Forgive us for this morning’s flurry; it’s just that the latest media effort featuring a couple of Enbridge heavy-hitters—Stephen Wuori, the president of the Liquids Pipelines Division, and Thomas Hodge, Line 6B Project Manager— have got us all on fire. We’ve already discussed Hodge’s dismissive characterization of landowner displeasure (twice now). But we’ve yet to take a look at Wuori’s comments. Partly that’s because the Lansing State Journal doesn’t quote him at all.
In retrospect, that may have been a good idea, because when Wuori does speak (to the Daily Press & Argus) it does not go well. This is what Wuori says about Marshall:
Wuori said the 2010 oil spill has been unfairly represented in the press, namely claims that Enbridge had knowledge of how to prevent the spill but didn’t act on it.
Wuori said the spill was caused by a series of cracks in that section of Line 6B, and that company officials did not have prior knowledge that line break would occur.
This is extraordinary. Two years later and top executives from Enbridge are STILL, as our friend Susan Connolly pointed out yesterday, unwilling to take full responsibility for Marshall? They’re still portraying themselves as victims of unfair treatment by the press? Even if what Wuori says here were true (and we’re getting to that), how can he not recognize that this sort of self-presentation is a very poor way to try and win people over?
But let’s get to the facts. Wuori appears not to have read the NTSB report. We don’t know what “claims that Enbridge had knowledge of how to prevent the spill” he’s talking about, exactly. But we do know what the NTSB says about Enbridge’s knowledge of the series of cracks that eventually caused the pipe to rupture. Let’s review:
Among the NTSB’s most important findings was:
The inadequacy of Enbridge’s integrity management program to accurately assess and remediate crack defects. Enbridge’s crack management program relied on a single in-line inspection technology to identify and estimate crack sizes. Enbridge used the resulting inspection reports to perform engineering assessments without accounting for uncertainties associated with the data, tool, or interactions between cracks and corrosion. A 2005 Enbridge engineering assessment and the company’s criteria for excavation and repair showed that six crack-like defects ranging in length from 9.3 to 51.6 inches were left in the pipeline, unrepaired, until the July 2010 rupture.
In other words, in contradiction to Wuori’s claim, Enbridge DID have knowledge of serious “crack-like defects” in the pipe, the very defects that caused the rupture. Yet they failed to repair them– for FIVE years.
Again, the NTSB:
The Enbridge crack management plan operated under the premise that defects in an aging pipeline with disbonded coating could be managed using a single in-line inspection technology and that prioritization of crack defects for excavation and remediation could be effectively managed through engineering assessments based strictly on the crack tool inspection data.
The program did not account for errors associated with in-line inspections and the interaction of multiple defects on a pipeline. The 51.6-inch-long crack-like feature that eventually led to the Line 6B rupture was one of six features that had been detected on the ruptured segment during an in-line inspection conducted by Enbridge’s integrity management program in 2005. Non-detection and improper classification of the defect are inherent risks when relying solely on in-line inspection data to ensure the integrity of the pipeline, yet for nearly 5 years following the inspection, the integrity management program failed to identify the 51.6-inch crack feature located adjacent to the weld as a threat to the pipeline.
And here are a few more of the NTSB’s findings about Enbridge’s failure to adequately address the crack issue:
Enbridge applied a lower margin of safety when assessing crack defects versus when assessing corrosion defects.
In 2005, Enbridge had no procedure that accounted for the interaction between corrosion and cracking and the potential influence on crack depth reporting.
Enbridge did not have a procedure to account for wall loss due to corrosion when it was evaluating the in-line inspection crack-tool-reported data and was preparing the excavation list.
Enbridge integrity management did not adequately address the effects of a corrosive environment on crack growth rates.
Enbridge’s crack management program and reinspection interval selection is inadequate because it fails to consider all potential crack growth mechanisms that are prevalent in its pipeline.
And this is just a small taste. We encourage you to read it for yourself. Oh, and none of this even addresses the actions of Enbridge following the rupture, like the way they ignored their own safety protocols.
So, did Enbridge “company officials have prior knowledge that line break would occur”? Well, Wuori’s way of putting it suggests that they couldn’t have had a crystal ball– and that’s probably true. So no, maybe they didn’t “know that line break would occur.” But, did company officials know (for five years) that there were serious defects in the pipe? Yes, they did. And did they also know that such defects could, possibly, lead to line break? Certainly. Yet, according to the NTSB, they chose not to take steps necessary to prevent it. These aren’t mere representations in the press; these are the facts discovered by an exhaustive investigation conducted by a federal agency.
You may have noticed in the last couple of days that Enbridge executives have been very chatty– with some newspaper editorial boards: first, the Lansing State Journal and then the Livingston Press & Daily Argus. This is a very curious turn of events and we’re curious to know how these meetings came about. We suspect that Enbridge initiated them as a kind of extension of the PR campaign they launched with those bizarre Free Press ads (we know that we still owe you all an analysis of the last one; it’s coming…). And, as Katy pointed out in a comment a couple of days ago, we also suspect that it’s because Wuori and Hodge were in town to bend the ear of the governor as he prepared to announce his new energy plan.
