Natural Resource Damage Assessment

Grey Cloud Scientific and Natural AreaWhen oil or other hazardous substances are released into the environment and harm wildlife, water, air, or other natural resources — including the benefits they provide — the state is authorized to seek compensation from the responsible parties to restore what was lost. A Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) may be initiated after significant environmental harm.

The MPCA and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) serve as co-trustees of the natural resources in Minnesota. In the NRDA process, the MPCA assesses the environmental harm and develops the claim to hold responsible parties accountable, and the DNR oversees restoration planning and implementation. If federal or Tribal natural resources are involved, a trustee council is established to coordinate assessment and restoration activities.

The process for the NRDA includes:

  • Conducting assessments — Identify, and quantify harm to natural resources or loss of public service/benefit
  • Seeking compensation — Ensure responsible parties pay the cost of assessing and restoring the resources
  • Implementing restoration — Restore, rehabilitate, or replace natural resources

NRDA cases in Minnesota

Open cases

St. Louis River U.S. Steel site

St. Regis Paper

Settled cases

  • 3M settlement — Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from several 3M disposal sites have contaminated groundwater and harmed natural resources in the eastern Twin Cities metro area. Settlement: The $850 million settlement is being used to ensure safe drinking water for area residents and to restore natural resources.
  • St. Louis River Interlake/Duluth Tar site — A former steel plant in Duluth released coal tar and contamination for 70 years onto adjacent land and to the river. Settlement: The $8.2 million in settlement funds are being used to restore the adjacent bay and tributary creek, install cultural education signs on a public trail, and for wild rice restoration.
  • Pinewood Enbridge spill (National Crude Oil Spill Research Site) — In 1979, a crude oil pipeline burst near Pinewood in Beltrami County, spewing about 449,000 gallons (10,000 barrels) of crude oil into the air and covering an area the size of a football field. The crude oil pooled in three separate areas and eventually seeped into the groundwater. After cleanup efforts in 1980, much of the oil remained unrecoverable on the site. Settlement: The site was established as the National Crude Oil Spill Research Site. Enbridge agreed to provide long-term water-quality monitoring, annual reports, and $450,000 in research funding for the site.
  • Arrowhead Refinery —  From 1961 to 1977, Arrowhead Refinery's waste oil recycling business in Hermantown improperly disposed of toxic sludge and wastewater on the site, which contaminated the soil and groundwater. Settlement: The company paid $91,000 to the state and $62,400 to federal trustees. The state funds restored 30 acres of white cedar forest in Gooseberry Falls State Park and fenced in two five-acre plots at Tettegouche State Park, to protect cedar trees from deer.
  • Ashland Northwest Refinery — A refinery operated in New Brighton, adjacent to Long Lake Regional Park, from 1941 to 1964. Petroleum and other compounds were released to the soil, groundwater, and nearby wetlands. Settlement: $100,000. Restoration planning is in progress.
  • Conoco Refinery — In 25 years of operations, the refinery in Wrenshall spilled or leaked petroleum and other compounds into the soil and contaminated groundwater. Settlement: The $63,000 settlement will be used to build and connect trails for public use.
  • Newport Terminal Corporation — This bulk transfer and storage terminal for gasoline and diesel fuel is located along the Mississippi River in Newport. Petroleum and other compounds contaminated soil and groundwater. Settlement: The company paid $55,000 to the City of Newport for the North Ravine Stormwater Project, to control stormwater and improve water quality in the Mississippi.
  • Magellan site — The Magellan terminal in Mankato stored and distributed petroleum products such as fuel oil, ethanol, diesel, biodiesel, petroleum additives, and gasoline. From 1984 to 1989, an estimated 20,000 gallons of petroleum products were spilled on the site, affecting soils, groundwater, and the adjacent Minnesota River. Settlement: The company paid $49,000, which was used to seal 16 abandoned wells in Blue Earth County, reducing potential groundwater contamination.
  • Burlington Northern Sante Fe spill — In 2011, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailed in Fridley, rupturing a locomotive's fuel tanks and spilling 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel into Rice Creek. Settlement: The $10,000 settlement was used to create a rain garden in Locke County Park, which will reduce stormwater runoff to and lessen phosphorus and sediment pollution in Rice Creek.
  • Marathon Petroleum Refinery — In 2007, a 10,000-barrel crude-oil tank caught fire at the St. Paul Park refinery, causing localized air pollution. Settlement: Marathon Petroleum paid $10,000 to retrofit diesel-powered school buses with pollution-reducing equipment for a Washington County school district.
  • Clearbrook Enbridge spill — In 2007, about 13,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline near Clearbook, resulting in an explosion and fire that released air pollution; the spill also contaminated wetlands. Settlement: Enbridge spent $10,000 to retrofit the pollution control equipment on two heavy-duty trucks for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, to reduce the trucks' tailpipe emissions.
  • Cohasset Enbridge spill — In 2002, a pipeline released more than 250,000 gallons of crude oil into a peat wetland area and a tributary to the Mississippi River, in Itasca County. The spill destroyed 11 acres of wetlands that served as habitat for migratory birds. Settlement: Enbridge did restoration work in the Leech Lake River floodplain in the Chippewa National Forest, restored 30 acres of migratory bird habitat, and retrofitted 10 Tribal school buses to reduce air pollution emissions.
  • Ashland Refineries in Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park — The sites were used as a tank farm, for wood treatment, and for disposing petroleum refinery wastes, beginning in 1938. The pollution migrated to the Mississippi River and into groundwater. Settlement: The company gave the state a 270-acre site as compensation, and it's been designated the Grey Cloud Scientific and Natural Area due to rare features not usually found in Minnesota.
  • Mill's Fleet Farm spill — In 2013, about 3,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from an underground storage tank at Mills Fleet Farm’s filling station in Oakdale into a storm sewer and then into a nearby wetland. Settlement: To offset the wetland damage, Fleet Farm's parent company purchased a $6,250 wetland credit from the Minnesota Wetland Bank.
  • Bison Transport spill — In 2013, a Bison Transport semi-truck rolled into a ditch on Highway 61 outside Little Marais in Lake County, spilling 80 gallons of diesel fuel. Some oil flowed into Lake Superior. Settlement: $1,923. Restoration planning is in progress.
  • Waconia Transport spill — In 2011, a tanker truck accident spilled approximately 2,000 gallons of gasoline in a parking lot in New Market. The gas flowed through a storm sewer and into a creek and wetland, killing fish and other wildlife. Settlement: $1,600. Restoration planning is in progress.
  • Northern States Power spill — In 2013, a power plant in Bayport released 300 gallons of sodium hypochlorite into holding ponds connected to the St. Croix River, killing more than 700 fish. Settlement: $870.20. Restoration planning is in progress.

Closed landfill NRDA settlement

In 1994, the Minnesota Legislature formed the Closed Landfill Program to help manage closed landfills in the state. Previously the state used Superfund programs to address pollution issues at closed landfills, but the process was cumbersome and inefficient.

In 1995, the State of Minnesota settled with 56 insurance companies for nearly $100 million, as part of transferring liability on the closed landfills to the state. The Natural Resources Damage Assessment received about $9.4 million of the settlement for restoration activities.

Since 2005, the settlement has funded 24 habitat restoration and land acquisition projects totaling 1,328 acres. The money has paid for establishing native vegetation, removing invasive species, cleaning up contaminated soils, and protecting significant natural areas.