PS Trust Report, Part 1

Nov 10, 2012 by

In lots of ways, the Pipeline Safety Trust conference was a humbling experience. It didn’t take long– about a minute into Carl Weimer’s opening remarks, in fact– to realize just how little we know compared to all the smart, knowledgeable people in our midst. We learned a great deal and came away with so much to think about. Fortunately, the PS Trust has made it possible to go back and revisit things with their terrific webcast– available here.

We need to mention one little unfortunate note about the webcast, however: the best session of the conference (in our view)– the Environmental panel featuring Beth Wallace, Anthony Swift, and Gabe Scott– wasn’t filmed. We have a hunch as to why (it’s no fault of PS Trust’s!) and will discuss it in another installment in the series, one devoted entirely to that panel. Yes, that’s a teaser.

For our first installment, however, we’re going to talk just a little bit about ourselves, begging forgiveness. If you missed our presentation, you can still watch it here. (And don’t neglect our fellow panelists Emily Krafjack and Bonnie and Jon Kruse– they were excellent. To regular readers of this blog, there wasn’t a great deal that was new in our talk and so we’re not going to rehash it. Instead, we want to say a few words about the aftermath:

More than a few people approached us afterwards– that afternoon and evening and the next day. Precisely who approached us and why, we think, is quite telling. Here’s a rundown of some of the folks who found what we had to say useful or thought-provoking:

  • Francisco Salguero, Executive Manager at Pacific Gas and Electric. Francisco deals with public awareness and landowner relations. He was the first person to approach us to ask a question that nearly blew us away. After noting that his job entails working with landowners and the public, he said, “what can I do better?” And he meant it. We had a terrific exchange.
  • Craig Pierson, President of Marathon Pipe Line, LLC. Over beignets at Cafe du Monde, Craig said that our presentation had the contingent from Marathon all abuzz, asking themselves, “is that us? are we treating our stakeholders that way?” And already– the very night of our talk– Craig and his team were talking about ways that they could find answers to those questions and adjust their practices accordingly. Wow.
  • Randy Stansberry, Region Manager, Marathon Pipe Line. Randy approached me and reiterated some of what we discussed with Craig Pierson. We got him thinking, he said, “are we living up to our values?” To try and get some answers to that questions, Randy described their plan to contact landowners for focus groups in order to gather feedback. This was, you can imagine, tremendously heartening.
  • Vern Meijer, Vice President, U.S. Operations, TransCanada. Vern also thanked us and noted that our presentation caused him to think about his company’s treatment of landowners. Incidentally, we found ourselves sitting next to Vern during the final session of the conference. As landowners and other advocates spoke, he was actively taking notes!

We spoke with a number of others as well. But these four are the main industry reps who went out of their way to speak with us– something they certainly did not need to do (after all, who are we to them?). We plan to follow up with them and, in some small way, cultivate beneficial relationships with them.

Now we’re sure that by this point, our readers, a perceptive bunch, can see where this is going: PG&E, Marathon, TransCanada. We did NOT spend our 15 minutes talking about the ways these companies treat landowners. So it would be reasonable for you to expect us at this point to recount the conversations we had with people from Enbridge or to tell you about the productive dialogue with Enbridge attendees that our presentation initiated or to describe to you how the conference helped extend and build upon the conversations we’ve had with Mark Sitek.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any of that. And the reason I can’t tell you any of that is because the Enbridge representatives at the conference– there were, we believe, five of them– all but ignored us. With just one exception, not exactly related to the primary theme of our talk (we plan to make that encounter the subject of another installment of this series), the Enbridge representatives in attendance did not seek us out for more conversation. They did not thank us for our perspective. They didn’t ask a question, offer a point of clarification or even of rebuttal. Unlike the folks from PG&E, Marathon, and TransCanada, the Enbridge attendees could not be bothered to talk with us at all. In fact, they didn’t say a single word to us.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. There was our brief encounter with our old friend Larry Springer– you remember him as the guy who singlehandedly sparked a series of posts a while back. Standing in line for lunch on Thursday, we happened to see someone in front of us with an iPad, upon which was displayed this very blog. Unable to contain ourselves, we politely interrupted just to say, “hey, that’s our blog,” to which the gentleman with the iPad replied, “Yes, I know”– and then turned away before we even had a chance introduce ourselves and engage in what one would expect to be the ordinary pleasantries of such a moment. But he was turned toward us long enough to afford a quick glimpse of his name badge. Yes, that’s right, Larry Springer actually– and quite rudely, if we’re being honest– snubbed us.

Now, we’re not much bothered that Larry Springer snubbed us. But one would have thought that, say, Lorraine Little would have introduced herself. After all, she’s one of the people at Enbridge we’ve tried (and failed) to engage. Still, we’re not that bothered that she didn’t speak with us either. No, what really bothers us is this:

All of those people from Enbridge at the conference who couldn’t be bothered to speak with us? They’re all from the PR department. I mean, Craig Pierson is the actual President of Marathon Pipe Lines. Vern Meijer is the Vice President of operations at TransCanada. These are people who make real decisions, people who are in a position to institute real changes, people whose jobs are not primarily devoted to spin. The Enbridge attendees, by contrast: all spin doctors.

