Now, here’s a coincidence: the very same week that Energy Transfer Partners announced a massive new pipeline construction project that will affect a large number of Michigan citizens– including, evidently, many Line 6B landowners– state officials announced the formation of a new pipeline safety task force.
You might think that’s good news– and at first glance, we thought so too. But then we saw who is on that task force, or rather, who is NOT on it. The task force is made up entirely of representative of the very agencies that have thus far failed to protect landowners, municipalities, and the environment. Frankly, it’s outrageous.
For that reason, just this morning, we sent the letter below to Attorney General Schuette and Michigan DEQ Director Dan Wyant. Please feel free to share.
Dear Mr. Wyant and Attorney General Schuette,
This week, the Texas-based pipeline company Energy Transfer announced plans to build a new network of pipelines to transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania across the country. Nearly two hundred miles of that pipeline network would traverse Michigan, much of it crossing through the property of Michigan citizens already reeling from the recent replacement of the Enbridge Line 6B pipeline. During the latter project (which is still not complete), landowners have been mistreated, lied to, misinformed and have watched helplessly while Enbridge uprooted their lives, destroyed their property, and abused its easement rights. Many local officials had similar experiences, as Enbridge evaded local ordinances and treated townships and municipalities with disregard (at best) or disrespect (at worst). To my knowledge, neither the Attorney General’s office nor other state officials or agencies have taken even the slightest interest in this series of events .
I mention these facts as important background and context for your announcement, also this week, of a new pipeline safety task force. Although it is a very late-arriving development, I welcome this news, especially considering the many oil and gas expansion projects planned or already in progress across the state.
Having said that, it is more than a little distressing to learn that the task force that has been assembled includes not a single landowner advocate, local official, or other member of the general public (much less a representative from an environmental or conservation group)– all people who have a profound stake in protecting public health and the environment. Landowners and local officials, in particular, are on the front lines of these pipeline projects. They are the people who assume virtually ALL of the risks of these expansions (yet earn none of the rewards). They are also the people most familiar with the conditions on the ground– private property and natural resources– where many of these pipelines will be placed. In addition, they are the same citizens, as you well know, whose interests your positions exist to protect. They deserve a seat at the table and a strong voice in these matters.
I realize that pipeline operators’ dealings with landowners and local governments may not be central to the task force’s mission. However, recent experience has shown clearly that the way pipeline companies treat these stakeholders reflects the way they operate their pipelines, which affects the safety of those pipelines. Given the terrible incident in 2010 in Marshall, I’m sure you can appreciate the many and varied concerns Michigan citizens have about further oil and gas development in our state. Those concerns include a widespread perception that state officials and regulatory agencies are working more on behalf of corporate interests than on behalf of ordinary citizens. Routing and permitting decisions, for instance, already in effect exclude the very people who are most directly affected by those decisions. Excluding these citizens from this task force will only further alienate them and do little to change perceptions that state agencies fail to understand the affects their decisions have on the daily lives of regular people.
It is worth noting that a great many Michigan citizens have been working toward the goals the task force has set for itself for quite a long time. In fact, there are currently three Michigan residents (including myself) on the Board of Trustees of the national Pipeline Safety Trust. In addition, the recent “replacement” of Enbridge’s Line 6B has created a large group of citizens with first-hand experience of pipeline planning, permitting, and construction. Their experience is an invaluable resource. In short, you should have no trouble finding any number of committed, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and collaborative-minded members of the public to participate on your task force. I implore you to seek them out.
Thanks to the extraordinary staff at the Pipeline Safety Trust, we have a little more information about the proposed route for the ET Rover natural gas pipeline. That map (reproduced below)– it’s not very detailed– and some additional resources for landowners are available at the PS Trust website.
We’ll also link to that information and more on our Facebook page. If you are interested in this project or concerned about whether and how it will affect you (and you’re a social media user), please stop by and “like” us. We can post speedier updates on all of this there.
Yesterday, we broke the news of a new natural gas pipeline project that will potentially affect Line 6B landowners (how many? we don’t know). The project will transport natural gas tracked from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in West Virginia and Ohio to points around the country and Canada.
At present, very little detailed information is available, although we’re hearing from lots of landowners. We’re working hard to find out as much as we can as fast as we can. We do have a little more information in the form of a news article from the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch. Apparently, Energy Transfer has made the official announcement of the project. Here is the part that will directly affect Michiganders:
Additionally, ETP expects to construct an approximately 195-mile segment from the Defiance area through Michigan and ultimately to the Union Gas Dawn Hub (Dawn) near Sarnia, Canada providing producers with access to diverse markets and end-users in Michigan and Canada with access to Marcellus and Utica supplies.
