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New risk to be considered in Great Lakes Tunnel permitting process


In testimony before the Michigan Public Service Commision (MPSC), a veteran in the oil and gas industry claimed that housing Line 5 in an underground tunnel poses a risk of explosion.

On Thursday, Enbridge tried to strike that portion of testimony from the legal record but was denied by Administrative Law Judge Dennis Mack.

Engineers with Enbridge and the MPSC have said that any risk of a spill in the Straits of Mackinac from the proposed tunnel is “negligible” and “unquantifiably low.” But attorneys representing Bay Mills Indian Community brought a witness before the commission who challenged that claim.

Richard Kuprewicz has a long career in pipeline safety and design. In his written testimony, he claims the high pressure conditions in an underground tunnel and the flammability of Line 5’s product do pose some risk of explosion. Kuprewicz argues that risk is not “negligible.”

At a virtual hearing Thursday, Enbridge attorney Michael Ashton said the testimony is part of an unfair legal strategy by Bay Mills’ attorneys.

“They made a tactical decision to spring this new theory late in the case…We really want to avoid any delays in the schedule; this case has lingered for far too long,” Ashton said, referencing the nearly 20 months since Bay Mills Indian Community intervened in Enbridge’s permitting process with the MPSC.

“There is no risk of explosion,” Ashton said. “It’s simply not true. It’s completely fear-mongering to sabotage a project that’s important to the state.”

Attorneys with Earthjustice, a nonprofit organization, are representing Bay Mills in the proceedings. They say they’re not concerned with the length of the case, and that Enbridge should welcome a thorough process if it’s sure of the tunnel project’s safety.

“If Enbridge feels so confident that this is a project that’s going to protect the Great Lakes, it should welcome a rigorous review,” said Debbie Chizewer, managing attorney for Earthjustice.

Cross-examination of witnesses took place on Friday, and the parties will file post-hearing briefs in February.

The MPSC is expected to make decisions on its permits for the tunnel project this summer, though proceedings could be impacted by ongoing lawsuits between Enbridge and the State of Michigan.

Patrick Shea was a natural resources reporter at Interlochen Public Radio. Before joining IPR, he worked a variety of jobs in conservation, forestry, prescribed fire and trail work. He earned a degree in natural resources from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, and his interest in reporting grew as he studied environmental journalism at the University of Montana's graduate school.