DNR confirms new Line 3 aquifer breach in northern Minnesota

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Staff work at the Superior terminal of Enbridge Energy in Superior, Wis., on June 29, 2018. Enbridge and the DNR on Friday confirmed a new aquifer rupture near Moose Lake south of Hill City, Minn.
Jim Mone | AP 2018

A fourth groundwater aquifer breach has been detected along the Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources confirmed it’s investigating the rupture near Moose Lake, south of Hill City in Aitkin County, at a wild rice lake in an area with complex wetlands and peat bogs.

Water is flowing out of the ground at about 10 to 15 gallons a minute, considerably slower than at the three other confirmed aquifer breaches along Line 3, the DNR said in a statement, adding it’s requiring Canadian pipeline owner Enbridge to submit a plan to repair the breach.

The damage was not caused by the pipe itself or drilling, but by sheet metal piling used to reinforce the trench during construction, said Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner.

Enbridge already has paid more than $11 million to address three other breach sites, near Clearbrook in Clearwater County, LaSalle Creek in Hubbard County and the Fond du Lac Reservation in St. Louis County.

The Minnesota attorney general’s office also charged Enbridge with a misdemeanor crime in Clearwater County for using state water without a permit and delay in notifying state agencies of the breach. The charge will be dismissed after one year if Enbridge remains law abiding.

This year, the Legislature gave the DNR stronger authority to enforce groundwater use rules, including tougher penalties for repeat or serious violators.

The latest breach near Moose Lake was made public by a volunteer group called Waadookawaad Amikwag, or “Those Who Help Beaver” in Anishinaabe. The group has been using thermal imaging cameras mounted on drones to detect places along the Line 3 corridor where groundwater may be leaking.

Jeff Broberg, an independent geologist working with the group, said changes in the groundwater flow could have long-term impacts on the wetlands and peat bogs in the Moose Lake area.

“Anytime you dry out peat, it starts to compress,” Broberg said. It’s difficult to determine what larger-scale impacts there might be, he said.

Waadookawaad Amikwag believes there are likely dozens more breach sites along the Line 3 corridor. It’s urging the DNR to share more details of its investigations publicly, Broberg said.

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