We can’t say for sure, but given the fact that Line 6B landowners in Howell and Fenton have been contacted and the line will run to Sarnia, it sounds to us like they want to use the Line 6B corridor. However, we’ve yet to verify that. If we can find that out soon, you can bet we’ll let you know.
The other bit of information we have (from the letter sent to landowners) is that three open houses will be held in Michigan. The are as follows:
Monday, July 14 at the Fenton Township Hall in Fenton, 5:30-7:30 pm
Tuesday, July 15 at the Village Conference Center of the Comfort Inn in Chelsea, 5:30-7:30 pm
Tuesday, July 15 at the Lois Wagner Memorial Library in Richmond, 5:30-7:30 pm
A brief footnote about obtaining further details about all of this: we’ve called the contact numbers that Energy Transfer has listed for more information. Conveniently, the individuals listed are “not in the office” today. Imagine that.
We’ve just gotten some terrible news. Some already battered Line 6B landowners have received letters this week from a company called ET Rover Pipeline (a division of Energy Transfer) announcing a natural gas pipeline project that, if the company has its way, will traverse some Line 6B properties– snuggled up cozily, evidently, right alongside the shiny new Line 6B (and, in some cases, other pipelines already in place).
It’s a deeply disturbing letter, not least because of its triumphant tone, which describes the project as if it is already a done deal– even though it’s at the very beginning of the process. One can only assume this is a deliberate strategy to make landowners feel helpless; it has almost certainly further demoralized them.
And make no mistake about it, this pipeline project is the result of one thing: fracking. Here’s how the letter describes it:
Please join ET Rover Pipeline LLC (ET Rover) for an informational Open House regarding the construction and operation of the Rover Pipeline Project. The Rover Pipeline Project will be a new interstate natural gas pipeline that receives gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas formations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio and traverses through Ohio and Michigan, and terminates at the Union Gas Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada (Rover Pipeline).
The Rover Pipeline will consist of approximately 200 miles of pipeline laterals from the tailgate of natural gas processing plants and approximately 365 miles of mainline pipe in Ohio and Michigan, and 15 miles of mainline pipe across the border to the Union Gas Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada. ET Rover will also need to build compression and metering stations along its route. Because of significant increases in the domestic natural gas supply due to shale gas production, the U.S. is no longer dependent on foreign sources. The construction of the Rover Pipeline will provide new natural gas pipeline infrastructure for your area.
Natural gas pipelines are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which requires companies to hold these open houses prior to filing their applications for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. So despite the letter’s attempt to pretend that this project is inevitable, it’s really only at the very beginning of the process. What that means, however, is that it’s time to speak up and speak out before already abused and demoralized Michigan landowners have to endure a replay of the Enbridge nightmare from which, if they’re lucky, they have only just now awoken.
At this point, information is quite scarce. But we’re working on it. Rest assured we will keep you informed as more details become available. We’re preparing for action.
Whatcom Creek, Bellingham, Washington
Today marks a terrible anniversary. 15 years ago on this day, the negligence of a pipeline operator caused the deaths of three young people, changing their families’ lives forever. In the wake of that tragedy, the Pipeline Safety Trust was created to help prevent other families from having to endure the same horrible loss. The staff at the Trust works tirelessly and thanklessly to advance that cause. We’re humbled and proud to be associated with such a remarkable, committed group of people.
Fittingly, the Trust’s Executive Director Carl Weimer reflects on that awful event today in today’s inaugural post for the Trust’s brand new blog, “Smart Pig.” Please read it and share it with your friends. Everyone should know the story of Bellingham.
Read it here.
Recently, we told you about the Enbridge blog. No, not this Enbridge blog. We mean the official blog started by Enbridge and “written,” so they say, by various Enbridge muckety-mucks. It’s great fun– if you enjoy watching corporate public relations gears churning desperately and rather transparently.
The latest post to catch our eye, posted late last week, comes from big shot– and Michigan native!– Steve Wuori, who now holds the title of “Strategic Advisor, Office of the President and CEO,” whatever that means. You might remember Wuori from a while back, when he traveled back here to Michigan to sit down with some newspaper editorial boards, telling them all sorts of ridiculous things. Wuori’s blog post is titled “The big picture: Canada’s crude-oil landscape at a glance.” On the whole, the post says very little of substance, in keeping, apparently, with the Enbridge blog’s general editorial policy. In fact, it leads with this bit of vacuousness: “there are forces at work that I believe will keep energy in the forefront of public and policymaker thinking.” When has energy ever not been in the forefront of public and policymaker thinking?
