To all of the wonderful, kind, generous, interesting, honest, smart, committed, good, decent people we have met and friends we have made (and there are a great many from Michigan and all over the country; you know who you are) as a result of this crazy, painful pipeline project:
We are genuinely and earnestly thankful for you. You have made the last year and a half bearable. Thank you.
We’re already working on our series of posts following last week’s PS Trust conference (we think we’ll start by discussing everybody’s favorite federal regulatory agency!). But there’s a holiday coming up, so we’re not sure how soon we’ll get to the first one. Meanwhile, some more papers have picked up the story of the construction delays on phase two of the Line 6B replacement, including the suspension over to our east that we mentioned last week. There’s this one and this one, for example.
And then there’s this one. If we had the energy, Joseph S. Pete’s article in the Times of Northwest Indiana (whatever happened to Lauri Harvey Keagle, who was doing such good work?) could easily be the basis of another of our “How Not to Write About Line 6B” posts. But to be honest, we haven’t got the energy; sometimes, it just feels too much like howling into the dark and empty wilderness. Suffice it to say that Pete did little more than type up a friendly Enbridge press release. Sigh.
Setting that aside, we just have one little question: aren’t any local reporters even remotely interested in asking the blatantly obvious question here about these delays? What environmental permits, specifically, has Enbridge not yet obtained and why have they not obtained them? Wouldn’t anybody covering this story think to ask that?
We’re trying to find out ourselves and will let you know if and when we learn anything.
What a conference! Once again, the remarkable folks over at the Pipeline Safety Trust— Carl Weimer (at right, in the goofy hat), Rebecca Craven, and Samya Lutz put together a fantastic two days for industry representatives, regulators, and landowners and other citizen advocates. We’re home and still a little giddy over the experience, not to mention deeply gratified to have the chance to meet and learn from so many wonderful, interesting people. Like last year, we were reminded– despite all of our attempts to appear knowledgeable and authoritative– of just how little we know. We learned a lot and have much to continue to think about. We are so grateful to the Trust for their efforts arranging this kind of event and for giving us the opportunity to be a part of it.
In our heads, we are already composing a series of posts. But we can’t get to all of it at once. We need to digest and ruminate and cogitate. If you’d like to read another account of the conference, take a look at Emily Krajack’s post over at C.O.G.E.N.T. (and check out the awesome website while you’re at it; it’s indispensable for anyone who is at all concerned about fracking). As for us, for now we’ll just mention some highlights, some of which we’ll discuss in more detail in the coming days. Here they are, in no particular order and–in homage to the relentless, oppressive Power Point slides we endured for a full two days– in handy bullet point format:
- Rebecca Craven. Period.
- Carl Weimer speaking bluntly and critically in the most amiable, disarming way imaginable. How he pulls that off is either magic or genius. Probably both.
- The cookbook– just you wait!!
- Catching up with new friends from last year: Robert Whitesides, Randy Stansberry, Mike Holmstrom, Linda Phillips, Emily Krafjack, Ben Gotschall, Glenn Archambault
- Making new friends: Julie Dermansky, Ann Jarrell, Jennie Baker (total badass), Chuck Lesniak, Lois Epstein
- Talking homebrew and Tommy Tutone with Rick Kessler
- Bill Byrd saying far less objectionable things than usual– and quoting Mark Twain!
- The KXL activist from Texas interrupting the evening reception to raise a toast to a world without fossil fuels
- San Francisco city attorney Austin Yang reminding PHMSA that delegation does not mean abdication
- David Barnett of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters calling for more industry transparency
- Rich Kuprewicz on “wild ass guesses”
- Whiskey with Josh Joswick telling of his fascinating youthful travels–on bicycle!
- Learning about Liam’s fly-fishing class from Bruce Brabec
- Learning about smoked salmon and Lummi Island from Samya Lutz
- Learning about Shawn Lyon’s Hoosier roots
- Craig Pierson using Shawn Lyon as a napkin at Cafe du Monde
- The traditional post-conference taxi ride to the airport with Mike Holmstrom
- The waiter at the airport restaurant repeatedly calling Beth Wallace “baby” (and somehow not getting himself slapped)
- Fellow Line 6B landowner Dave Gallagher calling out Enbridge reps by name
- Mayflower, Arkansas resident Ann Jarrell leaving not a dry eye in the building
Is it possible that we’ve turned a corner?
Today, the nearly unspeakable happened. We had to pinch ourselves at first just to make sure we weren’t dreaming. You see, for the first time in several emails over a period of months, we received a reply from Jason Manshum. Yes, you heard that right– an actual reply! And not just one reply: he also responded to a follow-up.
