If you read this blog diligently (we know there are precious few of you who do!), you may have noticed recently a fascinating and very troubling conversation in the comments section of our story about the re-route of Rover. There, one of our readers tells of some outrageous strong arm tactics coming from Rover in order to do surveys on landowner properties.
What do me mean by strong arm tactics? Well, threats of legal actions, armed guards (we’re not joking!), and some rather unfortunate support from a county sheriff. Here’s the story:
Initially the request to survey was denied by several property owners. On the August 22th a certified letter were received by several property owners stating if the enclosed survey consent letter was not returned within 30 days. Legal action would be taken to acquire a court order to proceed with the survey.
On August 25th the survey crews unexpectedly (without any notice) entered the properties to survey. Along with the survey crew were 6 – 8 security guards (some armed) as well as 20-30 individuals to walk the potential easement right of way area looking for artifacts. When informed they were trespassing and to leave the property at once they refused and offered to call the County Sheriff. When the County Sheriff arrived he informed the property owners the survey crew were within the law and could not be stopped from entering the property.
It was the ET Rover Landsman who then brought forward MCL 213.54(3) as being the legal grounds for the survey crews to enter the properties, although the property owners were only given two days over the weekend to respond to the certified mailing. Also there was no consideration given to the property owner by ET Rover before entering the properties to survey with exercising their rights under MCL 213.54 (3).
Specifically with the following provision:
MCL 213.54(3): The entry may be made upon reasonable notice to the owner and at reasonable hours. An entry made pursuant to this subsection shall not be construed as a taking. The owner or his or her representative shall be given a reasonable opportunity to accompany the agency’s agent or employee during the entry upon the property.
We’ve done some follow up with the poster and we have no reason whatsoever to doubt this story’s veracity. A local newspaper even took a photograph of the caravan along with a brief article, unfortunately incomplete in detail, on the matter. Information on all of this is still forthcoming, but we’d like to make a few brief observations in the meantime
First, we think Rover is just plain wrong on the law. They do not meet the definition of a “private agency” as set forth in the statute they cite (MCL 213.51(h): “a person, partnership, association, corporation, or entity, other than a public agency, authorized by law to condemn property.” ET Rover does NOT have the authority to condemn property and will not have it until (that is, if) FERC approves their application. If we’re right, then ET Rover is both mischaracterizing and breaking the law.
Secondly, we have no idea what that county sheriff was thinking or why he was doing ET Rover’s bidding. It appears he simply believed Rover’s (mistaken) account of the law. And since we are pretty sure that sheriffs are neither lawyers nor judges, and since we are equally sure that that sheriff is paid to protect the citizens of his county and not out of state corporations, the sheriff’s actions appear to be shameful. We’ve seen these sorts of cozy relationships between pipeline companies and local law enforcement before. It is a troubling and appalling practice.
Finally, even if ET Rover were right about the law (which we believe they are not), this incident plainly violates both their own rhetoric and their industry standards. Showing up to someone’s property with armed guards is not acting as “a good neighbor.” Nor is it any sort of way, as the industry’s “Commitment to Landowners” states, to build “positive, lasting relationships” based “on mutual respect and trust.”
We’ll continue to report more on this as we learn further details. Based on continually emerging stories about ET Rover’s treatment of landowners, it’s become all but impossible for us to maintain the dime hope we had at the beginning of this process: that ET Rover would not be just like Enbridge.
There’s been a lot of speculation, rumor, and uncertainty about the currently proposed ET Rover route. In Rover’s latest filing with FERC they have published maps of their proposed route and alternatives. You can find this filing by searching the docket at FERC; it’s a long document, several in fact. But for most readers of this blog, the map of the alternative route is below. The “alternative route” is the one in blue. The new route is the one in yellow.
And here is what Rover says about the two routes:
Landowners in Oakland County, Michigan identified multiple concerns with the Oakland Alternative with respect to land disturbance associated with construction and operation of the pipeline. The main concern was the addition of another pipeline within developed residential areas that have grown up around existing utility corridors. Some commenters expressed concern about further disruption to their property following recent construction activities associated with the Line 6B pipeline replacement activities.
ET Rover identified several congested residential areas where it would be difficult to route the pipeline without some significant disruption to residents. Therefore, while the Oakland Alternative is shorter by 16.4 miles than the corresponding segment of the proposed route, the proposed route avoids construction through developed residential areas without transferring similar impacts to other areas, and will have reduced impacts on streams, wetlands, and public lands. Therefore, it was eliminated.
In keeping with Rover’s truly appalling communication style, this paragraph not terribly clear. Specifically, it’s not at all clear what “was eliminated.” (If this were written by one of our students, that last sentence would be circled in red with an “unclear pronoun reference” comment in the margin.) But based on the filings, it’s the Oakland Alternative that they’re eliminating.
So, it looks like Rover’s new proposed route avoids Oakland County, now running north from Livingston through Genesee and Lapeer counties. That’s certainly excellent news for Oakland County residents, but in our view the fight shouldn’t be over yet. Livingston, Genesee, and Lapeer residents now need to step up and take action. Otherwise, Roveer is STILL coming to Michigan.
