No sooner had oil begun to flow through Enbridge's Line 3 -- at 1765-km the longest tar sands oil pipeline in the world -- that work began to repair the aquifer crews punctured during construction last January. The breach threatens a rare biodiversity hot spot in Clearwater County, Minnesota: artesian groundwater has been welling up for more than eight months near this rural community, wasting at least 24 million gallons and threatening to dry out two rare and protected wetland areas nearby called fens.
As reported in the Star Tribune, Minnesota's largest newspaper, the breach is a significant blunder on one of the largest construction projects in the state’s recent history. Nonetheless it’s been largely out of public view given the location and the fact the company failed to tell regulators about it for several months.
The $2.9-billion U.S. portion of the Line 3 Replacement Program, known as the Line 3 Replacement Project, consists of replacing existing 34-inch pipe with new 36-inch pipe for 13 miles in North Dakota, 337 miles in Minnesota, and 14 miles in Wisconsin:
The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) revealed the problem only last month when it ordered Enbridge to pay $3.3 million for the damage and gave it 30 days to stop the uncontrolled flow of water. Enbridge now faces an Oct. 15 deadline to essentially cork the artesian well it created. Its plan is to drill a new well to pump out some of the water and then inject tons of grout into the ground to try to seal it.
Native American and environmental groups have long feared exactly this kind of incident in Minnesota's watery landscape and declared that "the damage has been done."
Indeed, the pierced aquifer is not the only accident along the Line 3 construction route. In August, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency disclosed at least 28 documented spills creating at least 10,000 gallons of muck.
Built in the 1960s, Line 3 is a crude oil pipeline extending from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.