Yesterday, we experienced the near impossible. No, Enbridge did not announce that they’re going to remove the old Line 6B and issue an apology to all landowners for behaving callously toward them. That, too, would be a miracle. No, instead, after numerous conversations with construction workers this week– workers from Tennessee and Texas and Oklahoma and Mississippi– we finally met someone from Michigan! And from the immediate area, no less. We’re not sure if this one guy gets 1,000 jobs of if the other 999 local workers Enbridge likes to talk about are being hidden somewhere else, but it was nice to see a fellow Michigander in a hard hat and safety vest for a change.
There’s some other news to report as well. We’re happy to see that citizens in Indiana are keeping up the pressure, calling for more state regulatory oversight of Enbridge and other pipeline companies. Believe it or not, they might have a weaker regulatory system than Michigan. We’re also glad to see that they’re working with our awesome friends from the Pipeline Safety Trust.
Yesterday, we launched a new series devoted to the question, why can’t Enbridge do better? We’re trying to figure out what causes them to continue to alienate landowners and to fail to live up to the values they profess publicly. The reason we’re thinking about this is that construction crews returned to our property this week to tear it up again. And no one let us know anything about it– and in our view, that’s just downright unneighborly. So we’ve been exploring some possible theories that might account for Enbridge’s apparent inability to do things right. In our last post, we advanced 5 possible theories, some of which we dismissed and others which seem to us to have some merit. Today, we’ll consider a few more possibilities:
Theory #6: It’s hard for old dogs to learn new tricks. Or perhaps a better way to put this is to say that you can’t conduct business in the twenty-first century as if it’s still the twentieth. Yet that’s exactly what Enbridge is attempting to do. And it’s not just that they seemed to think, at the start of this project, that they would come down here to Michigan and find things just as they were in 1969 when all of their easements were first acquired: a bunch of farmland, where dwellings are acres distant from their pipeline. It seems not to have occurred to Enbridge that things might have changed in 50 years, that population density would have increased, that matters are different when construction crews will be right next to houses, not way back in yonder pasture with the wheat and the cattle. It’s not just that. The metaphorical landscape has changed as well. People today, we think, are generally more skeptical toward the activities and motivations of large corporations, slightly less trusting of big business (surely we don’t need to rehearse the litany of early-21st-century reasons why, right?). Such wariness is especially pronounced when it comes to energy companies. There exists today far more awareness of and concern about our dependence on petroleum and fossil fuels, concern for the environment, worries about climate change. On top of all this, add the internet and social media, which facilitate instant communication among strangers and the spread of information in ways unimaginable 20, 30, 40 or more years ago. People in similar situations can talk via email; they can Skype; they can find each other on Facebook. They can start blogs. Enbridge’s treatment of landowners, their slow-footed, ham-handed, clumsy responses to citizen organizing, demonstrates pretty clearly that they have only a dim understanding of any of this.
So we think this is a pretty compelling theory; it accounts for a great deal. On the other hand, it has its flaws. After all, any decent dog trainer will tell you that it is not at all hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Dogs stay smart and curious and adaptable well into their twilight years. Enbridge appears to be neither smart nor adaptable. Enbridge is a bad dog. For instance, Enbridge has had more than a year, mountains of bad press, countless expressions of landowner dissatisfaction (lots of it posted here), condemnation suits, lawsuits, countless tense conversations and contentious negotiations to learn from. Yet they appear to have learned nothing. We’re still, a year later, hearing the same old stories about rude or abusive land agents, misinformation, poor communication between Enbridge and its agents and agents and landowners. A very large body of evidence suggests that they haven’t learned anything, that they have changed very little. What is to explain that?
Theory #7: They’re accustomed to getting their way. One theory that could explain their failure to get their act together and try a different approach on phase two than the one that earned them nothing but heartburn on phase one is this: like a spoiled child, they’re accustomed to getting their way. And when they don’t get their way (or when someone questions whether they should get their way), it’s everybody else’s fault but their own. This one is surely true. It’s surely more or less true of their entire industry for the last 50 or more years. They are weakly regulated, largely get to write their own rules, have cozy relationships with regulators. They have power and money and influence. They’re the biggest kid on the block. And when you’re the biggest, you can more or less do as you please. Personally, we’ve never found ourselves in this situation (growing up, we mostly had older siblings!). But we can imagine that one gets used to this sort of thing. One starts to think it’s entirely natural, that it’s just the way of the world.