When the ET Rover project first came to light back in July, we immediately called and wrote to several ET Rover representatives to try and obtain some basic information. Those efforts largely failed. After some effort, we were finally able to communicate with a couple of people, though we never really received the information we were seeking. But we did take the opportunity to try and give the Rover project team some friendly advice. What we said was that, after a long and exhausting experience with Enbridge, people in Michigan are quite weary of (and wise to) the way pipeline companies communicate with landowners. We said that vague information, evasive answers, inaccuracies, and conflicting accounts of the kind we’ve grown accustomed to from Enbridge were not going to fly. We said that people simply weren’t going to tolerate it and that if ET Rover didn’t do better, they were going to have a very rough ride up here.
Well, those warnings have clearly gone unheeded. Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard all sorts of stories about the strange, inaccurate, and untrue things that Rover’s agents are telling landowners. And we’ve heard all kinds of rumor and speculation about alterations to the Rover route. But none of it– nothing– can really be verified. Rover just isn’t saying. Getting clear and straightforward information from them has been like pulling teeth.
And you don’t have to take our word for it. Just read the latest from the always-excellent Susan Bromley in the Brandon Citizen. She tried (as we did) to get to the bottom of the current rumor that the proposed Rover route has changed significantly. Here’s her account of how that went:
Vicki Granado, a public relations spokeswoman for ET Rover, would not confirm that the pipeline route had changed. On Wednesday, under repeated questioning, she maintained that the route is “a work in progress” and there will be no final route until all surveys are in.
Groveland Township Supervisor Bob DePalma is even more blunt about the way ET Rover has been communicating with people and municipalities along the route (and this is the same Bob DePalma mind you, who seemed to have a very high tolerance for Enbridge’s p.r. flimflammery):
“I can’t get good answers from Rover, they’ve just done a deplorable job,” said DePalma. “Now they’ve hired PR people that are going to come out. I’ve been in marketing for more than 30 years and this is the worst managed project I’ve ever seen… Facts have been extremely difficult to get from Rover.”
These comments echo the many, many accounts we’ve been hearing from landowners about the unclear or misinformation they’ve been receiving. This is no way to make new friends and partners, that’s for sure. The result is a whole lot of frustration and mounting opposition to the ET Rover project. Just this week, another township supervisor, Bruce Township’s Richard Cory, said “We now have a unified force in how we feel about the pipeline. We don’t want this in Bruce Township.”
Having said all of that, unlike Bromley, we have been told by Rover that they’ve made some changes to the route (though they’re not saying what those changes are) and that they might be reaching out to additional townships and landowners. If that’s true, those landowners and townships are going to have to make their preferences known, to say no to survey requests, hold meetings, and pass resolutions opposing this project.
To that end, the next informational meeting for landowners and the public featuring the indefatigable Jeff Axt will take place in Oceola Township on Thursday, August 28 at 7 pm at the Oceola Township Hall.
For quite a while now, we (like others) have been talking about the way Enbridge opportunistically took advantage of the climate of worry following the Marshall spill to hastily get approval to replace Line 6B in three segments and thereby circumvent regulatory processes, particularly the Presidential Permitting process that has kept Keystone XL in such limbo. We have also taken note of Enbridge’s various other schemes to out-Keystone Keystone. One has to admit: they are awfully crafty.
Just how crafty? Well, David Shaffer, who does outstanding work for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, has a great story this week about a very clever, very troubling bait-and-switch Enbridge is planning (in collusion, it appears, with the Department of State) to get more oil into the U.S. Essentially, Enbridge is going to ship oil from Canada to the U.S. border through one pipe, switch it to another to get it across the border, then switch it back to ship it to refineries. It’s a little bit like smuggling (but right out in the open).
Why the pipe-switching gymnastics? Well, this will allow Enbridge to evade the requirements of the Presidential Permits on their Alberta Clipper and Line 3 pipelines, which place restrictions on the amount of oil that can be shipped through them. It would also allow Enbridge to avoid the important public and environmental scrutiny– that is to say, the democratic process– that exists (ostensibly) to bring a little sanity and concern for the public interest to bear upon operations like Enbridge’s. The fact that our elected officials and regulatory agencies turn a blind eye to these kinds of shenanigans is a breach of the public trust, allowing foreign companies like Enbridge to trample upon landowners and the environment so that they can reap huge profits transporting tar sands oil destined mainly for export. In our view, it’s outrageous. and if not flatly illegal, then certainly “a clear misinterpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law.”
First Rover, Now NEXUS
Oh, but there’s more. Also this week, just as the efforts of Michigan citizens to prevent an unnecessary natural gas pipeline project from tearing its way across half the state, another nearly identical project was announced. NEXUS Gas Transmission would move the same gas from and to the same places as ET Rover and take a very similar path. The main difference is that it appears that NEXUS will mainly use existing infrastructure and not require new construction. That’s okay news for landowners, but it’s not necessarily great news in general, as once again, we’re talking here mainly about gas from fracking operations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania destined for import to Canada.