Whatever the case, we find ourselves pretty appalled by the things Wuori and Hodge have been saying– even though it’s mostly stuff we’ve heard before. Hodge, for instance, continues to find ways to dismiss legitimate landowner concerns, portraying those who have spoken out as an impossible-to-please tiny fringe element. Aside from the fact that this is yet another example of Enbridge’s unwillingness to take landowner concerns seriously, we crunched some numbers yesterday (unscientifically, we admit) that suggest the number of disaffected landowners is far greater than Hodge would have you believe.
Yet he persists. This is what he told that Daily Press & Argus this week:
Hodge said the majority of landowners in the project area have not complained about the project, but some living within feet of pipeline easement have had to contend with large machinery nearby their homes.
“There is a small minority that I think you hear the most from in the press and on the radio, and they’re making the loudest noise about the way they’ve been treated. Most of those, I believe, are residents who are affected most adversely by this project,” Hodge said.
It is probably true that “the majority of landowners have not complained.” But that’s hardly the point. Is that what matters to Enbridge? A simple majority? Is their goal to reach amicable agreements with 51 percent of landowners? In fact, what is their goal? Do they consider it a successful project if they only alienate one-quarter of landowners?
Furthermore, what is the point of Hodge’s statement that the “small minority” “making the loudest noise” are “residents… affected most adversely by this project”? Wouldn’t you think that those affected most adversely would be the people Enbridge would work hardest to treat fairly– just out of simple decency? Yet Hodge seems to think of them as little more than wartime casualties. We also can’t help but add that we are certain that we are NOT among those most adversely affected by this project, even though we are among those making the loudest noise. So Hodge’s statement is not even true. He would know that if he ever bothered to actually talk with some of us.
As frustrating as Hodge’s remarks are, however, they may well be outdone by the astonishing things his boss Stephen Wuori has to say. We’ll make those remarks the topic of a separate post– because shedding light on them is going to take some serious doing.
Oh, boy. Stuff’s happening. Which means we’ve got a lot to write about. Not least, we need to bring some much-needed perspective to the latest remarks from Enbridge’s new PR duo Stephen Wuori and Thomas Hodge. They say some things to the Livingston Daily Press & Argus that almost curled our hair. More on that this morning.
We also finally received a gracious and reasonably detailed reply from Enbridge’s Terri Larson to our question about features of the new pipeline that exceed federal regulations. She promised answers and she got them to us– which is much more than Tom Hodge can say. So we are very much appreciative to Terri for these efforts. Unlike with Hodge, knowing the ins and outs of the projects technical specifications ins’t really her job. Anyway, we’re scrutinizing her response and seeking input from some of our smart friends who know a lot more about this than we do. Stay tuned for more on that.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s also news out of Brandon Tonwship. We attended a meeting at the township offices last night. Well, it was a closed session meeting, so we sat in an empty room chatting with Jeff Axt. Our hope was that the board would emerge and renew their resolution to take whatever legal steps necessary to enforce Township ordinances and Michigan state laws. However, this is a new board and, as we sort of expected, they’re playing it a bit cautious. So instead of either joining or intervening in the POLAR suit, now in state court, they’re going to have a meeting with Enbridge– again (sigh!).
That meeting is scheduled for this Monday, Dec. 3. We will, of course, be there. But we mentioned to the new board last night that while a meeting is theoretically a good thing, the Township has been down this road before (as have we, in a myriad of ways). Based on that experience, what will happen is fairly predictable: Enbridge will show up, smile, talk about working together and being good neighbors; they’ll say lots of pleasing-sounding things; they’ll try and make it look like they really do want to work with the Township; they’ll also patronize and condescend (because they can’t help it)– and then they’ll leave and continue to try and do whatever it is they want. In fact, what’s so irksome about these “meetings” is that even if we were to believe that they are good-faith efforts on the part of Enbridge to work something out with Brandon, the fact is that they are treating local ordinances and state laws as if they are things that can be negotiated. And that in itself is offensive.
Well, the Wuori-Hodge road show/media blitz continues. My goodness how they’re accessible to the media these days. We wonder why? And as you can imagine, we’ve got LOTS to say about this one. We’re working on it. Meantime, we’ll just say that we sure wish these guys would sit down for some questions from OUR editorial board.
We’ve been doing a little math.
You see, we were more than a little flummoxed by yesterday’s article in the Lansing State Journal— the one where “Enbridge executives address local homeowner opposition.” There’s a lot that’s baffling about the article: Why are Enbridge executives talking to the paper’s editorial board? Why all of a sudden does Tom Hodge appear to be taking the role of spokesperson? Why did Stephen Wuori emerge out of nowhere? Why doesn’t he have anything to say in the article? And most baffling of all, as our friend Donna Taylor has pointed out, why aren’t these two talking to directly to landowners themselves instead of to a newspaper in Lansing? Wouldn’t that be a more appropriate way to “address” our concerns?