And why wouldn’t they? They’ve certainly gotten their way here in Michigan. Hardly a single elected official ever said so much as “boo” during the MPSC approval process or before. And Enbridge didn’t just sail through the MPSC, they almost completely refashioned it in their own image, ensuring that its regulatory authority is crippled for themselves and their industry counterparts for many years to come. When you can do that, when you can bend an entire state to your will, why wouldn’t you consider, say, a small local township or a few unhappy landowners as mere trifles, as things hardly to be bothered with at all?
Theory #8: It’s the culture, stupid. Combine these last three theories and what they add up to is a longstanding, deeply embedded set of cultural practices and attitudes– of the sort that we described quite a while ago when thinking over the remarks of Enbridge’s former CEO Patrick Daniel. There, we described a corporate culture that is insular, clannish, defensive, given to hollow sloganeering in place of principled conduct, and seemingly incapable of honest self-reflection. And maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, culture is a hard thing to change. The attitudes and practices of one’s culture run so deep as to be invisible to those inside of it. To those within the culture, the things they do or believe don’t seem to be derived from culture at all; they don’t seem like things that even can be changed, much less things that ought to be changed. Rather, they just are. They’re like air and water or the blood coursing through your veins.
This is why, when it comes to corporate cultures, it’s so important for someone– whether that be legislators, local, state, and federal regulatory agencies, customers, citizen watchdog groups, or journalists– to provide those inside with an outside view. It’s why critics (to name just one more group that can provide valuable perspective) are so very important. It’s why, as we’ve said before, what we do here at the Line 6B Citizens’ Blog is actually a service to Enbridge. We can help them. We are trying to help them. If only they were willing to listen.
In an earlier post, we (longwindedly) pondered the question: why can’t Enbridge do better when it comes to cultivating amicable, productive relationships with landowners? Over and over they fail to do the simplest of things that would go a long way to fostering such positive relationships and ending what must seem to them like a never-ending stream of criticism. In this post, we’ll consider several possible answers to that question.
Theory #1: It’s not them, it’s us. Unlike Enbridge, we’re capable of self-reflection, of taking a sober look at ourselves and taking seriously the possibility that we are the problem. So maybe it’s us. After all, this blog is primarily devoted to criticism. From Enbridge’s point of view, we must surely seem like people who just like to complain, who are always adversarial, who will just never be happy (as Tom Hodge once said of displeased landowners generally). So why should they bother cultivating good relations with us? We’re a lost cause. If we’re not notified of construction activity, if our agents can’t give us any clear information, if Enbridge reps– Doug Aller, Jason Manshum, Mark Curwin– ignore our emails, well, we’ve got it coming. That’s what we get for all of the negative things we’ve said here, in newspapers, and elsewhere.
It’s a plausible theory. But there are a few reasons it doesn’t quite hold up. For one thing, it’s not just us. We’ve heard (and told) far too many stories of Enbridge’s disregard for other landowners, landowners who have never uttered a peep of criticism publicly against them. For another thing, in our correspondence with Enbridge reps we have always been unfailingly polite and respectful (we have every single email; we can show them to you!). In our correspondence with Enbridge, we have never given anyone any cause to think that we’re not communicating with them openly and honestly (as they say they communicate). And frankly, the same goes for this blog. Sure, we’re critical. But we don’t engage in personal attacks. We’re not inflammatory or ad hominem. We try very hard to stick to the facts. If there’s something here that is untrue, all Enbridge needs to do is say so and we will correct it. But they have never once done so. Finally, there’s one more reason why we think the “it’s us” theory doesn’t hold up: the fact of the matter is, like it or not, we are STILL Enbridge stakeholders. Their pipe runs through our property. We’re in this together no matter how little either of us likes it. They’re stuck with us just as we’re stuck with them. And we’ve never seen the part where their treatment of landowners or their corporate values exclude people who utter criticisms of them in public. If that’s the case, if their practice is really to “Take the time to understand the perspective of others… until they criticize you,” or if their actual policy is “Treat everyone with unfailing dignity… unless they say things you don’t like,” then maybe they need to revise their corporate values statement. But until they do, we’ll hold them to the original.