What’s so baffling about this is that the conference actually presented Enbridge with an opportunity to prove us (a little bit) wrong. They had a chance to show that they really are willing to listen carefully to landowners, that they really are interested in open and honest communication, that they really do, as their values state, “take the time to understand the perspective of others.” They had a chance to cause us to come home and type up a blog post praising them for treating us respectfully, a post describing our new Enbridge friends. They could have given us cause to write an entry expressing gratitude toward them just as we’ve expressed gratitude toward Salguero, Pierson, Stansberry, and Meijer above. They could have given us a tale of a positive encounter with Enbridge to bring to our readers. And the truth is– perhaps they simply don’t believe this–we would LOVE to tell that tale. But Enbridge (stubbornly? willfully? deliberately? we have no idea) failed to take advantage of that opportunity.

Instead– and it gives us no real joy to gloat about this–they simply confirmed so many of the things we’ve said about them time and again– the very things we said in our presentation. They once again showed themselves unwilling to engage openly and honestly with stakeholders unless on their own narrow terms. They once again showed themselves unwilling to take a sober look at their conduct and practices and engage in a bit of serious introspection. They once again showed that even matters as vitally important as landowner relations and pipeline safety are to them not much more than p.r. matters.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Lisa

    Thanks for the report! That’s great news about all the people you got to talk with, although Enbridge looks worse and worse in contrast.

  2. Bob Banderet

    Jeff, I had read portions of your blog before (linked from other articles) but after watching you online at the PST conference, I went back and read most of your blog. I am a landowner in SE North Dakota and have 2 miles of Keystone 1 pipeline running under our pasture and hay land. When I read your experiences with Enbridge during easement negotiations and other dealings, TransCanda could have easily been substituted for Enbridge. They both must use the same handbook on landowner relations! Interestingly enough, I also witnessed and reported TransCanada’s largest spill of 21,000 gallons of dilbit from their pumping station 1.5 miles from my home back in May of 2011. It has been extremely frustrating to hear TransCanada spin this event and leave out many pertinent facts, trying to leave the impression that what I saw didn’t really happen. TransCanada also has a “ten minute rule” which they didn’t follow since there was a geyser of oil shooting 60 feet into the air for forty minutes until I contacted the control center.

    I’m glad to hear some pipeline companies are showing an interest in improving landowner relations, including TransCanada, but I’m not holding my breath. In my five years of dealing with TC, I have seen no signs of improvement or change but one can only hope.

    I will continue to follow your blog with interest. Keep up the good work!

    • Jeff

      Thanks so much, Bob, for reading and for the comment. I hope the people from TransCanada were sincere about taking landowner concerns to heart. Your experience and the experiences of my fellow panelists Bonnie and Jon suggest that they can definitely stand to make some serious changes as well. We’ll continue to try and do our small part to nudge all of these companies in that direction!

  3. Jeff, I noticed the same thing, some companies just sent PR types, some just sent damage prevention types, they work to prevent people from digging into pipeline, a needed task, but, they don’t call the sots on operations, and some companies ent actual people with influence, or with technical knowledge.

    Craig Pierson & Randy Stansberry of Marathon seemed genuine, they even mentioned their safety concerns of the contracted video tapers being on chairs on top of tables.

    • tar sands oil horrors

      Thank you Michael, it’s nice to know that a FEW of the pipeline company’s employees are concerned about the safety of a FEW citizens. It would be more comforting to know that ALL of them are concerned about ALL of us.

  4. Hey Jeff- thanks for the conference reports. I’m looking forward to seeing your presentation on the webcast archives. I just want to calm any concerns you or others may have about the environmental panel not being webcast. That was a result of a decision we had to make about assigning the various panels to the two rooms. Carl sent a survey to all the registrants to gauge interest in the panels so we could put the larger audiences in the ballroom. He’s going to send you those survey results separately, but because of space planning needs, we put that panel in the smaller room. The webcast is entirely paid for and contracted by PHMSA. It’s an expensive undertaking and we’re grateful they do it at all. Web casting in both rooms would be even more expensive, and the second room would have been really useless by the time a camera and computer setup were in there. No conspiracy, I promise. We weren’t actually sure about the webcast working out at all until about 7:00 the first morning.
    Anyway, looking forward to more entries. And I’ll send you a full color gathering line regulation flow chart first thing Monday. Thanks again.
    Rebecca Craven, PST

  5. Donna Taylor

    The many hours you have given to support the land owners along 6B and others has not gone unnoticed. Hearing you and the others speak on our behalf has given me hope that at least someone out there is listening to us. Now all they need to do is take action. As you have said before, it’s over for us, but there is hope for the next generation of ROW landowners.

  6. Jeff

    Thanks, Donna and Michael. And thank you Rebecca very much for the clarification. We knew (or assumed) that it was the survey results all along and regret that our enigmatic remark made it sound like there was something conspiratorial about it. We know very well that’s not true. Sorry!

  7. Also, don’t sweat about being humbled about your pipeline knowledge at the Conference. I’ve been studying this subject on & off for a number of years, and I still learned some new things there.

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