As Wisconsin DNR sets horizontal directional drilling standards, Minnesota still suffering from HDD use on Line 3

November 19, 2022

On November 14, Wisconsin Land+Water, a member of the Wisconsin Standards Oversight Council, hosted a training webinar to explain the new technical standards of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) recently adopted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Enbridge Energy plans to use HDD for the construction of their proposed Line 5 reroute through the Bad River Watershed in northern Wisconsin.

The purpose of the technical standard is to implement performance standards into the Wisconsin Administrative Code to protect water resources from pollutants transported by runoff from HDD. This is of particular concern for Enbridge Line 5, being proposed to run through the water-rich Penokee Hills, which drain into the Kakagon Sloughs on the shore of Lake Superior and into the lake itself. The 10,000 acres of internationally recognized wetlands are home to the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and their wild rice beds. Enbridge is proposing Michels Pipeline build Line 5 through these sensitive wetlands.

Meanwhile, in northern Minnesota, independent volunteer citizen monitors Waadookawaad Amikwag (Those Who Help Beaver) used drones to document violations and inadequate adherence to water standards on the part of Enbridge during the construction of Enbridge Line 3, also employing Michels Pipeline. According to documentation, Enbridge failed at 63% of the river crossings in Minnesota on the Line 3 project.

Over the past year, the science group has been monitoring the ecological devastation caused by construction of the Line 3 pipeline and discovering harms well beyond those being reported by regulatory agencies or the company. They have been calling on state and federal agencies to join them in adequately monitoring the harms, and for those findings to inform the permitting decisions on proposed Enbridge pipeline projects like Line 5.

On October 17, 2022, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed criminal charges against Enbridge in Clearwater County District Court for using state waters without a permit. On that same day, an agreement was reached on penalties, with Enbridge paying $11 million to various Minnesota regulators and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for the damaged they caused.

Tim Michels is also tied to criminal charges against Energy Transfer Partners in Pennsylvania. Investigation revealed that Michels had lost drilling fluid 22 different times during the drilling of the 20-inch line and another nine times during work on the 16-inch line. The volume of fluid lost totaled close to 3 million gallons.

Below are Waadookawaad Amikwag’s detailed findings on the true ecological harms happening from Line 3 pipeline construction near the headwaters of the Mississippi:

If these performance standards are to protect Wisconsin’s water resources from pollutants transported by runoff from HDD, then clearly no permit should be issued for Line 5. Enbridge continues to demonstrate the danger they pose.


Only 41 monitors for the entire Line 3 project to cover over 320 miles and 200 waterbody crossings was woefully inadequate. The pipeline operations work around the clock, even when environmental monitors weren’t there.

The reporting time for an inadvertent release” (IR) on Line 3 was 30 days.

Many frack-outs never got reported unless they were documented by independent monitors using drones at HDD sites.

Enbridge and Michels Pipeline took six months to report the Clearbrook Aquifer breach, but it took Turny to report the incident to the Minnesota DNR.

Enbridge hired ERM to conduct environmental monitoring of Line 3. ERM hired and trained additional monitors. Of the 41 total for Line 3, 17 were former Enbridge employees or contractors, creating oversight conflict of interest.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MNPCA) never sampled at any of the 27 reported frac-out sites, saying that the harmful additives had already been approved for the project. However, for Haliburton’s POWERPAC-L, the Material Safety Data Sheets says to scoop and remove all material and that it should NEVER enter a waterway, sewer, or low area. Enbridge pumped the aquifers full of this chemical, resulting in a massive fish kill at the Mississippi River after the July 15-30 frac-outs. 

The amount of drilling mud and stormwater runoff needs to be tracked. When independent monitors asked for this information in conversations with the DNR/MPCA/AG/Senators over the past two years, Enbridge claims that they never had to track these amounts.

The cleanup plans are severely inadequate and don’t protect the environment. When Enbridge used HDD and pierced an aquifer, they literally pumped thousands of gallons of drilling mud with additives into the water. The aquifer has now been contaminated with additives like soda ash, with a pH of 12, or the two proprietary additives that aren’t identified on the Material Safety Data Sheets. 

The Mississippi River site near the headwaters, known as MSR1, suffered numerous frac-outs. Independent monitors documented six frac-outs, but only two were reported to the MNPCA. Water samples had a pH of 9 in some areas at MSR1, also very high turbidity, high conductivity, and a chemical petroleum-based sheen many miles downriver. These chemicals were documented in wild rice beds 14 miles downriver from MSR1.

There weren’t tribal/treaty environmental monitors visible or on sight, even though they claimed they hired some from Fond du Lac. Enbridge paid off the Tribe in 2018, then used FDL’s so-called “tribal monitor” sign at HDD locations, but a tribal monitor was never seen. In most cases, Turney is the only tribal/treaty monitor at these HDD locations. 

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2 Comments on “As Wisconsin DNR sets horizontal directional drilling standards, Minnesota still suffering from HDD use on Line 3”

  1. JamiG4 November 20, 2022 at 7:08 pm #

    This is EXCELLENT reporting. Appreciate you making a complex topic very approachable for anyone to comprehend.
    And for sharing the reality of on-the-ground experience here in Minnesota on Line 3.

  2. Maggie Cashman November 21, 2022 at 11:59 am #

    Shouldn’t the date for comments be 2023 ?

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