The largest beneficiary of an Enbridge-funded account for policing Line 3 construction is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources — an agency that also regulates the controversial oil pipeline.

The DNR received $2.2 million, or 28 % of the $7.7 million that Enbridge has doled out to local and state agencies for public safety costs associated with building Line 3, according to data from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The PUC required Enbridge to fund a state-administered escrow account when it approved the company's nearly $4 billion, 340-mile pipeline across Minnesota. Pipeline opponents protested along the route for several months until Line 3 was completed in the fall.

The DNR policed the protests along with several other law enforcement agencies. But it uniquely regulates soil and water issues tied to Line 3, and Enbridge needed a permit from the DNR before it began construction.

"There is a tremendous conflict of interest," said Winona LaDuke, head of Minnesota-based Honor the Earth, an Indigenous environmental group.

"The DNR is being financed by Enbridge and yet they are there to monitor Enbridge and enforce natural resources laws," she said. "The DNR protected Enbridge, not the people of Minnesota."

In a statement, DNR Deputy Commissioner Barb Naramore said "the DNR's public safety work was done on behalf of the people of Minnesota, not Enbridge."

"At no time did the opportunity for reimbursement for our public safety work in any way influence our regulatory decisions. The DNR's permitting and public safety roles are entirely distinct, and work is done by different staff in separate divisions."

The PUC's public safety fund was aimed at protecting cities and counties from being deluged with large bills for policing the pipeline protests, which were expected after a six-year regulatory battle over Line 3.

The largest recipient of money from the Line 3 escrow account after the DNR was the Minnesota State Patrol, which received $1.5 million. According to the PUC, the next largest, in order, were the county sheriff's departments for Cass, $907,507; St. Louis, $360,623; and Aitkin, $355,393.

The fund reimburses many types of expenses. The DNR submitted a bill for $351,000 for "personal protective equipment" from toe warmers and wool clothes to "riot" chest protectors and pouches for gas masks, PUC records show.

The DNR also was reimbursed for about $870.000 in compensation to officers who responded to protests at construction sites — and another $157,000 to managers of the agency's enforcement arm.

And the DNR turned in a $715,000 bill for training its officers to handle protests.

Policing for Line 3 drew county and city police from throughout the state. Roughly 1,000 "water protectors" — as Line 3 opponents call themselves — were charged primarily with trespass, unlawful assembly and public nuisance.

Anti-pipeline groups have said the escrow fund created a public security force of sorts for Enbridge — a contention hotly denied by both the company and law enforcement agencies and the DNR.

The DNR has been under fire for months over Line 3 from environmental groups and some Ojibwe bands. Last summer, the DNR allowed Enbridge to move 5 billion gallons of water along the pipeline construction route — up from 510 million in the company's original permit.

Critics said the sheer volume of water transferred could endanger the ecosystem near the pipeline, including wild rice beds, and even more so during last summer's drought.

Pipeline opponents also criticized the DNR for apparently not discovering until June — and not publicly disclosing until September — that Enbridge crews in January 2021 had pierced an underground aquifer near Clearbrook while building the pipeline.

The DNR ordered Enbridge to pay $3.3 million and fix the damage. The company missed a deadline in October and paid an additional $40,000. At that time, regulators estimated that at least 50 million gallons of groundwater had flowed out since the accident.

Enbridge fixed the leak in January. The DNR said Friday it continues to monitor the site although it has completed its investigation of the matter.

The new pipeline replaced Enbridge's existing Line 3, which was corroded and operated at only 50% capacity for safety reasons. The new Line 3 partly follows a new route, which environmental groups and Ojibwe tribes say opened another region of Minnesota's lakes, rivers and streams to contamination from oil spills.