The state of Michigan has scrapped a risk study on Enbridge’s Line 5 and fired the contractor just a week before a first draft of the report was to be released.
The state Department of Environmental Quality said a conflict of interest on the part of one of the researchers called the independence of the study into question.
The DEQ’s Melody Kindraka says the researcher was working simultaneously on the Line 5 study and a project for Enbridge. The study was supposed to analyze the risks posed by the oil and gas pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. She says it’s not clear how this will effect decisions on the future of Line 5.
“The independence and the integrity of this report is of the upmost importance to us, and that is why we wanted to move forward with the termination, so there would be not be any appearance of conflict,” she said. “We will have to re-assess our plans moving forward.”
Kindraka says there’s no decision yet on whether to re-bid the project. She says that will likely wait until after the release next week of a draft report on alternatives to Line 5 and a public comment period.
Environmental groups generally applauded the state for acting on the potential conflict, but said that should not delay a decision on Line 5 by a state commission.
“There’s enough to say to me that this pipeline needs to be shut down until we can actually prove that it’s safe,” said Lisa Wozniak of Clean Water Action. “We cannot wait too much longer about the fate of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline.”
Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council says the state should still release the draft report.
“This will enable Michigan residents to trust that the contract was terminated only because of the conflict of interest, and not because of anything in the report,” he said.
But Kindraka says the report remains the property of the contractor, Det Norske Veritas. That’s because the state terminated the contract before the report was turned over to the state. She also said it’s not known if the state owes the contractor any money.
Enbridge also released a statement:
"Enbridge is disappointed to learn of these developments with one of the State’s independent contractors. It is important this process is independent and without conflict. We support the State’s actions. We, too, are investigating what may have happened in the contracting process. "
DISCLOSURE: Enbridge Energy is a financial supporter of Michigan Radio.