We’re a little groggy on this Monday following an exciting four day academic conference we helped to organize at our university, which is why we’ve been a little quiet here at the blog lately. Scholars from all over the world traveled to Michigan to talk about nerdy literary scholar-type things. It was great. Almost as great is the fact that most of our home institutions recognize that the intellectual exchanges and sharing of knowledge that takes place at these conferences is a tremendously important and valuable professional activity. Therefore, most institutions offer at least some form of funding to cover faculty travel expenses to these conferences. And that’s because they understand that it’s not enough just to say you value something; you have to actually do something to prove it. Sometimes, you have to put your money where your mouth is.
You see where this is going? We’re still fuming about the fact that the Pipeline Safety Trust has had to resort to panhandling in order to get ordinary citizens to the Pipeline Safety Trust Conference. It’s now the end of the month and they have not reached their goal– not by a long shot. We think– and we appear to be mostly alone on this– that this is totally and completely outrageous, infuriating. And it’s not just because we think begging is beneath the dignity of Carl Weimer. (Which is saying something; have you seen how the man behaves in front of a tableful of powdery beignets?) No, we’re infuriated because everybody knows how to solve this problem simply and swiftly, saving everybody, especially the people at the PS Trust, who have much better things to be doing, all the trouble of scrambling and begging.
The pipeline companies just need to write some checks. It may be crass to say it, but we all know it’s true: they’ve got plenty of money– millions, hundreds of millions, of dollars that they make every year. Their executives themselves make millions of dollars a year. Each of them could write a personal check to cover the travel costs and not feel a thing. Not only that, as we have already pointed out, they say that they value dialogue with the people the Trust wants to bring to the conference.
Yet collectively they can’t cough up a lousy $20k for the Trust? This is instructive. We now know that unlike universities, pipeline companies are NOT willing to put their money where their mouth is. All of their talk about relationship building is just a bunch of talk, a load of b.s.
Of course, there’s still one more day to go before the Trust’s fundraising deadline, so maybe the industry will swoop in yet (though we’ve already pointed out what a self-serving and inconsiderate move that would be). The more likely scenario, however, is just this:
The companies will write (or have already written) some checks. Most (but not all) of them will donate a little something. It will be small and mostly perfunctory, a few hundred dollars maybe, rather than a few thousand. They certainly won’t create a permanent fund to ensure that citizen travel is always covered in the future as we’ve suggested (and frankly, we think that’s the best idea we’ve ever floated here at the blog). They’ll donate just enough to give themselves a little cover, just enough to be able to say that they donated to cover citizen travel to the conference and prevent people like us from saying they don’t put their money where their mouth is. But the truth will be– though we will never know it because the people at the Trust are too decent, too discrete, and too fair-minded (and we wouldn’t have it any other way) to say otherwise– that it won’t be anywhere near what the Trust needed to raise. It won’t be enough to send all those citizens and local officials from Arkansas and Nebraska and Alaska who ought to attend. It won’t even be as much as Enbridge paid last year to send that gaggle of six or seven spinmeisters they sent.
As a result, Enbridge and its industry peers will pretend like they’ve actually done something when in reality they haven’t done a thing except make sure dissenting voices are not heard. And they will continue to pretend like they actually give a s#*t (pardon our language) what the landowners along their pipelines have to say, even though the rest of us will see the truth. We will have clear evidence that they do not really care at all, evidence that they care so little, in fact, that they all but guaranteed, by doing nothing more than sitting on their wallets, they would not have to face those landowners. We will see that they are not only hypocritical and cheap, but cowardly too.
Some breaking news to report: Michigan Representative Fred Upton, who represents plenty of citizens along Line 6B, has introduced legislation that would put an end to the Presidential Permitting process for cross-border pipelines. The bill is intended to fast-track pipeline projects, requiring that they be approved in no more than 120 days. The bill would also explicitly exempt pipeline reversals, volume expansions, and other modifications from the approval process.
For a long time now, we’ve been bemoaning the lack of public input, careful environmental review, and regulatory scrutiny of the Line 6B project as well as other tar sands pipeline projects, like Keystone XL, the Alberta Clipper expansion, the Flanagan South project, and the planned volume expansion of Line 5 under the straits of Mackinac. This bill would make sure that there is even LESS chance for public input, environmental review, and regulatory scrutiny. It is designed to ensure the “anything goes” when it comes to the production and transportation of tar sands pipelines.
This is a bill of the industry, by the industry and for the industry. It represents a serious threat to the Great Lakes. We need to stop it.
Please write or call Fred Upton or your U.S. district representative. The number for Upton’s Washington D.C. office is:
Or you can call his Kalamazoo office at (269) 385-0039.
Or you can send him an email here: http://upton.house.gov/contact/
It’s been a few days since our last landowner story. But don’t worry; we’ve got more. We think the series has been quite powerful (if you’ve missed any part of it, please take a look back). We wonder what Enbridge thinks. We wonder how many stories like this, how many voices of unhappy landowners they need to hear before they’ll accept that they’re responsible for all the dissatisfaction, pain, and bad feelings. We wonder whether they’ve got the courage and integrity to own up to that.
Today’s story comes from Bob and Beth Duman. You likely know about Beth. She’s a real hero, one of the earliest landowners to speak out, organize, and help inform her fellow landowners about this project. We all owe her a debt of gratitude. And like some others we’ve heard from in this series (and that David Hasemyer wrote about last week in Inside Climate News), the Duman’s home is very close to the pipeline. We can hardly imagine what they’ve had to endure.
Construction work at the Duman’s house.
By Beth and Bob Duman, Oceola Township
An excellent one-word response to your request [for an account of our experience with Enbridge] would be:
Our lives have been turned upside-down for over a year. Dealing with Enbridge, especially with their “musical chairs” of right-of-way Agents, and their continual disrespect of our contract, our rights, and even our good will has created a huge amount of stress within our family and between us and our neighbors. The entire process took over a year, with the invading army driving on their log-mat road for nearly 9 months through our back yard, within 15 feet of our house, rattling our windows, knocking down pictures off our walls, upsetting our dogs, and generally disrupting our lives. All this, after being assured that they’d be “on our property” for 3 to 6 weeks.
Even though we had agreed to a contract with our specific needs detailed in the “line list”, Enbridge managed to come up looking like either fools or uncaring oafs, by ignoring some simple requests, like speeding through our yard, throwing up clouds of dust. Refueling one of the monster machines just outside our bedroom windows. Having to force them to allow a garden hose out to our garden to water it, and a bridge over their log-mat road for our lawn tractor for access to our wood supply. In almost every case we had to watch them, catch them breaking our agreed contract, and then they begrudgingly tried to satisfy us.