We are grateful that he took the time. After all, we understand that replying to us can be a little tricky and seemingly risky. We have not hesitated to criticize when criticism is warranted. At the same time, however, we don’t withhold praise and gratitude when that is warranted. Bafflingly, this is the thing Enbridge never seems to have understood, despite available evidence. And we don’t play games. We’re not looking to bait or trick or ambush or play gotcha or anything else. All we have EVER wanted is honest, direct, straightforward, good faith communication. We’ll also add that however much we may be critical here– we’re just calling ’em like we see ’em– we also strive to be fair and unfailingly polite in our communications with Enbridge representatives; in fact, we have never been anything but.
In other words, none of this is very complicated.
Anyway, we asked Jason about the segmenting and capping matter that we mentioned the other day. At first blush, the information seemed rather odd and unclear (though the lack of clarity may have been partly the reporter’s fault) and it was certainly not something we’d ever heard before. Manshum’s explanation is as follows (we’re paraphrasing):
The way the deactivation works, the old pipe is not just capped at either end of the long 200-plus mile stretch (one end in Griffith, Indiana and the other in Marysville, Michigan). Rather, as portions of the replacement line are complete, the old sections are deactivated, capped, and the new segments put into operation. In many cases, this capping takes place at pumping stations (which makes sense to us), but not always. So currently, portions of the replacement line are already in operation, such as the 5 miles stretch outside the Marshall pumping station.
Obviously, we are no experts. But none of this strikes us as particularly troublesome or irregular. It is a little strange that this wasn’t explained to us clearly from the start and it doesn’t ease any of the original, longstanding concerns so many of us have had from the beginning of all of this. On the other hand, we also don’t think it’s cause for any additional concerns– unless someone explains to us otherwise.
So thank you once again to Jason for clearing this matter up. See how easy that was? Perhaps this little exchange will open the door to a new phase of ongoing, cordial, transparent communication. It would certainly be appropriate, given that we’re on our way to a conference devoted to fostering just that kind of communication.
It’s that time of year again! This week, the Pipeline Safety Trust will once again host its annual conference in New Orleans. Among other things, that means Executive Director Carl Weimer will drown his frustrations and celebrate his recent electoral victory in hot, heaping piles of sugar-coated fried dough! He may even once again don that silly hat.
But when not feasting on beignets, Weimer and the other conference participants will talk about all manner of pipeline safety matters– from public awareness to regulatory oversight to… well, to some technical matters that few people this side of Mike Holmstrom and Robert Whitesides can comprehend. There’s also bound to be plenty of drama and tension: will PHMSA beg the public’s forgiveness? will the pipeline company representatives leave a tip for the waitstaff at Cafe du Monde? will the Exxon people even show their faces? will Rebecca Craven get vertigo from the carousel bar at the Hotel Monteleone? will Beth Wallace be detained at the airport by Homeland Security? will anyone from Enbridge so much as glance in our direction? will Larry Springer be there at all?
We’re not giving a presentation this year, although our friend David Gallagher will be there with, no doubt, some more horrifying pictures of construction right outside his living room. And we can’t wait to meet the tireless Ann Jarrell from Mayflower, Arkansas and citizen-activist Jennifer Baker from Vermont. These heroes will be on this year’s landowners panel, which I will moderate. (I’m still casting about for just the right pithy, cutting remark to kick off the session.) The whole thing will be webcast, just like last year. Consider tuning in. It’s quite fascinating and way more entertaining than you might think.
We will, of course, report on matters as best we can. We might even tweet the occasional Tweet, since the Trust went to all the trouble of making up a fancy, cutting-edge Twitter hashtag. If you’re into that sort of thing, it is: #PSTconf2013. The action begins at 9 am on Thursday and continues through Friday.
Here’s one we’ve been trying to steal some time to write about for a couple of months now: if you haven’t heard, Enbridge is planning to build a new 600 mile pipeline from North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin– what they’re calling the “Sandpiper Project.” Not surprisingly, this proposed project has had some landowners worried and concerned, especially a smart and well-organized group of farmers and others in Minnesota calling themselves the Carlton County Land Stewards.
Thanks to their efforts, Enbridge announced last week that it would alter its originally proposed route through Minnesota to minimize disturbances to critical forests and farming operations. Enbridge’s announcement came on the heels of a unanimous vote by the Carlton County Board backing the revised route for the pipeline.
Now, this decision by Enbridge is certainly to be commended. As we’ve said almost from the day we launched this blog, responsiveness to the concerns of landowners and local authorities is absolutely critical for establishing and maintaining good relations between pipeline operators and the public; it’s good for property rights, good for the environment, and good for pipeline safety. The trouble, of course, is that down here in Michigan, Enbridge has too often NOT been responsive or receptive to the concerns of landowners and local citizens. That’s mainly what we’ve spent so much of our time documenting for well over a year now. And that’s why we are calling the news out of Minnesota “good” with a question mark to indicate our wariness, a wariness we’re pretty sure is shared by the Carlton County Land Stewards.
