we have built here will still remain …

Camp Migizi

This shameful moment marks what the promises of the Democratic Party to listen to climate science look like in action, what it looks like when human beings refuse to open our eyes to the burning world around us and respond with equal urgency.

Tara Hauska, Giniw Collective

President Biden and the other politicians who chose to do nothing as treaty rights were violated, waterways were polluted, and peaceful protesters were brutalized have placed themselves on the wrong side of history. We will continue to seek to hold them accountable for failing to prioritize the best interests of our communities over the desires of a foreign oil company. 

Margaret Levin, Director, North Star Chapter, Sierra Club

Full statements here.

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