But here’s the interesting part: whose existing infrastructure do you think is going to be used for NEXUS? You guessed it: Enbridge’s. Apparently, the gas would travel through the Vector pipeline system (many Line 6B landowners also have the Vector pipeline on their properties).
You might be asking yourself, at this point, “is Enbridge in bed with everybody?” The answer appears to be yes. Their fingerprints are everywhere. And now, after partnering with Energy Transfer to abandon a gas pipeline that they (and FERC) agreed was unnecessary so that Enbridge could use it to ship crude oil– after that, Enbridge is now going to compete with Energy Transfer to ship gas to the very same markets that they said a year ago didn’t need it. (Yes, our head is spinning to.) Even worse, it may well be that it is in Enbridge’s best interests to see the ET Rover project thwarted (although we fail to see how Enbridge and its NEXUS partners DTE and Spectra Energy can make the necessity argument against ET Rover, as that would only undermine their own application to FERC). At the very least, Enbridge surely will think that it is in its best interest for everyone to run around arguing that their scheme to transport natural gas across Michigan is more desirable than ET Rover’s scheme. Even more perversely, they may be sort of right on that point.
Which is all the more reason that Michiganders need to tell FERC that these projects– ET Rover and NEXUS alike– are not just about re-routing. Neither one is necessary. Neither one is in the public interest of Michigan. Neither one is a “public necessity.” Otherwise, the only real outcome is that Enbridge wins. Again.
If you’ve been paying attention to Enbridge in the news, you might have heard about the protests up in Canada a couple weeks ago, where some concerned activists put up a blockade halting work on Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal project. In response to that action, Enbridge generated a shockingly disingenuous blog post under the headline– we’re not making this up– “Pipelines and protests: A meaningful discussion starts with the facts.” In it, Enbridge presents six “facts” about Line 9, as if to present themselves as the truth-tellers in contrast to those dishonest, un-factual protestors.
We’re not going to spend time here pointing out just how very arguable most of their six so-called “facts” really are. (Like the claim that “Line 9 has an excellent safety record,” which surely depends upon how one defines “excellent.”) Instead, we just need to point out how preposterous– preposterous to the point of being offensive– it is for Enbridge to try to take the high road and pretend to be genuinely devoted to “facts” and the truth.
Let’s just quickly review, for instance, some of Enbridge’s greatest hits of the last 12 months. Mind you, we’re not talking here about garden-variety public relations spin or the routine misinformation spread by land agents. We’re talking about clear, demonstrable falsehoods served up by prominent Enbridge employees, including some of their most senior executives. Here are just five examples of such falsehoods from the past year, demonstrating vividly how Enbridge engages in “meaningful discussion” starting with “facts”:
- In Indiana, Enbridge spokesperson Jennifer Smith told the public that federal regulations require them to remove all trees from the pipeline right of way.
- In Canada, Enbridge spokesman Graham White fabricated a disparaging story, out of whole cloth, about a single concerned citizen.
- In Minnesota, Senior Land Manager John McKay said that Enbridge pipeline projects begin with landowners deciding to do business with Enbridge.
- Here in Michigan, Vice President Rich Adams looked the United States EPA straight in they eye and told them an untrue story about obtaining a dredge pad permit.
- And most recently in Michigan, Vice President Brad Shamla pretended in front of the whole world that the pipeline rupture in Marshall happened a day later than it actually did.
Unfortunately, such brazen, undisguised untruths generally go unnoticed or are met with little more than a shrug of the shoulders. It may be that the public simply expects so little in the way of honesty from companies like Enbridge that we’ve all but given up on being outraged by instances of dishonesty. For example, no one in the press (or anywhere else), as far as we know, has taken any interest at all in Enbridge’s revisionist history about the date of the Marshall spill. We find this baffling and deeply disturbing. Wouldn’t you think that some dogged reporter somewhere would just want to call Brad Shamla on the phone and ask the simple question: “How can you say, on the one hand, that you don’t want to erase Marshall from your memory while, on the other hand, you deliberately pretend the day the rupture occurred was the day after it occurred?”
Worse than apathy or cynicism, however, is the fact that there are still a lot of people– local officials, journalists, newspaper editorial boards, ordinary landowners– who actually do believe things that Enbridge tells them. That’s bad and has severe consequences. It’s bad because it can leave landowners unprotected (because, say, they didn’t think they needed to hire an attorney). Bad because newspapers might type up whatever Enbridge says (and thereby misinform the public). Bad because elected officials and regulatory agencies will accept Enbridge’s word on important matters (and leave the public interest unprotected).
But the evidence (above and all throughout our archives) shows that you can’t believe the things Enbridge says, that you can’t take them at their word. And that’s why we think it is very important–imperative– to demonstrate as clearly and factually as possible when and how and why Enbridge can NOT be trusted. It’s why we continue to be outraged by false and misleading statements. Because those statements are not inconsequential; they have very real effects out in the world, your world. Our (perhaps futile) hope is that if we keep pointing them out, maybe eventually people– landowners, journalists, politicians, regulators– will be a little less trusting in the future.