Enbridge admits it breached aquifer in Line 3 construction, will pay fine and perform environmental restoration

Attorney General Ellison files criminal charge for aquifer breach against Enbridge, along with diversion agreement contingent on Enbridge not breaking law again and fulfilling all terms of settlement; Clearwater County Attorney referred case to Attorney General for criminal prosecution

Misdemeanor charge for appropriating waters without permit is only criminal charge available under current Minnesota law; settlement terms are greater than State could have won at trial

October 17, 2022 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership, the owner and operator of the Line 3 Replacement Project in northern Minnesota, has admitted that in January 2021, it breached a confined aquifer in Clearwater County in the course of building Line 3 that led to an uncontrolled flow of groundwater. Enbridge has further admitted that it understood or should have understood that the aquifer breach resulted from its construction activity, and that it delayed notifying the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about the breach as required. 

Enbridge’s admission comes in the context of Attorney General Ellison filing one misdemeanor count against Enbridge in Clearwater County District Court for appropriating state waters without a permit through construction. This is the only criminal charge available under current Minnesota law for the acts the State alleges in its charge. Attorney General Ellison’s office undertook review of this case when the Clearwater County Attorney, who had original criminal jurisdiction over it, referred it the Attorney General’s office for review. Minnesota Statutes 8.01 provides that a county attorney may refer a criminal case to the Attorney General for review, charging, and prosecution. 

Along with the criminal charge, Attorney General Ellison has entered into a diversion agreement, in the form of continuance for dismissal of the charge, in which the State and Enbridge agree that in exchange for Enbridge’s admission of the facts around the aquifer breach, paying a fine of $1,000 — the maximum fine available under the law — and agreeing to remain law-abiding and not further break the law, the charge will be dismissed after one year. In addition, and even though not required under the law, Enbridge agrees to perform a community service project by funding up to $60,000 for fen restoration in Marshall and Polk Counties.  

The terms of the diversion agreement are greater than the State could have won if Enbridge had been convicted of the misdemeanor charge at trial. 

Copies of the criminal complaint and diversion agreement will be available when the court has opened the docket with a case file number, which the State anticipates will happen later today. 

The filing of the criminal charge and agreement with Enbridge comes in the context of other agreements with Enbridge that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa announced today in which Enbridge agrees to make cash payments, pay penalties, fund environmental restoration and monitoring, and provide financial assurances worth more than $11 million. 

“The facts that Enbridge admits today about its breach of the aquifer constitute in the State’s view a criminal violation of the law. Corporations rarely admit facts that constitute a violation of criminal law. Unless and until the Legislature changes the law, a misdemeanor is the only charge against Enbridge the State can support with probable cause under current state law. I am pleased that the agreement we have reached with Enbridge is greater than any penalty we could have won against Enbridge at trial,” Attorney General Ellison said. 

“Today’s resolution of the criminal charge I filed against Enbridge, coupled with the other settlements the State has reached, constitute an important step forward in holding Enbridge accountable for the damage it caused to Minnesota’s water and environment, and for restoring that damage.” 

“The Clearwater County Attorney’s Office would like to thank Attorney General Ellison and his staff for their dedication and hard work on this complex case,” Clearwater County Attorney Kathryn Lorsbach said.