One bright spot in this huge folly has been the remediation work of Bowman Excavating, and Marshal Bowman’s point man, Brent Smith. They actually met with us and asked us how we would like the right-of -way restored. When we told them about the 25 years-worth of Prairie plantings that were destroyed, they offered to re-plant it with a selection of native prairie plants, and they put in a water irrigation system to water the plants in mid-July’s awful heat. They hauled in topsoil to replace the sand and gravel that Enbridge left instead of 10,000 years-worth of fertile soil. This has also been a source of many hours of work, as the freshly-reseeded grass came up along with thousands of ragweed and foxtail grass that came in with the new soil. We have spent the better part of 4 weeks pulling out these weeds so that they don’t re-seed themselves for next year.
So we will stick with our first word on the entire experience: Horrific. A monetary settlement 3 times what we were given could not replace the sense that we have been imprisoned in our own home for a year. And this nightmare isn’t over yet, as we are sure that they will be back to have us “sign off” on the work which will release them from any further responsibility for the massive ecological damage that they are causing not only on our 330 feet of the line, but everywhere that their pipelines have leaked or broken.
Sadly, we just read an article in the Livingston County Press & Argus about a landowner on the next segment of the 6B pipeline west of Stockbridge, [David Gallagher]. It could have been almost word-for-word about us, but it was Enbridge doing the same things all over again to a new set of landowners.
If you’re bored at work this afternoon, you might want to tune in to the Tom Sumner radio program on WFNT out of Flint from 4-5 pm. His guests will be the awesome Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation (you know her!) and, um, yours truly. Let’s just say that the bumbling and the stammering won’t be coming from Beth.
You can listen live on the internet.
Oh, and if you really want a full day of tar sands talk, the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee is holding hearings on Keystone XL today. Right now. Our friends Anthony Swift of the NRDC and Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska will both be testifying.
You might recall that a couple of weeks ago, we mentioned that the Pipeline Safety Trust has had to resort to crowdfunding in order to raise enough money to send ordinary citizens to this year’s Pipeline Safety Trust conference. In our view, this is a dire situation. Having landowners, advocates, conservationists, engaged citizens, and local officials at the conference, where they get to interact with industry representatives and regulators, is arguably the most important part of the conference. There’s nothing unique about a gathering between industry representatives and regulators. They lie in bed together all the time, speaking candidly and hammering out lily-livered “rules” that masquerade as “regulations.” Those cosy meetings, to say the least, lack perspective and desperately need disruption– which is why the PS Trust conference is so tremendously vital.
Not only that, everyone seems to agree that the exchanges that take place between ordinary citizens and industry/regulators are quite fruitful. Just take a look at the testimonials from folks who have attended the conference.
And not only that, but as we pointed out a couple of weeks ago when we declared it high time that industry either put up or shut up, pipeline companies all profess to value relationships and dialogue with citizen-stakeholders. But it’s one thing to post some pleasing-sounding phrases on your corporate website; it’s quite another to take action that demonstrates unequivocally that they’re more than just pleasing-sounding phrases. What better way for the corporations to do that than to foot the bill to make sure that they’ll actually get to look a landowner or public advocate in the face, shake her hand, and have an actual conversation– at an event that is specifically designed to make such encounters possible?
In fact, we’d even go so far as to say that if it turns out that the companies are NOT willing to step up, open their (exceedingly large) wallets, and make sure those encounters happen, it will provide vivid and powerful evidence that they do NOT, in fact, mean what they say when they talk about cultivating relationships with their landowners and other citizens. It will send a clear message that all the talk is just that, talk, a lot of public relations pablum, a bunch of hot air.
Now, we’re not entirely certain about the current status of the fundraising effort. For all we know, great big checks are in the mail. But we can tell you that a few weeks into the effort, we’ve received no jubilant emails from Carl Weimer or seen any effusive announcements on the PS Trust website announcing that the travel-funding problem has been solved–even though any number of pipeline executives (say, Enbridge’s Stephen Wuori with his $6 million per year compensation package) could sneeze out the $15k the Trust is trying to raise and hardly even sully their handkerchiefs. They’d probably get a tax write-off to boot!
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the money will materialize, that industry is waiting it out a little and planning to swoop in at the last minute to save the day like some kind of comic book superhero. That’s all fine and good, we guess– better late than never. But if that is the case, we have to say that’s pretty uncool and pretty disrespectful toward the Trust and the people who would like to attend the conference. The good folks at the Trust don’t need to scramble around and worry; they’ve got better things to do. And the citizens who will attend have arrangements to make– they’ve got to ask off of work, find daycare for the kids and the dogs, polish their dress shoes. Preventing that from happening just to pull off a dramatic (and self-serving) stunt to look good is just plain cynical and, frankly, a little mean.
Instead, as we suggested before, these large, powerful, wealthy corporations should band together to establish a permanent fund designated for citizen travel for as long as the Trust holds this conference. It would take no time at all and very little expenditure (relatively speaking) to make that happen. Honestly, the fact that it hasn’t happened already strikes us as more than a little outrageous or, at the very least, worrisome.
In fact, just this morning we had a vision of how news like that would be received. Surely, media outlets all over the country would run the story. All it takes is a little press release. In fact, as our own contribution to this effort, we hereby declare that the industry is free to use, in whole or in part, the imaginary press release/news article that came to us in a vision today (and which follows). After all, as always, we are here to help.
Pipeline Companies Come Together to Fund Citizen Travel
By Joe Reporter, National Newspaper
Sep 18, 2013
HOUSTON, TX– In a rare show of cooperation, a number of U.S. pipeline firms are working together to make sure ordinary citizens have a voice in the development of pipeline safety initiatives. Led by Enbridge, Inc, a coalition of oil and gas industry giants will establish a permanent fund to pay for citizen travel to the annual Pipeline Safety Trust conference.
The Pipeline Safety Trust is a nonprofit public charity promoting fuel transportation safety. Its annual conference, held in New Orleans, brings together industry, government, residents, and safety advocates to work toward safer communities and a healthier environment. In the past, citizen travel to the conference has been subsidized by external grants, but those funding sources have dried up. Executive Director Carl Weimer said, “It’s heartening to see industry stepping up and demonstrating their commitment to fostering positive relationships with ordinary citizens. The Trust is grateful for their generosity.”
Weimer added that the travel fund will allow citizens from Mayflower, Arkansas, the site of a 2013 oil pipeline spill, as well as landowners who live near oil and gas pipelines from other parts of the country, from Maine to Texas and Alaska, and local officials and members of environmental groups to attend the conference and talk with regulators and industry representatives. The company responsible for the Mayflower spill, ExxonMobil is among those contributing to the fund. Other donors include Marathon, Pacific Gas & Electric, Spectra Energy, TransCanada Corp, Williams Pipelines, Sunoco, and Enbridge. While the precise amounts of each donation will not be made public, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, which helped organize the coalition, said that each company agreed to a contribution “in the thousands of dollars, because, let’s face it, for companies with such vast resources and enormous profits that amount is really not a big deal.”