Theory #2: They’re evil. If it’s not us, it really must be them. So maybe they’re just bad, rotten to the core. Evil. One of the first things Enbridge Vice President Mark Sitek said to us when we spoke on the phone is, “we’re not evil.” And we quickly pointed out that we have never said any such thing about Enbridge. And in fact, after all this time, we would still never say that. So let’s be very clear: we do not think that Enbridge is “evil.” Frankly, we don’t really even know what such a statement could possibly mean in the first place.
Theory #3: Ineptitude. So if Enbridge isn’t evil, what are they? Well, one theory might hold that they’re simply inept. They’re incompetent. They don’t know what they’re doing and they lack the skills to do it. This is a tempting theory, especially given the fact that they so consistently fail to do things right. But there are several reasons we think this theory doesn’t hold. For one thing, they are a very large, very successful corporation. They make hundreds of millions of dollars a year. They operate and maintain a complicated and sophisticated network of pipelines and manage large, varied demands from diverse customers, partners, and stakeholders. You can’t do that if you’re inept (unless you win the lottery or something).
So maybe they’re only inept at dealing with landowners. This one we’re willing to consider. But Jason Manshum (and I’m sure others) assures us that the “vast majority” of landowners over the past 60 years are quite happy with Enbridge. And even though, judging from the way he’s dodging our questions about this point, he can’t provide any real evidence for that claim, let’s take him at his word. Let’s assume that they DO know how to deal successfully with landowners. Let’s assume it’s NOT ineptitude. The question still remains, why don’t they do what they know how to do?
Theory #4: They just don’t care. This one is tricky. It’s tricky because they talk a lot about how much they care. There are those corporate values, for example. There are all of those fancy and expensive ads (and more and more and more) designed to convince everyone of just how much they care. There are all of the statements that they make in public. But here’s an instance where it’s a little harder to take them at their word. After all, it’s easy to say you care. It’s easy to say you want to be a good neighbor. It’s a little harder to actually be a good neighbor. But not that much harder. Which is precisely the point. How difficult is it, really, to make sure that land agents know when and where construction crews are going to go digging up buried pipe so that they can notify the affected landowners? It can’t really be very hard. So why not just do it? Maybe because it doesn’t occur to you to do it. And the reason it doesn’t occur to you is because you don’t really care. Considering how a landowner who thought construction was over might feel if construction were to re-commence takes a little bit of empathy. Caring people empathize. So maybe this one’s true; Enbridge just doesn’t care– even though they want you to think they care.
Theory #5: It’s not them, it’s their contractors. The fair-minded part of us still wants to hold the tiniest bit of hope that theory #4 is wrong and that when Enbridge reps say they care, they actually mean it. So maybe the problem isn’t with them, but with their contractors. After all, most of what goes on on the ground, most of the people that landowners deal with aren’t actually Enbridge employees. They’re contractors. The construction crews are with an outfit called Precision Pipeline. The right of way agents (or so we understand; this whole system is rather murky) are apparently with a company called Salem Professional Services. And judging from what we heard at the Michigan International Right of Way Association, Salem may not have the best reputation in the industry. Our experience with their agents (though not all of them) seems to support the conclusion that Salem has some problems with quality or experience or professionalism or something. So perhaps there’s some merit to this theory. But we can’t say the same, not in our experience, with Precision. Not being pipeline engineers or welders, we’re hardly in a position to judge the quality of their work– although they appear to be experienced and efficient– but we can certainly say from dozens of conversations and encounters that they hire good people who take pride in their work. We have very much enjoyed meeting and talking with Precision’s construction workers. With very few exceptions they’ve been friendly, respectful, pleasant, serious and happy to engage and answer questions. Our only regret is that more of them haven’t been from Michigan.