Here’s a bit of context:
A tour through our archives will provide you with plenty of examples of how Enbridge has repeatedly proven itself unresponsive: from failing to hold public informational meetings on this side of the state to declining to attend township meetings, or meeting with municipalities reluctantly, flouting local ordinances, dragging its feet on agreements and actions, failing to return emails and phone calls from landowners, and on and on. We have spent far too much of our time trying to wrap our heads around this pattern of behavior, trying to figure out why it seems to be so hard for Enbridge to act according to its stated values. And we’ve been told more than once by Enbridge representatives that our experience here in Michigan is not ordinary, that it’s an “anomaly,” that for various reasons not clearly explained, the Line 6B project has been unusual. (Of course, in saying this to us, those Enbridge representatives have not taken any real responsibility for the very serious problems they have caused here; they’re just trying, once again, to explain themselves.)
We’ve always found this pill– that matters in Michigan are unique and not the norm for Enbridge– rather hard to swallow. We’ve heard too many stories from elsewhere, like in Canada, that suggest otherwise. Consider, for instance, this profile of Enbridge executive Janet Holder published in a Canadian paper a couple of months back. The article focuses on Holder’s attempts to repair the companies strained relations with the people of British Columbia, whose support is desperately needed by the company in order to get its embattled Northern Gateway project approved. What’s most striking about the article, however, is just how familiar the story it tells is. Initially, Enbridge tried to have its way, to run roughshod through B.C. Only later, after pushback from First Nations and others, did Enbridge launch a PR-style campaign to try and repair the relations it damaged. This is likewise– minus much effort at repairing relations– the story of the Line 6B “replacement.”
Just how endemic to the company is this lack of consideration toward communities and landowners? The most extraordinary part of the article is when it quotes a former Enbridge executive:
But even a former Enbridge executive said the company has done a lousy job of community engagement.
Roger Harris, a former Liberal MLA and Enbridge vice-president, said he quit the company in 2010 after it developed a “grid system” for deciding which public meetings to attend.
He said the grid assigned demerit points for meetings based on the size of the audience, the likelihood of negative questions and whether the media would be present.
Meetings that accumulated too many demerit points on the grid — indicating the company might get a rough ride in front of a large audience with reporters watching — were skipped, Harris said.
“They were afraid to attend meetings other than small, private gatherings of their supporters when they should have been embracing the outrage and trying to win over critics,” Harris said.
“They had to go into rooms of people who didn’t support them, but they refused and it just bred more suspicion.”
Janet Holder is dismissive of these remarks. But for anyone who has attempted to communicate with Enbridge, Harris’s account seems utterly plausible. It’s an explanation for the bizarre pattern of evasive engagement and poor communication we’ve encountered in numerous situations. In fact, what Harris says here is essentially what Enbridge V.P. Mark Sitek told us when he mentioned that Enbridge is reluctant to hold public meetings because it often feels “ambushed.”
So what does this have to do with Minnesota? Well, the very same week that the Holder profile appeared, one of the Carlton County Land Stewards, a farmer named Janaki Fisher-Merritt published an editorial in a local Minnesota paper. In the excellent piece, Fisher-Merritt carefully describes the reasonable concerns of Minnesota citizens about the Sandpiper project (read more on those concerns here and here). But perhaps the most striking things he says is this:
Unfortunately, there seems to be no avenue for public comment on the project at this stage. My neighbors and I have requested to meet with Enbridge to make our concerns clear. Unfortunately, the company’s officials will not meet with groups of landowners or discuss our concerns comprehensively. They instead seem to prefer to single us out and only discuss our small pieces of land, not the route as a whole.
Once again, we have the same story: a reluctance (if not outright refusal) by Enbridge to meet with communities and groups of landowners and a reliance instead on the deeply flawed and alienating land agent system.
The situation in Minnesota parallels our in Michigan in other ways as well. In another article just a few weeks ago, landowners express their frustration at Enbridge’s abuse of easement rights. It seems that Enbridge’s surveying crews were staking on properties without the property owners’ permissions. Evidently, just as they did in Michigan, Enbridge has been exerting eminent domain rights before being granted those rights by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The article also documents some familiar instances of the kind of non-communication so many of us have experienced from Enbridge: evasions, non-explanations, failures to follow up.