Stephen Wuori, President of Liquid Pipelines and Major Products for Enbridge, Inc. spearheaded the effort to get companies to work together to fund citizen travel. “Our philosophy is that you don’t compete on safety,” Wuori said. “My industry peers all jumped at the chance to participate in this effort. The Pipeline Safety Trust does important work and we all agree that ordinary citizens have a crucial role to play in pipeline safety.”
Gary Pruessing, President of ExxonMobil Pipelines said that “Continued dialogue is critical to the long-term relationship between our employees and our neighbors. Funding citizen travel is a simple and inexpensive way for us to foster that dialogue.” Other executives expressed similar sentiments.“Everything we do depends on the strength of our relationship with local residents.” said Russell Girling, President and CEO of TransCanada. “Helping to ensure that some of those residents will always be in attendance at the PS Trust conference is our way of trying to walk the walk.” Christopher Johns, President of Pacific Gas & Electric said that “It is important for us to inform and problem-solve with our diverse stakeholders. For us, this is more than just talk. Our donation to this fund is a matter of putting our money where our mouth is.”
Citizen activists and environmental groups hailed the action by industry. Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation said, “While we often have serious disagreements with industry, we are all committed to doing everything we can to ensure the safe transport of oil and gas. The industry is to be commended for doing more than just paying lip service to open dialogue with citizens and advocacy groups.”
Wuori, the Enbridge executive, deflected the praise heaped upon him for leading this effort. “This is simply what it means to live our core values,” Wuori said. “The fact is that we are multi-million dollar corporations. A few thousand dollars is for us a very small investment. But it’s one that we believe will yield big rewards.” Alan Armstrong of Williams Pipelines echoed Wuori’s remarks. “Our company takes great pride in the relationship of trust and harmony we’ve developed with the many landowners and communities with whom we co-exist. Giving a few thousand dollars each year to get some of those landowners to this conference is, quite frankly, the least we can do.”
Rebecca Craven, Program Director for the Pipeline Safety Trust said that she wasn’t surprised that industry stepped in to help. “We have worked hard to develop productive relationships with industry and government through the conference,” Craven said. “Because of that, I know that companies’ statements about building safety partnerships with members of their communities are more than just rhetoric. This proves it.”
This year’s conference will take place November 21-22. More information is available at the Pipeline Safety Trust website, pstrust.org.
If you missed it, yesterday Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter David Hasemyer at Inside Climate News posted a terrific piece on the plight of landowners whose homes sit in close proximity to the Line 6B pipeline. Among other things, Hasemyer notes that there are no regulations whatsoever at the state or federal level that address this matter. Neither the Michigan Public Service Commission nor PHMSA offers any help to landowners. Even worse, the PHMSA-created group that ought to be addressing just this question, the Pipeline Informed Planning Alliance (PIPA), only evades it. As a result, landowners like our friends David Gallagher, Marty Burke, and Judy Tanciar are left with very little recourse. Or, as Hasemyer puts it,
Without state or federal regulations to protect them, people who live along the 210-mile Michigan section of Enbridge’s new pipeline have been left to plead with a company many say is indifferent to their concerns.
One sign of this seeming indifference– and this is one of the things that struck us most powerfully about Hasemyer’s report– is the apparently arbitrary, capricious, or at best inconsistent, treatment of landowners by Enbridge (this is something we’ve discussed from the very beginning of this project, despite Enbridge’s claims to the contrary). Hasemyer asked Larry Springer, for example, how the company decided to reroute around some homes and not others. Conveniently, Springer did not respond to that question. Still, one might similarly ask why Enbridge decided to offer some landowners a “close proximity fee,” as they did David Gallagher, but not others (as far as we know).
Or to get us to today’s installment of our series on “Landowner Stories,” one might also ask why Enbridge agreed to buy out the homes of some landowners, but not others. In Hasemyer’s article, Gallagher says he asked to be bought out, but the suggestion appears to have been dismissed out of hand by Enbridge. But today’s contributor, Amy Moran-Nash of Howell was bought out. But apparently, it wasn’t easy to make that happen. Like the Gallaghers, Burkes, and Tanciars, the Nash home was in very close proximity to the new line. Her situation and Enbridge’s response to it compares quite interestingly, we think, to those others.
By Amy Moran-Nash
The new Line 6B, wrapping around the Nash home.
Our experience was long and exhausting, stressful and life altering. Enbridge however is now the proud owners of the home I grew up in – which we fought for since what we loved has been destroyed (and we pray to God we never face another easement or pipeline project again!) After a mere $3k offer we are happy we stood our ground and gave it our all to fight for what was right. Our land now has 3 high pressure pipelines: the Vector gas line (Enbridge owns a 60% stake of) placed in 2000, an original 6B line replaced in 2011, and the most current line placed in 2013. For our family it has been a difficult experience! In 2010 Enbridge trespassed assuming they had all rights of lands ‘within reason’ as they told us time and time again – they did NOT.
However had we not fought and been advised by our attorney Gary Field we would not have known the extent of their un-rightful taking. The taking was heart-wrenching and the lack of communication extremely frustrating! It felt in most cases we had to pull teeth to get any viable information, after multiple requests and multiple efforts to work with Enbridge. Communication was never fully available. That said, efforts were made by Enbridge when they realized we weren’t going away but it still did not come with any sort of ease.
Pipeline construction activity right outside the Nash’s front door.
The compensation Enbridge offered didn’t even cover replacement costs of damages for 2011; therefore. we would not accept them. For 2013 we were offered $3k for an expanded easement which is divided down the front sidewalk and 6ft from our home… we obviously knew better and dug our feet it. We were not going to stand for Enbridge to railroad us again. Therefore, we went into condemnation – which proved to be long and exhausting. Yet what choice did we have? NONE! We almost gave up several times feeling threatened and hopeless. Looking back we are thankful we fought for what was right – and are grateful in time we will move on… We learned many things, one is that the law really isn’t written in the protection of the people which for us was eye opening and we are thankful for the laws that do exist that held to bring forth some compensation.
Currently we are still living on the property as tenants rent-free as part of our negotiated terms until we find or build a new home. Because Enbridge purchased the home, they will not be restoring it fully. So things are still a mess and we are anxious to be in a new home.
If you want to see what distinguishes Pulitzer Prize-caliber reporting from what ordinarily passes for journalism, take a look at the latest report from David Hasemyer at Inside Climate News. Coinciding nicely with our latest series, Hasemyer’s piece tells the stories of landowners on the Line 6B route–all of whom you’ve encountered here, including our friend Dave Gallagher– whose homes are in close proximity to the pipeline. Gallagher’s situation, in particular, because it is so harrowing and the images so striking, has received quite a bit of media attention over the past couple of months. But few of those reports have provided any useful information about the matter. And some have been really appalling.