So ultimately, we’re disinclined to pin it on the contractors, even though we have our concerns about Salem. After all, it shouldn’t be that hard for Enbridge to demand that its contractors adhere to its values and standards– regardless of the contracting company’s standards. And we know that Enbridge has its own employees in the area of land rights; we visited them. Those are the people, we assume, who should be training and monitoring the contract workers. They are the people, not Salem and its employees, who should be ultimately responsible for the failures and incompetencies and inaccuracies emanating from the land agents. So those are the people– or so our experience suggests– who seem not to really care, lending further credence to theory #4. After all, if the people in the corporate office of land rights aren’t willing to listen to and engage seriously and empathetically with landowners, how can the non-Enbridge employees they oversee be expected to do so?
But we still don’t think “they don’t care” is quite adequate. However, it appears that the answer to this simple question is so complicated that it requires a series of posts to do it justice. In fact, we’ve got a handful of more theories to consider. We’ll take those up in later installments. Please come back.
This week, while we’ve watched Enbridge’s construction crews return to our property, which is now once again torn up, strewn with long sections of pipe and heavy equipment and also, thanks to the weather, a big, sloggy, muddy mess, we’ve been stewing a little. And we’ve been ruminating on one basic question: why can’t Enbridge do better?
In this case, we’re not even talking about their operations. We’re not making a big deal out of the fact that some 400 feet of pipe they pulled beneath a road and across a couple of our neighbors’ properties is damaged and has to be replaced. We are not suggesting that this is a sign of carelessness or shoddy work or ineptitude or any such thing. We are not pipeline construction experts. We assume that these sorts of things happen from time to time; laying hundreds of miles of pipe is a complicated, sophisticated process about which we do not pretend to know very much (other than what we’ve learned over these several months). And in fact, we’re sure it’s better that they’re fixing the problems their tests discovered rather than finding ways to dismiss indications of problems (as was the case in Marshall in 2010). So, we have no real quarrel with the fact that they’ve had to re-commence construction in our neighborhood and on our property– even though we are tired tired tired, oh-so-tired of dealing with the noise, the mess, the intrusions, and the disruptions.
No, the problem– and this has ALWAYS been the problem– is with how they’ve gone about, with the thoughtless disregard Enbridge has shown toward us (in this case) and toward so many landowners over the course of this project. And for reasons we still cannot fathom– especially given all that has happened over the past year, all of the complaints and bad press and contention and legal-wrangling– Enbridge simply can’t seem to rectify this problem. They simply can’t seem to do any better. Why?
Let’s back up and review what’s transpired this week as we consider this most difficult of questions:
Some time a few weeks ago, our neighbors immediately adjacent to us were notified by an Enbridge rep that hydrotesting was about to take place on the newly installed line. We were not notified. Presumably, there is some reason for this– proximity, perhaps?– so we didn’t think a great deal of it. But then last weekend, construction crews arrived on that same neighbor’s property and began digging, commencing the process they are now in the middle of, replacing that stretch of pipe.
Naturally, we wondered if any construction would be taking place on our property. We also had some lingering questions about restoration, questions we’ve been trying to get answered since February. So we figured it was as good a time as any to give an agent a call (that is, the agent whose name we were given by our former agent who has since departed). Now, this particular agent happens to be, at least in our limited dealings with him, a very nice guy, polite, respectful, all of that. But he’s clearly overworked; he told us he was working on more than one Enbridge project at present. And not only is he overworked, he has obviously not been given any information about much of anything by anyone in any kind of supervisory position. (Who’s his boss? Doug Aller? Micah Harris? We’re not sure, but whoever it is, that person would appear to be doing a very, very poor job.) The reason we say he has not been given any information is because he told us, flatly and forthrightly (which was rather refreshing, to be honest) that he did not know anything about any of the questions we were asking– about restoration, including some things we’ve been told by Mark Curwin and Tom Hodge, about the recent tests, about the construction currently taking place, about the prospects for work taking place on our property. Nothing. He just didn’t know.
Now, it’s worth pausing here for one second to pose the obvious question: what is the point of giving landowners the contact information of people who are completely unable to answer any of their questions? What is a landowner supposed to do in such a situation? We’ll return to this question.
