If you want to understand Enbridge, look to the top

Oct 3, 2012 by

In a post this morning we linked to another fine report by David Hasemyer at Inside Climate News. The crack team of journalists over there has been doing terrific– and invaluable– work on Enbridge and related matters for months. At the end of our post, we repeated something we’ve said often here and that we’ve heard plenty of others say as well: it didn’t have to be this way. Had Enbridge treated landowners fairly and respectfully, truthfully and consistently, with honesty and dignity they would not be facing the sort of opposition they’re facing now, a level of citizen resistance that Carl Weimer, Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, calls “extraordinary.” Speaking personally, had Enbridge dealt honestly, fairly, and respectfully with us, there would be no Line 6B Citizens’ Blog nor any of the activity that has gone along with it. If, in fact, we’ve become “activists,” we are activists of Enbridge’s own making.

All of which raises a question that continually gnaws at us: why? Why does Enbridge repeatedly act in ways that alienate stakeholders? Why behave so antagonistically? So disingenuously? So litigiously? Why try to cut corners and try to get away with things? After all, everybody knows that Enbridge is ultimately going to get their replacement pipeline; that’s never been in question. But why not just do it right and save everybody the grief, the aggravation, and (in Ken Weathers’ phrase) “the personal anxiety they have been causing people”?  

Obviously, there are probably a lot of complex answers to those questions and we certainly don’t know them all. However, we do have a pretty good general hunch: when any large organization misbehaves and acts in bad faith, it’s typically a problem with the organization’s culture. And the actions and patterns of behavior that follow from that culture can usually be traced to the top, to its leadership. And in the case of Enbridge, we’re talking about a leader who has been in place for a decade: retiring CEO Patrick Daniel.

We’ve had occasion to mention Daniel before. The reason we’re thinking about him again today is that we just read a flattering puff piece about him in an Enbridge-friendly Canadian energy industry publication. The headline is “Fighting Back” and in the article Daniel repeats some of the talking points that we’ve heard from him before, points that get picked up and repeated by other Enbridge spokespersons.

But before we get to those, let’s put this in a little bit of context. As we’ve pointed out again and again, the fundamental problem with Enbridge is that they fail to live up to their own professed values. Their actions typically do not correspond to their rhetoric. They treat everything as if it’s merely a P.R. problem. So let’s review. Among Enbridge’s stated Corporate Values are:

Integrity

  • Maintain truth in all interactions
  • Do the right thing; do not take the easy way out
  • Take accountability for our actions, without passing blame to others
  • Follow through on commitments

Respect

  • Value the contributions of others
  • Take the time to understand the perspective of others
  • Treat everyone with unfailing dignity

We have pointed out on numerous occasions some of the ways that Enbridge has failed to “live these core values as part of [its] daily activities.” So let’s measure Daniel’s recent statements against some of these values. For instance, Daniel says that

“The biggest challenge now is trying to get the general public to put into perspective our business and recognize the huge value and importance and safety of our operations.”

. . . the public, he says, seems less than willing to acknowledge that upstream of its lifestyle of mobility and consumption lies a complex web of wells and pipelines, connected to a network of refineries, chemical plants, factories and distribution hubs that makes that lifestyle possible.

What exactly is Daniel’s point here? That “the general public” just doesn’t understand how cars work? We’ve heard similar things from Joe Martucci, who is fond of reminding us–as if we somehow don’t know– that modern life is very much reliant on petroleum products. This is condescension, not treating people with “unfailing dignity.” Similarly, assuming that any reservation one might have about a new pipeline is really just a failure to recognize the value and importance of Enbridge’s operations is not “tak[ing] the time to understand the perspective of others.” It seems to us much more like “tak[ing] the easy way out” and dismissing, rather than taking seriously, legitimate concerns.

But all of that is far from the worst part of Daniel’s remarks. Even more extraordinary is what he says about Marshall and the NTSB findings:

“We made mistakes in our control room. They were honest mistakes, but the characterization used by the NTSB is completely unfair and inappropriate. Why they resorted to name-calling is beyond me,” Daniel says.

The “name-calling” that has Daniel so nonplussed is the much-publicized likening of Enbridge’s handling of the spill to the “Keystone Cops.” Daniel thinks that’s “unfair and inappropriate,” which, I suppose, is a judgment call, so we’ll let it pass (although Daniel seems awfully thin-skinned on the point to me.) The real problem here is that Daniel’s characterization of what actually happened with the Marshall spill is totally disingenuous. The whole point of the NTSB report– and it’s all there in indisputable, factual, well-documented detail– is that the actions of those in the control room were NOT “honest mistakes.” Rather, they were the result of a “culture of deviance” from established rules and procedures.

Which means that Daniel is quite clearly not “taking accountability for [his company's] actions.” If he were serious about taking accountability, he would squarely confront the fact, as the NTSB report shows, that “honest mistakes” are not what led to the Marshall spill. And having done that, he would also recognize that when you screw up as badly as Enbridge did in Marshall you’re just going to have to grit your teeth and withstand a little name calling– because you brought it on yourself and, like it or not, you’ve got it coming.

But the larger point is this: when the NTSB report demonstrates that Marshall was the result, not of “honest mistakes,” but of “systemic deficienc[ies}” and a corporate culture that habitually “accepted not adhering to… procedures,” we shouldn’t be surprised. That culture appears to be a direct reflection of a leader who, based on his recent statements, accepts not adhering to his own stated corporate values. And if the leader of the company isn’t adhering to those values, there is no reason why anyone should expect anyone else– from spokespersons to supervisors to agents in the field– to adhere to them either. The result is the mess we’ve been documenting for the past three months.

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1 Comment

  1. Tar Sands Oil Horrors

    It’s a good thing Enbridge is reading this blog, but will they ever remove their heads from the (tar) sand to actually change their practices?

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