Drone footage reveals more Line 3 construction damage, water protectors again seek federal intervention

Today, on the one-year anniversary of oil flowing through Enbridge’s new Line 3 tar sands pipeline, Honor the Earth has released a video showing the extent of unreported construction damage.

“We are only beginning to understand the extent of Enbridge’s damage to our fragile fresh water systems – compounded by their botched attempts to fix it,” Honor the Earth said in a media release.

“Minnesota state agencies have not done enough to keep the public informed or ensure our water is safe. Instead, state regulators have continued protecting the Canadian multinational. But the new video evidence says it all: Enbridge has done even more damage than previously known, and they don’t know how to fix it. They must be held accountable and stopped.”

Drone video screen shot showing showing construction debris left at LaSalle Creek.

Credit Ron Turney and other drone operators, as well as Waadookawaad Amikwag (Those Who Help Beaver), who have done the legwork to bring this issue forward. Waadookawaad Amikwag is a volunteer group of water protectors who have been scouting the Line 3 (now called Line 93) pipeline route for unreported damage, and collaborating with drone operators to document it.

It shouldn’t take volunteers to do this kind of work. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has failed to do its job and keep the public informed.

Honor the Earth and Waadookawaad Amikwag are asking people to contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to:

  • Immediately empanel a group of federal and/or independent scientists to work with local Indigenous and allied scientists and community water protectors to study the aquifer breaches and design an ecologically-sound strategy for monitoring and mitigation.
  • Provide a timely public update on all investigations, findings, plans, and enforcement actions.
  • Hold Enbridge accountable for all permit violations and ongoing failures.
  • Ensure our waters are protected.

Link here to the video and customizable sign-on letter.

What we know from state regulators already is bad enough. Enbridge’s Line 3 construction breached at least three artesian aquifers, which as of March had released nearly 300 million of groundwater in violation of the company’s permit.

Line 3 construction also released an undisclosed amount of “drilling fluid” into ground and surface waters as workers tried to tunnel under streams and wetlands.

The breaches haven’t all been fixed yet, according to those on the ground. Groundwater still is being discharged.

Enbridge calls this a fix. We call it a preventable tragedy.

Laura Triplett

By all indications, Enbridge acted in bad faith. For instance, it didn’t follow construction plans in Clearwater County, drove sheet pilings too deep, and ruptured an aquifer cap in late January, 2021. It was a violation of its permit and state law. It should have reported the breaches immediately; the state didn’t learn about it for nearly five months, probably Enbridge’s effort to avoid any construction stoppages.

Around Aug. 2, 2021, Enbridge workers breached another aquifer, this one near Line 3’s LaSalle Creek crossing in Hubbard County. Laura Triplett, a geologist with expertise in hydrology, explains Enbridge’s flawed efforts to stop breach in this eight-minute “How Enbridge Breached the LaSalle Aquifer – One Year Ago and Still Leaking.”

Enbridge and Barr Engineering responded by proposing to inject grout, basically concrete, into the [breach] holes. In the end, they inserted about 135, 23-foot long steel pipes throughout this valley and injected over 51,000 gallons of grout. Basically, in this delicate system of wetlands, they have created a permanent, underground, reinforced concrete wall, over 20-feet high in places, and 2.5 football fields in length.

Enbridge calls this a fix. We call it a preventable tragedy.

Laura Triplett
Graphic showing how Enbridge tried to stop the aquifer breach by injecting grout into the ground.

Geologist Jeff Broberg narrates a new six-minute video, showing drone footage of the LaSalle Valley aquifer breach, shot Aug. 4, around the breach’s one-year anniversary. (LaSalle is 3.5 miles from Lake Itasca and part of the Mississippi Headwaters complex.)

He said the breach still hasn’t been fixed.

“They may not be able ever to fix this without doing more damage,” Broberg said.

Broberg also points out the debris left at the LaSalle site, including a lot of silt fencing. “They’ve made this entire mess of a construction site,” he said.

“They may not be able ever to fix this without doing more damage.”

Jeffrey Broberg, geologist

An Aug. 3 media release by Waadookawaad Amikwag said expert testimony during the Line 3 permitting process predicted this kind of environmental damage in the LaSalle Valley. State regulators ignored it.

“Now we’ve seen and documented the damage,” the release said. “Many of the worst predictions by Indigenous leaders, scientists, and citizen water protectors have come to pass.” 

“We believe that Enbridge may have willfully misrepresented the risks and will not take responsibility unless state and federal regulators force accountability and restitution.”

In November, Honor the Earth and the Sierra Club called on state and federal watchdogs to take stronger actions to hold Enbridge accountable.

That hasn’t happened yet.

On Sept. 28, Waadookawaad Amikwag sent a letter to members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation, asking them to help pressure the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to:

  • Prevent further harm until the regulatory agencies and the public understand the environmental damage of Enbridge’s proposed fixes.
  • Do an in-depth and independent investigation of Line 3’s construction damage.
  • Prior to approving any more Enbridge pipeline projects, complete a post-Line 3 construction analysis.

“This request is time-critical because Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called for Enbridge Line 5, currently operating without a valid easement in her state, to be shut down based on a history of violations,” the letter said.

Again, here is the link to the sign-on letter.

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