That call was early Monday morning. Then, surprisingly, not 10 minutes after hanging up the phone, we look out the back door and see surveyors on our property. So we went out to talk with them. The surveyor, unlike the land agent, did seem to know some things. He seemed to have some idea of how the pipe was damaged and the steps that crews were preparing to take in order to fix it. He told us that our property was going to be used to stage some pipe. What he did not say– and we don’t blame him for this; he’s just a surveyor– was that bulldozers were about to arrive to start pushing aside all of our topsoil and that other heavy equipment and a fleet of pickup trucks and all manner of noise and mess and mayhem would ensue. But over the next few days, that is exactly what has happened. We posted pictures of the scene yesterday.
Now, again, all of this mess is terribly unfortunate and frustrating. But ordinarily, we’d be disinclined to complain about it. We know it’s just the deal. Enbridge has an easement on our property. They need to install their pipe. They have to fix it when they find problems. We get all that. The problem, however, is this: no one from Enbridge ever told us beforehand that this was going to happen. We received NO notification. Not a friendly knock on the door, not a phone call, not even an email. Nothing. One day we’re thinking about planting some trees; the next day bulldozers are back. Just like that.
So here’s a second question: does that sound neighborly to you? Do good neighbors just show up unannounced, without so much as a courtesy call to let you know they’ll be dropping by? And when you later tell them that you don’t appreciate them just dropping by without the slightest warning– as I did in an email to Mark Curwin and Tom Hodge– would a good neighbor just ignore you?
Which brings us back to our original question: why can’t Enbridge do better? What is it that prevents them from taking even the simplest steps to cultivate good relations with landowners? What keeps them from doing the things they say they’ll do? from living up to the values they profess and the principles they say guide their conduct? from conducting themselves in such a manner that would prevent us from having an endless amount of material to write about? Why do they seem to be completely incapable of getting it right?
Well, we started this post wanting to answer that question. But the posing of the question has gotten much longer than we anticipated. So we’ll explore some answers in a separate posting. Stay tuned.
What a week! After a few weeks of relative silence (and almost complete silence from us– we’re sorry!), things Enbridge-related exploded this week.
It started Monday morning with a harmless phone call to an Enbridge land agent to try and get some simple information about restoration. But he didn’t know anything. Nothing. At all.
But no sooner did we hang up the phone than we saw some workers pounding stakes into the ground on our property. Minutes after that, bulldozers arrived and started pushing dirt around. Now hundreds of feet of pipe are back on our property, causing us to have traumatic flashbacks to last November. Here is what our property looked like last week:
And here is what it looks like this morning (we’ll bring you the full story of all of this in a subsequent post):
The same day, the second of two reports on Line 6B by Keith Matheny appeared in the Detroit Free Press. It’s fine work, though as usual, the disingenuous remarks of Enbridge spokesperson Jason Manshum raised our hackles. So we wrote to him for clarification. It’s been two days now and he has not responded. Evidently, Manshum is not obligated to adhere to Enbridge’s stated corporate values of “maintain[ing] truth in all interactions,” “tak[ing] the time to understand the perspective of others,” and “treat[ing] everyone with unfailing dignity.”
Also on the same day, an intrepid young activist decided to climb inside a section of Line 6B to protest the transportation of dilbit from Canada to the U.S. Reports say he is healthy and safe.
We will add one tiny bit of our own commentary here. The industry response to the NAS study included this little gem by Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada:
“At some point, the professional opposition that has used Keystone XL and the oil sands industry as a symbol for their fundraising and advocacy campaigns will need to accept the fact that this product has been moving through the U.S. for decades, that oil is oil and that pipelines remain the safest way to move oil to refineries where it is needed,” TransCanada Corp. spokesman Shawn Howard said via email.
“As a responsible, publicly traded company, TransCanada has an obligation to provide accurate and factual information about our projects to the public and our shareholders — and we hope that the professional opposition to this project will start to do the same.”
Taking a page from the Pat Daniel playbook, Howard refers to a diverse group of citizens with varied and mostly reasonable concerns as “professional opposition.” And he does it twice, in a willfully dishonest attempt to dismiss critics of his industry. What rankles us so much about this– and we’ve seen a similar tactic employed by Enbridge; not just Daniel, but also Larry Springer and even, we’re sorry to say, Tom Hodge— is not just that it is reductive, misleading, and an affront to the truth. It’s also that Howard does it in the very same sentence in which he’s trying to convince us that TransCanada is “responsible” and devoted to “accurate and factual information”! It’s exactly like Enbridge telling us they’re committed to being good neighbors while in the midst of behaving in an unneighborly manner.