By contrast, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hasemyer (showing once again why he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner) understands and presents to his readers some of the complexity of the situation. He provides some valuable and important context for what Gallagher and Marty Burke and Judy Tanciar have gone through while also remaining sensitive to their experiences. In particular, Hasemyer notes how the current regulatory environment– the laxity of rules and oversight from both PHMSA and the Michigan Public Service Commission– is what makes situations like Gallagher’s, Burke’s, and Tanciar’s possible, leaving them with very little recourse. Hasemyer states the matter succinctly in this powerful sentence, a nice encapsulation of everything we’ve said here on this blog for more than a year:
Without state or federal regulations to protect them, people who live along the 210-mile Michigan section of Enbridge’s new pipeline have been left to plead with a company many say is indifferent to their concerns.
We should have this sentence printed on t-shirts and coffee mugs, bumper stickers and billboards. Schoolchildren all across the state should memorize it and recite it in the morning after the Pledge of Allegiance.
Understandably (ICN is a national publication, after all), Hasemyer focuses a bit more on federal rather than state regulations. And indeed, one can’t stress enough just how weak, ineffective, and cowed by industry PHMSA really is. But as a result of that focus, the MPSC gets off way too easy. That body could have done something to prevent this nightmare, but instead as we discussed at length (and we urge you to read our series on the travesty of the Phase 2 proceedings; if the results of them weren’t so devastating for landowners, they’d be comical), it just rolled over and let Enbridge have its way. Or worse, it actually assisted Enbridge and, we would argue, smoothed the way for other pipeline companies in the future. We don’t mean to suggest in any way that this is a flaw in Hasemyer’s excellent article, only that there is even more (obviously!) to be said about the state regulatory environment and how poorly it served the landowners Hasemyer profiles.
Finally, we can’t fail to note the appearance in the article of our old friend Larry Springer, who shows up to say nothing at all of substance or value. In fact, we could have easily typed up his vapid comments ourselves and saved Hasemyer the trouble of having to track down anyone from Enbridge:
“Safety is our number one priority and in any construction situation our focus is to protect the public, our workers and the environment,” Springer said. “We work with landowners to minimize the impact to their property and to address their concerns through amicable agreement.”
Other than that bit of boilerplate, Springer keeps mum. For instance,
Springer said he couldn’t discuss the company’s dealings with Gallagher, Duman or Burke because those matters are confidential. Gallagher sent a note to Springer giving the company permission to disclose details to InsideClimate News, but Enbridge still declined to discuss his case.
Enbridge’s Springer declined to explain how the company decided to reroute around some houses and not others. The company also did not disclose how many times Line 6B was rerouted to avoid houses.
Of course, in fairness, this is probably a good thing, though not for the reasons of confidentially Springer uses as cover. The fact of the matter is that Springer simply isn’t qualified to discuss his company’s dealings with landowners, because as we’ve pointed out more than once, we don’t believe that he knows even the first thing about those dealings. We suspect he also doesn’t know anything about those other questions– about routing– that he declined to address. Then again, we do have to give him a little bit of credit here; it is generally good policy not to comment on matters you don’t know anything about. But if Springer were really devoted to “open and honest dealings,” what he would have told Hasemyer is “I don’t know how or why the company decided to reroute around some houses and not others. I will find out and get back to you.”
Anyway, all of this is just to say that Inside Climate News continues to do brilliant work. The citizens of Michigan and Arkansas– and everyone else– owes them a debt of gratitude for their continued devotion to thoughtful, informative journalism that serves the public interest.
We don’t know about you, but we’ve been finding the voices of our fellow landowners moving and powerful. They reveal how and why Enbridge has generated so much ill-will with its “neighbors” in Southeast Michigan. Whether this is simply a result of “mistakes” or any number of other possible reasons the clear fact is that they have failed miserably in far too many instances (we believe) to cultivate the sorts of landowner relationships they profess to value, failed in so many cases to “make us whole.”
Today’s contribution comes from landowner Bill Aldrich of Davisburg. You may recall that Bill has appeared on this blog before. We turned to Bill when Enbridge first trotted out their mascot “Dr. Michael Milan” (we wonder if he’s still happy?), parading him around, rather offensively in our view, as someone whose credentials as a fancy doctor, a longtime resident of the state, and (judging from his rugged camo outfit), an outdoorsy hunter-type were evidently supposed to impress us all mightily and give his rosy view of Enbridge some kind of special authority. Bill is a pretty authentic Michigander himself, a lifelong resident and an auto-industry career man. So he presented his own view as a helpful counterpoint to the one served up by the Enbridge PR department.
Anyway, Bill’s experience is once again valuable. His list of “images” touch on so many of the themes we’ve discussed here before and that we’ve heard from others: the miscommunication, the broken promises, the “mistakes,” the untrustworthy land agents, the poor communication with landowners, the poor communication between Enbridge’s land agents and corporate, and all the time and energy so many of us have expended on this process and for which we have not been compensated.
By William Aldrich
When I reflect on the entire dealings with Enbridge, it is never a coherent event. Instead, it consists of many individual, fragmented images jumbled together — similar to a bad dream. The only common theme is frustration, anger and a deep resentment of Enbridge and their representatives.
- large diesel generator droning in back yard for about 4 months continuously (running water pumps)
- loss of over 200 trees, many well over 100 years old and had survived the initial pipe installation in 1969
- large portion of area clear cut by Enbridge was used to pile up the trees and roots of the clear cut trees (they clear cut trees so that they could pile up clear cut trees and roots)
- land owner agreement with Enbridge asked that they leave tree stumps in ground (so that they would resprout). The majority of stumps were bulldozed out of the ground and piled up to rot.
- Enbridge removed trees on the very edge of the area they claimed after their representative clearly marked them with “Do Not Cut” ribbons
- Enbridge’s unwillingness to modify boundaries of the work spaces to save specific trees; even when offered with a solution that provided them a larger work space
- Enbridge clearly violated their own overhead maps that defined the work space boundaries. Their surveying team marked an area larger than that defined by the overhead map which was the only definition offered to me. I pointed this out twice; both times they responded “the area is marked correctly.” Only after I documented the violations and provided the documentation to my legal counsel did they “discover their mistake” and mark the boundaries correctly. It was immediately after this event that the trees marked “Do Not Cut” were removed. I can only believe this was done as an outright malicious action as these trees in no way impeded the pipeline installation process. I carefully monitored the entire installation and at no time would these trees have impeded the process
- the incredible disconnect between the Enbridge homeowner representative and Enbridge corporate actions. Prior to the condemnation, several clauses in the legal agreement were ironed out between him and I; when the condemnation papers were served none of that language was included. Enbridge homeowner representative marks trees as “Do Not Cut”; the trees are cut. On multiple times, I was presented with papers and maps for a different property than my own. Incredibly unprofessional.
- Enbridge’s unwillingness to restore the property to its original condition by replanting the same varieties plants removed.
