Enbridge Spills 10,000 Gallons of Line 3 Drilling Fluid

Northern, MN – Canadian oil giant Enbridge is under investigation by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for 28 drilling fluid spills at 12 of their river crossings, totaling to more than 10,000 gallons. In a new report released by the MPCA, the agency outlines spills on dates between June 8, 2021 and August 5, 2021.

In a letter that prompted the report’s creation, 32 MN legislators asked the MPCA to “temporarily suspend the Section 401 Certification and order Enbridge to immediately halt all drilling along the Line 3 route until the state is no longer experiencing drought conditions and until a thorough investigation can be completed by your agency.”

“The severe drought and excessive heat experienced throughout Minnesota impact the ability of waterways, wetlands, and marshes to effectively dilute harmful chemicals and excessive sediment. The drought is also causing rapid evaporation of waterways and could result in a lack of clean water available to assist with any cleanup of spills and releases.”

Letter from 32 Minnesota legislators

The drilling fluid compositions at each of the spill sites were recorded in the report. In addition to water and Barakade Bentonite (a type of clay and mineral mixture), some of the sites used either one or a combination of proprietary chemical solutions such as Power Soda Ash, Sandmaster, EZ Mud Gold, and Power Pac-L.

In their report, the MPCA did not respond to the legislators’ request for the certification suspension, but MPCA Commissioner Peter Tester wrote a preamble in which he attested that drilling fluid spills are in violation of the certification: “I want to be clear that the MPCA’s 401 Water Quality Certification does not authorize any release of drilling fluid to any wetland, river or other surface water.”

The Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification was officially approved by the MPCA on November 12, 2020, and on the same day, a lawsuit was filed to appeal that decision by Red Lake Band of the Chippewa, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and Indigenous and environmental organizations. More than a year later on February 2, 2021, the Minnesota Court of Appeals denied the appeal.

Continuous fights in court to stop construction go hand-in-hand with on-the-ground action. At the Red Lake Treaty Camp, one of many Line 3 resistance communities in northern MN, water protectors fought back against the Red Lake River drilling which started shortly after the drill arrived on site on July 20, 2021.

Quiiroi (Blackfoot and Taino) and Sonny (Iñupiaq) during a demonstration at Red Lake Treaty Camp on August 3, 2021. Credit: Chris Trinh

Throughout the drilling process, water protectors from other Line 3 resistance communities joined the on-the-ground fight, including on July 29 when for the first time in the Line 3 resistance movement, chemical weapons and rubber bullets were used against water protectors.

Our video below shows some scenes courtesy of Giniw Collective from July 29, and features interviews with Sasha Beaulieu, the Red Lake Tribal Cultural Resource Monitor, and Roy Walks Through Hail, a water protector at the Red Lake Treaty Camp. (Content Advisory for video: police violence.)

Sasha Beaulieu, the Red Lake Tribal Cultural Resource Monitor, kept track of water levels and watched closely for any water contamination, as per her legal rights, but was never allowed by Enbridge, their contract workers, or law enforcement to enter the construction and drilling areas to effectively observe. Under the National Historic Preservation Act, tribal monitors are supposed to be able to supervise construction for the purposes of protecting archaeological sites.

On their website, Enbridge admits that tribal monitors have “the authority to stop construction, and ensure that important cultural resources are protected,” yet Beaulieu was prevented from doing so.

An Enbridge sign marking the drilling area at Red Lake River as an “environmentally sensitive area” and also that “Tribal Monitor required,” yet Sasha Beaulieu was never allowed onto the site.

On August 3, water protectors at the Red Lake Treaty Camp took part in ceremony as the drilling was nearing completion. A direct action took place that evening, and water protectors continued rallying near the drill site into the next day. Nineteen arrests were made. In the afternoon on August 4, the Red Lake River crossing was complete.

Enbridge says it completed its drilling for the river crossings and that construction is 80% complete on their new Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Even so, water protectors have not backed down from fights in court or fights on the ground. (The White Earth Nation filed a lawsuit on behalf of wild rice on August 5, 2021; the second “rights of nature” lawsuit ever filed in the country.)

“Water is life. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re standing here. Not only for ourselves, but for our future generations, and even the people who don’t understand, we’re here for them, too.”

Roy Walks Through Hail

Feature Image Caption: Yellow containment booms drape across the Clearwater River where a drilling fluid spill occurred. Photo taken July 24, 2021 by Chris Trinh

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