But that’s not all this week has had in store for us. Yesterday, the president gave a much anticipated climate speech. Many groups are heartened by his remark that the KXL project should go forward “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” For ourselves, we don’t think that’s a terribly unequivocal statement. But we’re trying to be hopeful.
As we reported yesterday, construction crews have returned to our property, which evidently they need to stage some pipe to replace a damaged section of pipe on properties adjacent to ours. No one from Enbridge bothered to let us know that they’d be here tearing up the land they carefully restored about a month ago. In fact, when we asked our new land agent yesterday, right before crews arrived, if any work would be taking place on our property, he didn’t know. You see, Enbridge (as we’ve long known) doesn’t even communicate well with its own people.
All of this, of course, is dismaying– and for lots of reasons. In addition to the complete lack of regard for landowners like us, here’s cause for dismay: you might recall the lovely surprise we discovered a couple of months ago once all the equipment left our property. Some irises miraculously survived the ordeal. Here they are just last month, growing and thriving:
And here they are this morning–er, well, um, you can’t see them because they are now crushed underneath that large piece of equipment.
As we mentioned earlier today, the Freep’s excellent new environmental reporter Keith Matheny has a second article about Line 6B in today’s paper. We think he is doing fine work (the first story is here) and not just because he spoke with us and our friend David Gallagher (happy birthday, David!). But the one thing that stuck in our craw a little reading this story was something Jason Manshum, with his never-ending cache of hollow and misleading quotations, said:
Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum said the company has worked with thousands of landowners along its pipelines over more than 60 years and “the vast majority of landowners we’ve worked with are pleased with negotiations.”
Now, we’ve heard this line from Enbridge reps in the past, more than once. And we’ve also commented upon it. But this time, we decided not to let it pass. And so, we dashed off the following email to Jason Manshum:
Dear Jason Manshum-
I’m hoping you can answer a few questions for me. This morning I read your comments in the Detroit Free Press and was struck by your statement that “the vast majority of landowners we’ve worked with are pleased with negotiations.” I have read similar statements from you and other Enbridge representatives in the past. As a Line 6B landowner myself, this got me to wondering:
The article seems to suggest that this statement has to do with all landowners Enbridge has dealt with “over more 60 years.” But I’m not sure how that is relevant to this project. So, would you say that the “vast majority of landowners” on the replacement of Line 6B have been “pleased with negotiations”?
If so, I’d be interested to know the basis upon which you make that determination. Does “pleased” mean that you didn’t have to take them to court? Would those whom you count as “pleased” include, for example, people who have never expressed any dissatisfaction publicly but who nevertheless were not at all happy with their negotiations? Would it include people for whom negotiations and/or compensation went smoothly, but who did not, say, trust their land agent or Enbridge generally? How many landowners on Line 6B have you actually spoken with? How have you gathered data otherwise? I’m just trying to understand what evidence you are drawing upon to support your assertion.
Assuming that you are right and it is true that the vast majority of landowners have been pleased with negotiations, what would you say is an acceptable level of displeasure for Enbridge? Ten percent of landowners? Twenty? Thirty?
Relatedly, how many landowners would you say need to be displeased in order for Enbridge to consider and/or acknowledge that they might be responsible for landowner dissatisfaction (as opposed to just assuming that unhappy landowners are just people who will never be pleased with anything)?
I don’t mean these to be rhetorical questions. Any help you can provide would be very much appreciated. I look forward to your reply.
Groveland Township, MI
We will of course provide you with a full report of Manshum’s reply if and when we receive it.
We apologize for our recent absence– but assure you we are still on the case! We’ll explain why we’ve been away later and we’ll also try to play some catch up. In the meantime, you might check out the latest from the Freep (we’re in there along with our friend David Gallagher). Reporter Keith Metheny is doing some fine work.
Oh, and what makes the appearance of the article especially timely? It appears on the very day when bulldozers showed up– completely unannounced– to our property. They’re out there right now here’s photographic evidence!). We’ll tell you that story soon also!