- the investment of my time in researching and understanding Michigan condemnation laws
- the fear that anything I now do on the work space to restore it can be undone at their will
If you haven’t heard, lately we’ve been keeping our trap shut and letting some other people have a chance to say some things for a change. Specifically, we’ve been bringing you some reflections of Phase 1 landowners, in their own words, on their experiences with Enbridge on the Line 6B project. Some of the landowners who responded to our solicitation are people we’ve met before and some not. If you are a Line 6B landowner and would like to say a few words about your experience, please let us know.
In the meantime, here are a couple more, including one from Ellie Vance of Fenton to whom we owe a great deal of thanks. She helped organize one of the first informational meetings about the Line 6B project that we ever attended, an especially important meeting given the fact that Enbridge itself did not organize a single one on this side of the state to help inform and prepare landowners for the project.
I am afraid our feelings about Enbridge have not changed. Both my husband and I remain disappointed in their lack of concern and response. I wrote to Enbridge in June asking someone to come out and take a look at the new damage done to our home. There was never a response at all until Tuesday last. A man that works for Mr. Lopez, the Structural Engineer (biased and paid for by Enbridge) came to our home in 2011 to assess damages then to our foundation, wants to come out and assess the damage this time. I did not refuse him, but since Lopez claimed Enbridge was not responsible for all the cracks that suddenly appeared in our foundation and ceilings and walls , we expect to be accused again of lying to get Enbridge to remodel our home, for the second time, all the while knowing they are the liars, because they and their lawyers are fully aware of what they have done to us all. The list goes on, just as I suspect it does with many of you. Enbridge cleared a path here wide enough to open a two lane runway to land their planes on. No courtesy call on when they will be coming through to replace what they needlessly took, including the markers they pulled up on a parcel that had nothing to do with them. A bill that cost us over $1300.00. Worse than that, people got hurt and several autos damaged, because they could not construct a safe passage for us to cross in our driveway. And these are the sainted ones we should trust to build a safe pipeline. The one very pleasant surprise to us, was Mr. Marshall Bowman and his hard-working crew of men and women. They did a real nice job cleaning us up. Excellent to talk to and get answers from. Respectful and cared about the job being done.We are glad to know him. If Enbridge ever wakes from their drunken, arrogant, lying sleep, they should take lessons from Mr. Bowman and his crew.
We are glad Enbridge is moving on, very glad, but a feeling that down the road a bit , the other of their heavy, stinking, reeking, filthy shoes will definitely drop lingers.
I don’t know why, but the word ‘sleazy’ seems stuck in my mind.
—Connie Watson, Howell
Well, the completion of our “Enbridge Experience” is still out there ….a verbal “promise”. We are awaiting promised additional topsoil, grading of huge ruts off the sides of our gravel driveway, grading of our field and driveway to its original topography (shape, drainage), gravel/spreading on used part of our driveway, and reimbursement for moved trees.
The entire experience with Enbridge has been a nightmare– being unable to escape a contract forged with those who owned our land back in the late 60’s. It has been a nightmare for me comparable to the plight of Princess Leah finding herself chained to Jabba the Hutt.With that analogy in mind, the most positive moments during this extended horrific experience occurred in our interactions with the workers (who were contracted to carry out Enbridge’s plans to completely devastate our peaceful country landscape–trees, ponds, wildflower-filled fields and our personal peace/freedom to pursue our daily activities in order to implant an additional, “new and better” metallic pipeline beneath the soil, under our ponds. Oops! Just venting) On the whole, when approached, any worker would stop, actively listen, and either address my concern or find someone who could. When our driveway was an impassable ditch, the assigned worker was on call 24-7 to provide transportation via an ATV (not fun in March, but only way to reach our car parked on South side of gaping hole and scattered equipment).
—Ellie Vance, Fenton
A few interesting news items this week have got our gears turning a little– not the least of which is this chilling story about PHMSA in Inside Climate News today (you’ll recall that we’ve had some things to say about PHMSA in the recent past). If we can find the time, we hope to ruminate on them a little. In the meantime, we’re continuing our series of “Landowner Stories” in their own words. Today, a handful of short takes:
As one of the unfortunate landowners along the 6B pipeline who had to deal with the repair portion of the project, we have been dealing with Enbridge since early 2011. They didn’t do a good job then and they have not yet finished restoration on our property.
Our biggest complaint is that they approached us badly from the start. The first message we got from them was “do this our way or we will take you to court”. When we think about replacement of a pipeline we think “remove the old one and put in a new one.” But of course their plan was “give us more land that we can ruin and let the landowner pay the property taxes forever while we make billions.”
Finally, we have not been properly represented by our local, county, state or federal governments. We ask “how can a foreign entity come into Michigan and demand the use of property through eminent domain”? It seems terribly wrong.
—Ron Kardos and Marjorie Brigham-Kardos, Oceola Township
The past year has been hell!! We are far from a settlement on restoration and damages, as they relate to the condemnation of our farm. Nothing has been done. We live with weeds up to my waist, dust when it’s dry, mud when it rains. We TRIED to come to an agreement in six separate meetings. Enbridge lied, bullied, attempted coercion, telling me they didn’t need to cut down 25 feet of my forest and would go around part of my wetlands, if only I would sign without my husband present and no legal counsel review of the contract. Would I sign the Enbridge contract if I had to do over? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!
I hope to have the opportunity to tell our story to a jury. I want Enbridge to have to explain their behavior in Court. I want Enbridge’s dirty dealings to be a matter of public record.
—Carol Brimhall, Stockbridge
Even though I am no youngster (in my sixties) you would think I would know better; but I was surprised to witness the absolute worst of human nature this last year. From the first contact with the greedy, dishonest land agent to the unbelievably arrogant workers I saw extremes of every bad trait in human nature. Probably one of the worst parts of the experience this last year was the rude awakening that our government, from local township, to State Representative, Senator, and Governor, Public Service Commission, all do not care ONE SINGLE BIT what happens to the homeowners on the pipeline. It was a case of “if it isn’t adversely affecting me personally, then I don’t care”. It would take forever to list every terrible event, but the worst days may have been seeing Enbridge Oil violate the temporary work space and trespass on our property (again and again). Most days last winter required us to be outside in snowstorms, all day long sometimes to protect our personal property from being damaged by their equipment and snarky employees.
I think I can sum it up by saying, I believe Enbridge Oil gives potential hires an ethics test. But, if they pass it, then they don’t hire them!
—Anon., Groveland Twp.
The finishing touches were a little slow, but so far all promises have been kept. Fingers crossed!
—Robert Flynn, Howell
No restoration has begun on our property except for the septic field replacement that was compromised by Enbridge in the first place. No phone calls are being returned. No answers are being received. My husband Dave is so upset over this that he had a stroke last Saturday. We need more than empty promises. Our backyard is disgusting. Enbridge is a corporate bully who terrorizes their landowners. This has been a nightmare for the past 3 years of our lives. We want our fences back and the promised restoration completed without anymore lies.