At any rate, the interesting thing about the post is what Wuori says at the end, when he boldly addresses the “opposition.” His comments reveal that, while he might be a very effective “strategic advisor” and a perfectly good company man, he doesn’t know very much (or pretends not to) about his critics and the history of his own industry. Here’s what he writes in his blog’s penultimate paragraph:
All this is occurring against an intricate societal backdrop of opposition to oil transportation infrastructure development, which operates on the thesis that it is easier to oppose transportation (and pipelines in particular) than to oppose oil production directly. The Canadian oil sands have been inaccurately labeled “tar sands” (which has a nasty ring) by opponents, who seek to forestall further development of this vast resource.
Long time readers will recognize this sort of thing: it’s the old straw man tactic Enbridge likes to employ. Typically, this maneuver is deployed knowingly and strategically in a dishonest effort to make their critics look bad. Here, we’re not so sure. We suspect that, with all of its contradictory logic, this is what Wuori really thinks– which just goes to show how much he exists inside an industry bubble. Let’s break it down a little:
It’s not really clear where Wuori gets this “thesis” about opposing transportation rather than oil production. There is certainly plenty of oil production opposition taking place in North American and all around the world- like this and this. In fact, anyone who is even moderately informed about these matters understands that one of the reasons to oppose new transportation infrastructure projects is precisely to put a halt to production. After all, if all of that oil from, say, Alberta can’t be shipped, there’s not much point in digging it up in the first place (and there may be evidence to support this theory). And in fact, Wuori contradicts himself in the very next sentence, when he says that “opponents… seek to forestall further development” of tar sands oil. Wuori’s narrow, simplistic, glib thesis reduces a complex and varied set of interests and approaches to nothing more than an assault on his own company.
Wuori’s version of the opposition is also perversely self-serving in that it allows him to portray himself and his fellow pipeline operators as embattled and mistreated. The same is true when Wuori trots out the tired, untrue industry line about the term “tar sands,” repeating the industry mantra that it is “inaccurate” and somehow cooked up by fiendish radicals who just want to make a pretty thing sound “nasty.” One hears this sort of thing from the industry all the time– even though it is plainly and demonstrably untrue. For one thing, the accuracy claim is dubious at best. Sure, bitumen is used like oil, not tar. On the other hand, it bears far more resemblance, in terms of texture and look, to tar than it does to oil. See for yourself:
If you were to show this stuff to 100 people and ask them whether it is oil or tar, what do you imagine the vast majority of those 100 people would say? Despite what the industry wants to pretend, “tar” is a very accurate term for the stuff.
In addition to the claim of inaccuracy, Wuori would have you believe that the term “tar sands” was invented by opponents to tarnish (if you’ll forgive the pun) the reputation of bitumen. In this instance, we honestly don’t know whether Wuori actually believes this or if he’s simply ignorant of the history of his own industry. Most likely it’s both. But whatever the case, here’s a little history lesson:
The term “tar sands” is not some ugly-sounding label invented by petroleum opponents in an attempt to besmirch the industry as Wuori (and his colleagues) suggests. In fact, tar sands has been used to describe the resource in Alberta for the entire twentieth century. Earlier, in fact, according to about 15 minutes of our own research. In 1897, for example, the journal Science reported on a geological survey of Canada completed in 1894. The article describes a trial boring 1000 feet in depth, seeking petroleum. The explorers found that “the tar sands proved to be somewhat thicker than was expected.” In 1900, the American Journal of Science reported on another geological survey of Canada, this one from 1899: “The borings in Northern Alberta, in attempts to reach the petroleum-bearing strata at the base of the Cretaceous, have still failed to reach the ‘tar sands,’ which it is estimated lie at a depth of about 2000 feet in the Victoria Region.” A 1921 article in another journal notes that “Canada has enormous tracts of tar sands and shales.” One could easily go on, demonstrating that the term “tar sands” has been common usage for well over 100 years. “Oil sands,” by contrast, appears not to have been widely used until about the 1940s, although it occurs earlier as well.
And it’s not as if the industry doesn’t know this. They do. For example, an entry at the Suncor Energy blog (devoted to “constructive dialogue about the tar sands”), there’s an entry titled “Oil sands history: ‘tar sands’ term coined long before it was adopted by critics” that explores some of this same history. Even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers concedes that “the term ‘Tar Sands’ has been used by the oil industry for decades.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Albertan government decided that it preferred “oil sands.” And it wasn’t until the 1990s, when the Alberta Chamber of Resources convened a National Oil Sands Task force to promote tar sands development, that the industry launched a concerted public relations campaign in favor of “oil sands.” So it’s the industry that decided that “tar sands” sounds nastier and started playing this silly name game. Which is itself pretty humorous, since there’s actual research that suggests that the public thinks “oil sands” is the nastier term. Whether tar sands opponents use the term because they think it sounds worse than “oil” is a dubious claim at best. More likely, they’re just adopting common usage– a usage that goes back more than a century. Or perhaps they just don’t think they should be told how to speak or what language to use by the paid public relations euphemizers of large corporations. We can certainly understand that resistance. We’re sure as heck not going to say “oil sands” just because Steve Wuori and his industry’s army of spinmeisters think it’s a more pleasing term.
