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Kentucky pipeline explosion prompts 'dark memories' for Lheidi T'enneh

Lheidli T'enneh First Nation Chief Clay Pountney says the pipeline explosion in the United States has strengthened the band's resolve to pursue its lawsuit against Enbridge Inc.
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In this Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019 photo provided by Naomi Hayes, a fire burns after an explosion near Junction City, Ky. A regional gas pipeline ruptured early Thursday in Kentucky, causing a massive explosion that killed one person, hospitalized five others, destroyed railroad tracks and forced the evacuation of a nearby mobile home park, authorities said. (Naomi Hayes via AP)

Lheidli T'enneh First Nation Chief Clay Pountney says the pipeline explosion in the United States has strengthened the band's resolve to pursue its lawsuit against Enbridge Inc. following the rupture and blast last October just north of the boundary for LTFN's Shelley reserve.

One person was killed and five sent to hospital as a result of the fiery incident Thursday in Junction City, Kentucky. It also damaged structures within 450 metres, including destroying at least five homes and railroad tracks and forcing the evacuation of a nearby mobile home park, authorities said.

No one was injured in the incident here but it left some Lheidli members with heightened anxiety. Some still grow fearful at the sound of loud noises, according to the band.

"Today's pipeline explosion in Kentucky has brought back many dark memories for some of our members who are still dealing with the impacts of last October's explosion near our Northside neighbourhood," Pountney said in a statement issued Thursday evening.

In February, the LTFN launched a lawsuit against Enbridge, alleging in part that the explosion and its aftermath have "caused serious and constant distress and anguish within the Lheidli T'enneh community."

The LTFN also claims the pipeline trespasses on its territory, saying Enbridge never adequately consulted the band over its construction and failed to consult with the band prior to bringing it back into operation.

In a response, Enbridge has denied the allegations.

"Today's incident also raises additional questions about the integrity of older pipelines across North America and just how safe they are," Pountney said.

"Our lawsuit launched against Enbridge in late February this year was based on the poor response by Enbridge to the impacts of the explosion on our territory and around the question about how safe is the rest of their pipelines that run through our territory.

"Today's unfortunate incident in Kentucky has only given us more resolve to pursue these matters through the courts."

In a response, an Enbridge spokesperson said that in general practice, the company does not comment on matters that are in litigation.

However, the spokesperson said that following the incident last October, steps were taken to avoid a repeat. They included lowering the pipeline's operating pressure and increasing the number of inspections.

"By November 2019, we will have nearly doubled the number of dig inspections undertaken in a typical maintenance year," the spokesperson said. "This work goes well beyond the industry standard in terms of comprehensiveness."

On Friday, Endbridge CEO Al Monaco said in a news release that he is "deeply saddened" by the death in the incident involving the company's Texas Eastern natural gas pipeline. He also said the pipeline will not go back into service until it is "absolutely safe to do so."

Pountney also said he sent thoughts and prayers on behalf of all Lheidli members to the families of those killed and injured after learning about the gas pipeline explosion today in Kentucky.

- with files from The Canadian Press