—Judy Tanciar, Fenton
If you missed it, we kicked off our new series on “Landowner Stories” yesterday. (We posted a general introduction to the series the day before that.) Marty and Patti Burke’s story is a moving one. Today, we bring you a second installment. And while we don’t plan to spend all of our time prefacing these stories with “I told you sos,” the truth is that we told ’em so. Today’s entry, from Allison Bader of Howell illustrates a couple of points we have made over and over and over again: first, that unhappy landowners are not just people who “oppose” the project. Allison makes quite clear that she was very much in favor of it. And second, that the land agent system is severely broken and is the source of much of Enbridge’s problem on this project. Too many people don’t know what to do once trust with their agent has been broken (and it is all too frequently broken!). Unless one is resourceful and persistent and able to track down someone other than one’s land agent to help, one is left helpless and lost.
By Allison Bader
Our land contractor was sweet as pie, always checking in on us if we had any questions, always aware of what was going on. We felt rushed to get the contract signed “now, now” because the project was getting started. Enbridge “needed” to take out 100 of my grandfather’s 30ft pine trees in order to save our pond. Only 2 were allowed to be saved and transplanted, but we had to Rush to move them WHILE the demolitions crew came through. Then the site was left for over a month before construction actually began.
I had problems getting ahold of the contractor when ground was being broken and our pond was not protected as it was supposed to be according to our contract. When I did finally get to talk to him, he suddenly had no idea what was going on, did not know who to ask for help, and did not know what to do about fixing it. I found the Environmental Specialist of the project myself and he had a whole team working on silt fences and other pond protecting measures that very day. I was very thankful to the crew for that. This summer one single worker took down the straw bales and straw roles around the pond just in time for it to rain and storm for the next week allowing dirt to run through the remaining silt fence and into our pond. Again our land contractor could not help us. I finally found a worker who got a team to put up a second silt fence to prevent further damage.
We did not expect 2 summers to be ruined by this project and feel that we were not compensated accordingly. We have since discovered that both neighbors on either side, who have equal land space taken over, received twice as much in compensation without 100 trees taken out or a ruined pond. We never even got a land-bridge to the back of our property, which had been in our contract.
Overall, I thought this was a necessary project that could have been completed in a timely fashion while benefiting the community with jobs for the construction crew and with business to our locals from the construction crew. I now think that the process was drawn out unnecessarily and that those higher up in the company did not find the landowners very important as their Update Letters seem to suggest.
A few side notes:
-My neighbor is still waiting for his drain tile to be fixed. The crew fixed our drain tile instead.
-I do hope my land restoration is complete and with grass grown by my wedding date next June.
Today, we are proud to launch our new series: “Landowner Stories,” which will bring you the reflections of Line 6B landowners along Phase One– in their own words! Our first installment comes from Marty and Patti Burke, who live in Oceola Township. Their house is among those in closest proximity to the new pipeline.
The three barrels on the right mark the location of the pipe next to the Burkes’ home.
By Marty Burke
When I try to express verbally or in writing what the last two years has done to us both as a family and or community I become mentally/emotionally paralyzed a bit.
Lets take a look at the negative impact. For me unfortunately there still is not a single positive impact I can see here.
What has Enbridge taken from me?
1) My family’s sense of well being
That intangible feeling you have in your home that this is your place – your save haven – your central command of well being if you will. The place where you have to think, but just feel that it’s your place and because you have pride in it and work hard to pay for it no one can take it from you.
2) My trust in all levels of government from my township to the federal government.
I still struggle to understand every single day how my government, the exact people that are there, paid by me to protect my rights, to protect me from a foreign invader like Enbridge, could have abandoned me in my hour of need. That they could completely turn their backs on me and allow Enbridge without check to take my land/condemn my home and steal part of what I’ve worked for, paid for the last 20 years. I’ve canvassed all levels of governing bodies and found out that not one including our State/county/city/TWP regulators have a requirement for minimum distance a dwelling can be from a high pressure oil pipeline. How can that be when even our lowest level of regulation (TWP) can tell you how far your pole barn has to be from your garage or how far a shed can be from a property line but they have no requirement as to how far your home must be from an oil pipeline? Well, it’s pretty simple if they are involved in setting precedent that could cost Enbridge money (i.e., buying homes that violate the req.) they will be sued by Enbridge and they will lose. So … you and I pay the price for it. . . sounds reasonable, right?
3) My trust in law enforcement and the court system.
When I heard on our local Livingston county radio station that Our Sheriff was allowing Livingston county Sheriff’s deputies to work during their off time as contract security for Enbridge while wearing county uniforms/carrying weapons/driving county vehicles all paid for by the residents of Livinston county I just couldn’t believe it. How was this ever even considered by our Sheriff’s Dept.? How could they possibly have thought this would be in the best interest of our community?
How could it be that when I called 911 to report criminal trespass (by Enbridge) on our private road (Sue Dr.) the Sheriff’s Dept showed up and called the prosecutor’s office? The Livingston County prosecutor’s response was we won’t press charges on behalf of the residents of Sue. Dr.; it’s a civil matter, and I quote “the same as someone on Sue Dr. ordering a pizza and a pizza boy driving down the road.” Yet this same prosecutor was willing to press charges against me for not allowing Enbridge on my property because the site plan they had approved in court did not match what they laid out on my property (which included temporary workspace that was 3 feet from the foundation of my home). The Sheriff’s dept came to my home three times in this time frame to convince me to comply. The last time they brought a 400 lb process server to let me know it was my last chance before I go to jail – he also reminded me that my wife could be arrested too. I complied …. props to Enbridge ..they never lose, do they? Enbridge’s response to my situation would be this – it’s a shame Mr. Burke didn’t comply with us – none of this would have occurred.
4) My Privacy
A year before Enbridge ever broke ground on the line 6B project it was a beautiful sunny afternoon when my daughter came in from our pool and said dad a couple of guys came out of the woods and are in our back yard (remember I live on ten acres – this is not a normal occurrence). I was obviously not happy with this situation and went out to confront them.
They told me they were a contractor to Enbridge hired to do 3D mapping of my property. They were two football fields north of the Enbridge easement. They were in my backyard; the line is in my front yard. This was just the beginning of an endless cycle of unannounced visits by Enbridge and their agents/contractors often times in areas of my property that they no have right to be in.
Fast forward to construction phase – after a lengthy standoff the construction on my property commenced. Enbridge with all their prestigious Engineering savvy came to the conclusion at the last minute that they couldn’t dig the trench as close at it was planned to be to my house so they counterbored underground parallel to the front of my house under my driveway. Now at this point if I sit in my living room to chat with family/watch TV/read/work I’m looking at Enbridge workers walking back and forth in front of my home maybe 10 feet from my windows. They can look in (and they do) and see myself and my family – heck they can see what we’re watching on TV.
Construction vehicles and workers just a few feet from the Burkes’ home.
When I leave for work in the morning they are coming up my driveway – when I come home they are still there working – I can hear their voices from my kitchen while my wife and I are making dinner or talking. The sound of their equipment running constantly is maddening then slowly becomes numbing over time. There is a constant resonance/vibration in my home now and I can’t stop wondering is this hurting the structure of my home?