Based on this evidence, it’s hard to accept the notion that things in Michigan have somehow been different, that some unique set of circumstances beyond Enbridge’s control have caused all the trouble here. Quite the contrary: it appears that we are simply experiencing some version of the shabby treatment the people of British Columbia experienced. And now the people of Minnesota (and elsewhere) are experiencing the same. This is why we are cautious and chary about how “good” the news is from Minnesota. It appears to be a positive first step. We are very glad Enbridge has taken it. But, as the Carlton County group understands, it’s only a first step. There is much more work to be done. We will continue to watch the story and support our Minnesota friends in whatever ways we can.
If you are in Minnesota and want to learn more or add your voice to the chorus of concerned citizens, there is a public forum planned for later this week. Details are available here.
This week, Enbridge notified some townships on phase two that they will stop work for the winter. CJ Carnacchio over at the Oxford Leader has the story. This is a very strange turn of events and the article raises far more questions than it answers. It also contains more of the same old Manshumisms we’ve heard before. Let’s take a look:
According to Carnacchio, a letter to Oxford and Addison Townships, Manshum announced that:
. . . construction on Segment 8 (of Line 6B) is being adjusted due to timing of receipt of final environmental approvals and seasonal constraints,” Manshum wrote.
We will resume the work as soon as weather permits in 2014, and anticipate completing Segment 8 construction by mid-2014.
In the letter, Manshum treats this as if it’s good news, the result of Enbridge thoughtfulness and consideration toward landowners:
By conducting the majority of construction activities, such as excavation, installation and restoration next spring, it will allow us to minimize disruptions to landowners and impacts to the environment because work can be completed in one season.
But let’s think about this for a minute. The bit about “seasonal constraints” is surely complete hogwash. Although the letter mentions “construction challenges and potential damages associated with freezing weather, including road frost bans and slippery road conditions”– challenges that are certainly real– those things in no way prevented Enbridge from working all through the winter last year. In fact, they didn’t even begin construction on our property until November. And work continued all through December, January, and February. So clearly, Enbridge has no trouble real trouble working through the winter months. Also, it’s not clear– the article doesn’t say– whether this cessation of work applies to the parts of phase two on the west side of the state (we suspect not, but we’ll try to find out).
Winter construction work, January 2013.
What this suggests is that the real reason they’re stopping construction has to do with “the timing of receipt of final environmental approvals.” Now that’s a typically wriggly and awkward Manshum phrase, just unclear enough to leave some doubt as to what it’s actually saying. But what we suspect it is saying– although Manshum would never say anything so clear and unequivocal as this– is that Enbridge for some reason failed to obtain some necessary permits and, as a result, they have no choice but to stop work. (Again, we’re not sure about this but are trying to find out.) In other words, we strongly suspect this has nothing at all to do with “seasonal constraints” or a desire to “minimize disruptions to landowners.” That’s just Manshum disingenuously trying to dress this situation up to make Enbridge look good when in fact, they failed to do what they are required to do (secure appropriate environmental approvals and permits).
But then the article gets even stranger. Specifically, things get strange when Carnacchio explains what will happen with the old, deactivated Line 6B. It’s not entirely clear in the article, but it appears that Manshum told Carnacchio this:
The old underground pipeline will not be removed to make way for the new one. It will be left in place where it will run parallel and adjacent to the new line using the same right-of-way.
Once the new line is tied in and activated, the old line will be deactivated.
Deactivation involves purging all the oil from the old line and cleaning it thoroughly to remove any remaining crude. The old line is then taken apart, divided into small segments and capped.
It’s the last sentence here that has us scratching our heads: “The old line is then to be taken apart, divided into small segments and capped.”
This is news to us. In nearly two years of talking, thinking, and asking about the deactivated pipe we have never heard any such thing before. Surely this can’t be true. For one thing, it just doesn’t make sense. Enbridge has said from day one that the main reason for leaving the old line in place is because taking it out would cause further disruptions to landowners. In fact, Manshum says it again at the end of this article:
Coming back and removing the old pipeline once the new one is activated would be inconvenient and disruptive for landowners who would have their properties dug up and disturbed a second time, according to Manshum.
But if they’re going to divide the old line into segments and cap them, how exactly would they do this without digging up disturbing landowners’ properties a second time? This segmenting and capping business needs some further clarification and explanation to say the least. We’re looking into this, too.
Lastly, we can’t help but say one more thing about this matter of inconvenience and disruption to landowners, which Enbridge’s stableful of Manshums has been repeating for so long. That line is supposed to make it look like they just care so much about us. But frankly, it’s insulting. It is not up to Jason Manshum to decide what is too much inconvenience and disruption; no one from Enbridge has ever asked us or any other landowner whether we think the disruption it would cause would be worth the permanent removal of the old Line 6B. Until they do, we would appreciate it if they would stop speaking for us.