But of course, they aren’t really addressing our concerns. Instead, they are addressing what they would prefer to describe as “opposition”– taking a page out of Larry Springer’s book and pretending (or insinuating) that all of us who are speaking out “oppose” the project, even though, as we’ve said over and over and over, we do not oppose the project. We simply object to the ways Enbridge has conducted itself throughout the project, to the way it has flouted local and state ordinances and laws, to the way it has treated landowners.
So how do these execs “address” this “opposition”? Well, here is Project Manager Thomas Hodge, who we thought was a straight shooter (oh, how naive we were back in September!):
Thomas Hodge, the head of Line 6B replacement project, said he’s never seen the kind of organized homeowner resistance that the company has faced here in Michigan, likely because of simmering distrust over 2010 spill.
“I’ve been in the pipeline business for close to 30 years,” Hodge said. “I’ve never seen the scrutiny, the level of concern or the organized opposition as we’ve faced in getting this pipeline replaced.”
Now, it is almost certainly true that much of the scrutiny this project has received is attributable to “simmering distrust” over Marshall, though it’s not clear whether Hodge recognizes or would concede that such distrust is entirely unsurprising, totally warranted, and completely reasonable. But what is equally true is that that is only one of many reasons why this project has received such scrutiny and caused such a high level of concern. This blog has been devoted to explaining the myriad reasons why landowners are– and should be– deeply concerned, why we continue to have trouble trusting Enbridge.
A ramble through our archives will provide plenty of specific examples of those reason. For now, we’ll give just one. It’s one we’ve mentioned over and over and over. More than two months ago, Thomas Hodge looked Supervisor Kathy Thurman and the other Brandon trustees right in the eyes and promised, like a good neighbor, to get them answers to a handful of perfectly reasonable questions. To date, he has still not gotten them answers. Does that sort of action foster trust? neighborliness? respect? honest communication?
Which gets us closer to the math. We got pretty worked up when we read this:
Most homeowners agreed to the company’s compensation offers for the land or for restoration of damaged property, but more than 70 in Ingham and Livingston counties refused for various reasons. Enbridge took those homeowners to court through a process called condemnation to force them to give up their land.
Hodge said some homeowners were never going to be happy with the company’s offer, no matter what Enbridge did.
“We will do everything we can to work with individual homeowners, as long as they’ll talk to us and let us on the property to tell them what work space we need,” he said.
This is the sort of thing we’ve heard from Enbridge reps before. One of their favorite tactics is to pretend that anyone who expresses any sort of concern is unreasonable, “a special interest group,” someone who is “never going to be happy” After all, those sorts of people are much easier to dismiss. And further, those folks are just a fringe element, unlike “most homeowners” who aren’t unreasonable troublemakers. (And we have to say, it is deeply disappointing to hear Tom Hodge playing this card.)
Even worse, Hodge seems to think– or so he would have readers of the Lansing State Journal believe– that there’s a bunch of landowners out there who are simply refusing to allow Enbridge to come and talk with them. Maybe he even really believes this. Whatever the case, here is something we believe: we believe that Thomas Hodge doesn’t have the faintest idea of what goes on in private negotiations between landowners and ROW agents. If he did– and if he were willing to take landowners seriously, rather than dismissing them, and if he were willing to take a cold, sober look at those agents’ practices and tactics– he might well experience a genuine awakening. He might come away with a very different picture of the relations his company cultivates with landowners.
That picture comes into focus with a little math. Here’s what we did: we went to the MPSC and found the list of homeowners to whom Enbridge sent the original MPSC “Notice of Hearing” on phase one. This is the list of potentially affected landowners along the pipeline route. We then counted up the number of those landowners who live in Livingston and Ingham counties. That total, according to our search, is 317. Of those 317, according to the newspaper article, 70 landowners were taken to condemnation by Enbridge. That’s 22 percent of landowners– a very high number in our view. That percentage is even higher when you consider that a significant number of the homeowners on the list aren’t actually affected at all by the project– there’s no easement of workspace on their property; they’re just close by (like our next-door neighbors). So let’s say, conservatively, that that’s 10 percent of the list. That gets us to 25 percent of landowners who were taken to condemnation. So is Tom Hodge saying that a full one-quarter of the people on the pipeline route in Livingston and Ingham counties are just unreasonable, are people who will never be happy with Enbridge no matter what? Is that really his view of the good people of the state of Michigan?
And what happens if we add to this number all of the people (like ourselves) who are mightily displeased by the way Enbridge has treated them personally and conducted itself publicly? People who reached agreements but who are nevertheless unhappy. How high would the percentage of dissatisfied landowners then be? Enbridge’s portrait of “most” landowners might well begin to look very different.