When I go out in my garage to work on a project there are Enbridge workers outside my windows and multiple Enbridge trucks parked 5 feet from my garage.
When I try to hunt on my property Enbridge workers call the Sheriff’s Dept. and tell them I’m shooting at them. And the Sheriff’s Dept. pays me a visit once again.
When I look out any window of my home I no longer see the beautiful views that I’ve grown used to. I now see workers, equipment, trucks, construction debris, mounds of dirt, and large holes and hazard orange ….hazard orange everywhere.
5) My Sense of well being.
One of the most insidious and difficult things to explain to someone not directly living this nightmare is the toll it takes on your general sense of well being. Not feeling like you’re coming home to your place of solace, instead dreading on a daily basis seeing the state of disarray your home is in. Not knowing how all of this will affect you this month, next month, or next year. Knowing you’re helpless to stop it. Knowing it will have a negative impact on the value of your home in already trying economic times. While these things may seem small to some on a point by point basis it has a cumulative effect on a person. In general you don’t feel hopeful about the outcome. This gut feeling spreads to other areas of your life like work for instance or social scenarios or family issues or health issues. You don’t always feel it but it’s there nonetheless.
Even connections we have with our neighbors are different, some are settling with Enbridge – others are not. Other ancillary issues arise that need consensus from all in the neighborhood, but now this is hard to come by as the “Enridge Effect” has polarized some and alienated others altogether, so coming together as a community just seems to be fractured.
I think this one has to be in the Enbridge handbook on disorientate, alienate, conquer, and divide. Props again to Enbridge.
6) Last but not least ….
The value of my property. Think about this …When Enbridge first approached us to get us to sign off on the “Plan” they had for our property their good faith offer was $6,000.00 . They had lots of charts and monkey math to show why this was more than fair. Keep in mind we would be closer to the proposed pipeline than any other home in our area.
Within a month we started hearing that some neighbors were settling with them with zero impact to their properties other than losing trees for ten times what they offered us.
Good Faith???? Enbridge’s approach to justifying what they do or don’t pay you for loss of value to your property due to their taking and their deplorable reputation is what the industry refers to as the Utility taking of your home.
They actually told me the utility they were taking was relevant due to the fact that there was already a pipeline there. Of course, they own the pipeline that was already there and we were never compensated for taking if you will. What a strange and self convenient logic …kind of like saying I shouldn’t pay for smashing your car because, it was already smashed -never mind the fact that I’m the guy who smashed it in the first place and never fixed it.
Bottom line is I’ve watched my homes value plummet while all others in my area are back on the rise. I have a nice, well maintained home on a beautiful piece of property only one issue – the new Enbridge easement now encompasses the front of my home. My home literally interrupts the north side of the easement.
For Enbridge this becomes a kind of self-fulfilling cost-save prophecy. The longer they wait to settle the less my house is worth (because of them). So the less the value of the taking they eventually pay for. The courts already allowed them to postpone my hearing date from June of this year to Sept of this year. I fully expect the court to allow them to postpone it again. It’s sheer ludicrousy. How can it be legal? How can it be happening?
How can our legal system allow a company with annual sales in the tens of billions to systematically rob individuals of just compensation? Never mind the dehumanizing effect Enbridge has on thousands upon thousand of individuals and families. They even get to offset their costs of doing business on the backs of real people, families, communities.
It truly is numbing and it truly is a nightmare. How can it happen in America? Who would let such a thing happen to us?
Who would put themselves in our shoes?
This week, we’re going to relinquish a little bit of content-control of this blog in order to bring you a new, lengthy series: real stories from real Line 6B landowners. We’re going to let landowners tell you their own stories about their experience with Enbridge in their own words, with as little editorial intrusion from us as possible. But first, we’d like to say a few words in advance just by way of introduction to the series.
One of Enbride’s favorite strategies in the face of criticism has been to pretend that those who have been outspoken are really just a handful of disgruntled, hard-to-please complainers. Either that or all the ruckus is just the predictable rumblings of some easily dismissed “special interest groups.” Over the past year, we’ve seen various iterations of this specious point– from Patrick Daniel, from Larry Springer, from Tom Hodge, and, especially, from Jason Manshum. Not long ago, for instance, Manshum stated that, “the vast majority of landowners we’ve worked with are pleased with negotiations.” Like most things that Manshum says, that statement is almost completely unverifiable, unless Enbridge is sitting on some comprehensive survey of landowner satisfaction that they aren’t sharing, a survey that we and every landowner we know was not invited to participate in (in which case it wouldn’t be comprehensive). Larry Springer’s similarly disingenuous version of the same line a few months before was his statement that “In a minority of cases, Enbridge made several attempts to negotiate in good faith but was forced to resort to the court process.” (Seriously, has Springer spent 10 minutes in Michigan the past year? Does he really have the slightest clue as to what any individual negotiations were really like? Has he ever spoken to a single landowner on the Line 6B route, even when he had the chance? Does he have even the faintest idea as to whether the things he says about landowner relations are actually true?). Anyway, for a long time we’ve thought about how useful it would be to have some actual empirical data on this question of landowner (dis)satisfaction. After all, it is theoretically possible that it would actually prove Enbridge’s point and make us look like precisely the aberrant, tiny minority of complainers Enbridge would prefer to make us out to be. On the other hand, perhaps it would demonstrate just the opposite.
We’ve taken up this discussion before. In fact, you might recall that we even wrote to Manshum himself to ask whether he had any actual data to support his claims of overwhelming landowner satisfaction. But he never replied. You see, despite his misleading title of “senior adviser of community relations,” Manshum is not really in the business of forging relations with the community. His job is really just to toss out pleasing-sounding phrases for the press. Confronted with a real member of the community seeking to have a real discussion about real, substantive matters, Manshum (like the rest of Enbridge’s pre-programmed PR soldiers) ducks and dodges and hides.
Unfortunately, we have neither the time, the expertise, nor the resources to conduct the sort of careful study, controlling for all sorts of variables– what constitutes a “vast” as opposed to a simple majority? what counts as “pleased”? what happens if you exclude landowners who live on large farms or don’t occupy their property at all? what percentage of unhappy landowners is acceptable to Enbridge? — that could be empirically useful here. What we have instead are stories, lots and lots of stories. What’s interesting about them, though, is just how similar they are. We’re willing to accept– and forgive– the occasional “honest mistake,” which is how Enbridge reps like to describe certain incidents (we’ve heard this on multiple occasions). But when the same mistake happens not just a handful of times, but repeatedly, dozens of times… well, then we think you’re no longer dealing with mistakes; you’re dealing with patterns of behavior, standard practices, systemic problems.
