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?

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Independent Environmental Monitors cite Enbridge 10 times for ‘unacceptable’ work

Line 3’s 25 Independent Environmental Monitors are the eyes and ears for state regulators, making sure Enbridge is following all permits and rules and minimizing environmental damage while building its new crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

When the independent monitor observes activities that violate any environmental plan, permit, certification, or authorization, they file a report marked “unacceptable.”

Construction of Line 3 is 50 percent complete. From the beginning of construction Dec. 1 to the end of April, Independent Environmental Monitors have filed 10 “Unacceptable” reports for the project, or one every two weeks on average.

In several incidents, Enbridge’s Environmental Inspectors were slow to respond to problems identified by the independent monitors.

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Half of Line 3’s ‘Independent Environmental Monitors’ have prior work for Enbridge

There are more than two dozen Independent Environmental Monitors spread out along the 337-mile Enbridge Line 3 pipeline corridor in northern Minnesota. They are supposed to be the eyes and ears for state regulators, making sure Enbridge is following all permits and rules and minimizing environmental damage.

Half of the 25 independent monitors hired to work on behalf of Minnesota state regulatory agencies have worked on Enbridge projects at some time in the past, according to monitor resumes obtained through a public information request.

It raises questions about how “independent” these monitors really are.

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A regulatory system gone belly-up: Deconstructing Line 3’s ‘Independent Monitors’

Initially posted on May 3, 2020 as part of an occasional series which explores how government regulatory agencies are biased towards corporate interests. I was updating it and inadvertently unpublished it. Still a timely issue, so reposting it.

Line 3 current route (orange) and proposed route (green).

Consider the following thought experiment.

Imagine that a company wanted to build a crude oil pipeline 355 miles through northern Minnesota, crossing some of the state’s cleanest waters. That pipeline would carry tar sands crude oil, a particularly dirty form of fossil fuel and difficult to clean up when it spills.

Imagine that government regulators approved the project, but required the company to pay to hire Independent Environmental Monitors to oversee construction on behalf of the state. These monitors would be the on-the-ground representatives for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other departments.

Now imagine, in an unprecedented move, that government regulators put Tribal Nations and environmental groups in charge of selecting and training the Independent Monitors. This, regulators said, would bring more credibility to the process, as it would assure construction would meet the highest possible environmental standards.

What do you think would happen next? Continue reading