So Steve Wuori is either completely, bafflingly ignorant of this history– a history that is perfectly well known, even by his own industry colleagues– or he is willfully misleading readers of the Enbridge blog. Of course, all of this might seem like it’s of no real consequence. Why do we even bother pointing out at such length all the untruths and misinformation that comes from Enbridge? Isn’t that just standard, every day corporate behavior? That’s a vital question, we think. In a follow-up post in the next day or two we’ll take it up and try to provide an answer as to why we think it’s worth the time.
Honestly, it gives us no particular pleasure to spend our time pointing out the untruths that tumble from the mouths of Enbridge p.r. hirelings. Quite the contrary. All we really want is for them– for Enbridge– to tell the truth, to be honest and forthright and transparent in the way that they say they are, in the way that their corporate values state they will be. Unfortunately, this seems to be very difficult for them.
So, to repeat, it gives us no pleasure to have to once again point out that the things Enbridge spokesperson Jennifer Smith says cannot be trusted (and more). At the same time, it’s not our fault that she continues to deal so very disingenuously with the public. The latest example of this comes from a new report in the Times of Northwest Indiana about yet another Enbridge pipeline project that will cut across a portion of northern Indiana (and Illinois), as part of Enbridge’s ever expanding tangled network of Great Lakes region pipeline projects.
According to the article, Enbridge is preparing to clear some land– some of it publicly and other parts privately owned– in Lake County to make room for their new Line 78 pipeline. This clearing will evidently include taking down quite a number of very large trees, some of them more than a hundred years old. This is understandably troubling to many of the locals and troubling to us as well (long time readers of this blog know that we are especially sensitive when it comes to the removal of trees; Enbridge, by contrast, just doesn’t care).
But even more disturbing is Jennifer Smith’s rationale for the removal of the trees. Her explanation is– to be frank– just plain b.s. From the article:
This fall, crews will start clearing a path for the new pipeline, which will run for about five miles in western Lake County. Enbridge also plans to soon start clearing land around its existing Line 62 pipeline in Dyer and Schererville, spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said. The company will remove mostly large trees, but also any brush, sheds or pools that encroach on the utility right of way because of federal regulations that require the land to be left open for maintenance and emergency response. [italics added]
Enbridge regrets trees have to come down, but is clearing the land for safety reasons and to comply with federal regulations and industry best practices, Smith said. The company is required to fly a helicopter over the pipeline 26 times a year to make sure there are no encroachments that could slow down response times in the event of an emergency.
Smith makes it sound as if Enbridge has no choice but to remove all those trees, as if Enbridge is doing it in order to comply with federal regulations. She also seems to suggest that federal regulations require Enbridge to fly a helicopter over the line 26 times a year. However, neither one of those things is true. Let’s be clear about this: there are NO federal regulations that stipulate trees cannot be in the right of way and there are NO federal regulations that require operators to fly over the right of way 26 times a year.
For clarity, we checked with one of the people who knows these regulations better than anyone: Rebecca Craven at the Pipeline Safety Trust. Rebecca pointed us to federal law 49 CFR 195.412(a):
Each operator shall, at intervals not exceeding 3 weeks, but at least 26 times each calendar year, inspect the surface conditions on or adjacent to each pipeline right of way. Methods of inspection include walking, driving, flying, or other appropriate means of traversing the right of way.
You see: operators DON’T have to inspect surface conditions by flying over; there are plenty of other ways to traverse the right of way, like walking or driving. You will also notice that there is not a word about trees in the right of way. In most cases, that is a matter addressed in easement agreements, many of which, we are quite certain, do NOT prohibit trees and other vegetation in the right of way. Ours didn’t, for example, even though we were told on numerous occasions that trees are not allowed in the right of way.
Of course, if we’re being generous, it is possible the reporter of the story somehow got Jennifer Smith’s remarks wrong– though we doubt it. It’s also possible that Jennifer Smith meant to say that these are not actually matters of federal regulation, but matters of “industry best practices.” But even in that case, “best” really only means “best for the industry,” not for landowners and communities. Further, what “best” actually means in matters like this– flyovers and trees– is “easiest” for the operator (that is, for Enbridge). It’s easier for Enbridge to work in a right of way that’s been decimated and cleared of trees. It’s easier for Enbridge to fly over a right of way in a helicopter than it is to inspect it on foot. Whether those things are “best” is another question altogether. Whether they are “required,” by contrast, is not in question at all. They are absolutely not required.
The bottom line: once again Jennifer Smith and Enbridge are not telling the good citizens of Indiana the truth.