So here’s what we did (in, we admit, a totally unscientific manner): we contacted as many landowners along Phase One as we possibly could and we asked them to reflect a little on the past year working with Enbridge. We asked them to be honest and to tell us what they thought and how they felt about their experience, bad, good, or otherwise. We asked them to pass along our call for contributions to their neighbors and others along the route whom we might not know.
Now, you could say– and we imagine Enbridge will say– that the responses we received and will share with you come from a self-selecting group. A bunch of complainers who are drawn to a complaining blog. Maybe that’s true. But we can say with certainty that our sample is far less selective (and much larger!), not to mention far less curated and orchestrated than what you get from the Enbridge marketing department when, say, they trot out “Dr. Michael Milan,” gussy him up in some fancy camo hunting gear, and have him pose for print ad photographs. So, while admittedly, it’s hard to say just how representative the stories we’re bringing you really are, there are enough of them to suggest that this is more than an aberration. And we can say with absolute certainty that you’ll be hearing from real landowners, ordinary people, your neighbors (to use a phrase Enbridge is fond of using)– not just a bunch of people who “are never going to be happy,” not “special interest groups,” not “professional opposition,” not even people who “oppose the pipeline,” and definitely not “revolutionaries.”
Our hope is that by gathering together a collection of these stories as a critical mass, Enbridge will, for once, set aside the defensiveness and the posturing, the denial and the carefully-honed messaging and do what it has thus far been either unwilling or unable to do: take a cold, hard, sober, honest look at itself, at the conduct of its land agents and representatives and its treatment of the fine people of the great state of Michigan, then decide for itself whether they have lived up to its own professed values.
Finally, if you are a landowner and haven’t heard from us or haven’t yet contributed, but would like to. Please send your thoughts and reflections here-– as long or as short as you like; a couple of sentences or a handful of paragraphy. We will happily maintain your anonymity if you prefer; just let us know whether you’d like your name to appear. Either way, we only ask that you specify your location (city, town, or township). We’re glad to respond to any questions as well.
We apologize for the silence around here the past week or so. We took a much needed vacation over to the paradise that is Northern Michigan, spending lots of time at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. As always, it was energizing and a reminder of Michigan’s magnificent natural resources– all the more reason to continue doing whatever small part we can to protect them.
Now that we’re back, we’ve got a plea to make on behalf of our friends at the Pipeline Safety Trust. It’s time for the liquid pipelines industry to put up or shut up.
As you may recall, the Pipeline Safety Trust hosts an annual conference that brings together members of industry, regulators, and ordinary citizens to engage in productive dialogue about pipeline safety. We were privileged to attend and speak at the conference last year. It’s an invigorating and important event. The work that the PS Trust does is quiet, but vital. Ordinary citizens are a crucial part of that work. But here’s the problem:
The PS Trust isn’t exactly rich and the conference isn’t exactly cheap. It’s not easy or affordable for a lot of ordinary citizens to get to New Orleans to participate. In the past, the Trust has been able to subsidize much of that travel by securing external grants. Unfortunately, funding sources have dried up. And that means that a lot of citizens– think, for instance, of those people affected by the terrible spill in Mayflower, Arkansas– will likely not be able to attend.
To solve this problem, the Trust has embarked upon a fundraising effort. They’ve estimated that they’ll need to raise about $15,000- 20,000. We think this this sort of crowdfunding is great and we hope you will consider donating something small. It’s worth a few dollars, we promise. But having said that, here’s the thing:
It should be obvious to everyone where the money for this travel should come from. It’s not the PS Trust or the regulatory agencies or ordinary people who have the resources to fund this sort of thing. It’s industry. We’re talking here about corporations that make hundreds of millions of dollars in profit a year. There’s probably $20k in loose change between the cushions of the couches in the lobby at the corporate headquarters.
But the fact that industry can easily generate the sum the PS Trust needs is the least of the reasons why they should pick up this tab. The more important reason is because it’s in their interest to do so. Regular citizens, particularly landowners with pipelines running through their properties, are crucial players in pipeline safety. Everyone agrees on this. We are the first first-responders. We are supposed to be partners, collaborators in pipeline safety.
In fact, that’s exactly what the industry says. The pipeline companies profess to be committed to cultivating productive partnerships and engaging in open dialogue with citizen stakeholders. For instance:
- PG&E says that “Engaging with our stakeholders is an essential part of our approach to sustainability—and an area of continued emphasis for PG&E. Doing so enables us to learn from, inform and problem-solve with our diverse stakeholders.”
- Exxon Mobil insists that “Continued dialogue is critical to the long-term relationship between our employees and our neighbors. That’s why we invite community members to discuss their concerns with us.”
- TransCanada says that “Everything we do depends on the strength of our relationship with local residents.”
- Williams Pipelines “takes great pride in the relationship of trust and harmony we’ve developed with the many landowners and communities with whom we co-exist.”
- Spectra Energy asserts that “community stewardship means listening to and being responsible members of the communities we serve. We engage local stakeholders affected by our projects and ongoing operations early and often…”
- And Enbridge says that “developing and maintaining good relationships with our stakeholders – the landowners, tenants and neighbours along our pipeline system – is important to us.” And one of the ways they do this is by “consulting with the individuals who live along our pipelines, and with those who may become our neighbours as our pipeline network grows.”
Other companies make similar claims. And we want to believe them. We really do. So here is a chance for them to make good on all of those assertions, to actually go out of their way to ensure that landowners are in attendance at a gathering specifically designed to foster the kinds of engagements, consultations, and relationships of trust and harmony they claim (publicly) to value. Here is a perfect opportunity for those corporations to put their money where their collective corporate mouth is. In fact, it would be a PR coup for them. They could announce their donations on their websites, tout them in their next annual corporate responsibility reports, make them a talking point for their Jason Manshums and Shawn Howards. Heck, we would even praise them right here in this blog for making good on their stated commitments, for taking action commensurate with their words!
And it would hardly cost them a thing. What is, say, $5000 to a billion dollar corporation? Any one of the companies I’ve listed above could cut the Pipeline Safety Trust a check for the full $20k and not even miss it. Just a quarter of that from each of the six I’ve listed above and the PS Trust’s goal would be exceeded by a third.
Or, to put this another way, just consider: in 2011, the total compensation of Stephen Wuori of Enbridge exceeded six million dollars. According to the same source, Russell Girling of TransCanada made about the same. And Christopher Johns of PG&E made more than five million. Do you think that between the three of them they could come up with a mere $15,000 dollars to demonstrate their commitment to pipeline safety? Or better yet, why don’t they show some real vision and leadership by establishing a permanent fund specifically designated for citizen travel to the conference every year and distributed by the Trust, thereby permanently sparing Carl Weimer, who has much better things to do, from ever again having to go around panhandling?
So we’ll see what happens. If the funding for citizen travel does not materialize– or if it only comes from committed and generous people who are NOT from the industry– then we’ll know for sure whether all the industry talk about engaging and consulting landowners and neighbors is a reality or just pleasant-sounding rhetoric.