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.