In not-even-remotely shocking news, the Detroit Free Press reported this past week that Enbridge knew about damaged protective coating on Line 5 for years before divulging that information to Michigan state officials. In response, some of those state officials are pretending like this is an unexpected breach of trust. Here, for example, is Valerie Brader, co-chair of the state’s Pipeline Advisory Board:
“We are deeply disappointed that Enbridge did not tell the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board in March the whole story about Line 5 coating deficiencies. . . “Enbridge owes the people of Michigan, the Advisory Board and the State an apology. This issue is too important to the people of Michigan to not tell the truth in a timely manner, and right now any trust we had in Enbridge has been seriously eroded.”
And here is the tough-talking-do-nothing Attorney General Bill Schuette:
“This latest revelation by Enbridge means that the faith and trust Michigan has placed in Enbridge has reached an even lower level. . . Enbridge needs to do more than apologize, Enbridge owes the citizens of Michigan a full and complete explanation of why they failed to truthfully report the status of the pipeline.”
How Brader or anyone else could have had any trust at all in Enbridge at this point is hard to fathom (as I explain below). And exactly what it is Schuette is asking for is anybody’s guess (what good is providing a detailed account of why they lied going to do?).
In fairness, not everybody was quite so shocked. The National Wildlife Federation’s Mike Shirberg, for example, knows the score:
“The fact that Enbridge has known about these breaks in coating for years is, unfortunately, less surprising than it ought to be,” Shriberg said in a statement. “It seems every month there is a new revelation about the deteriorating condition of Line 5 and Enbridge’s lack of transparency.”
Shirberg is right of course, but even his memory doesn’t reach back quite far enough. The really troubling thing about this latest example of Enbridge’s untrustworthiness is just how uncannily it reprises the circumstances that led to the infamous Line 6B rupture in Marshall in 2010—and that should worry everybody. On this blog, I’ve rehearsed the findings of the NTSB report on that spill more times than I can count. Every Michigander should know this history backwards and forwards. But for now, it’s worth recalling two of those findings in particular:
First, the NTSB report revealed that Enbridge knew about problems with Line 6B for years, but repeatedly determined that the defects their tests revealed did not pose any real threat. Thus the NTSB criticized them for: “Deficient integrity management procedures, which allowed well-documented crack defects in corroded areas to propagate until the pipeline failed.”
Secondly, Enbridge failed to communicate effectively with the public and first responders, which ultimately made the spill much, much worse than it otherwise might have been. That is, the NTSB criticized Enbridge for “Insufficient public awareness and education, which allowed the release to continue for nearly 14 hours after the first notification of an odor to local emergency response agencies.”
The NTSB attributed both of these failures to what it called Enbridge’s “culture of deviance” from its own safety processes and procedures.
So what does Enbridge have to say in response to this latest discovery on Line 5? Here’s their spokesman Patrick Duffy:
“The coating damage was determined not to present any threat to the safety of the pipeline at any time,” he said.
“We regret that this miscommunication may have caused confusion for state officials and the public. We are committed to being transparent on all matters related to the safe operations of our pipelines in Michigan.”
You read that right. Just like with Line 6B, Enbridge didn’t bother telling anybody about the defects they discovered on Line 5 because they determined internally that those defects aren’t a problem. And just like with Line 6B they failed to communicate honestly and openly with the public and local officials. So here we are again. This is not a disappointment or a breach of trust. This is a pattern of behavior that runs very deep.
What makes all of this even worse is that Enbridge has for the past 5 years taken every opportunity to tell us all how very much they have learned from the Marshall spill (even though history shows they don’t learn from their mistakes), how it’s something they’ll never forget (even though they can’t even tell the truth about when it happened) and how much it has transformed the company (despite so much evidence to the contrary— and more and more— including this latest). But despite all the lip service and weird fetishistic iconography they’ve created to convince us that they’ve changed, their actions suggest otherwise.
And this leaves Patrick Duffy uttering nonsense the likes of which is probably making even our old friend Larry Springer blush. Duffy maintains that the company didn’t know about the missing coating in March. But he also concedes that the company’s engineers did know. Asked why officials told the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board there were no areas of exposed metal on Line 5, Duffy says such “statements were accurate to the best of their awareness”– whatever that means. He then chalks the whole thing up to “an internal reporting issue” before gaslighting the whole state, implying that concerns about exposed steel are just overreaction: “Enbridge has come to recognize that issues which do not present a threat to the safety of the pipeline can still present a strong concern to Michigan,” he says, promising that “we are adjusting our communication approach accordingly.” (Whatever that last statement means, I’m quite sure it’s not “we will tell the truth next time.”) You don’t have to be a professional psychologist to recognize this as the sort of incoherent gibberish a person generates when they’re completely full of shit.
It’s not clear what the state will do in the face of this completely predictable revelation. Unfortunately, my best guess is that the state won’t do much at all. But whatever the case, it’s long past time we should accept anyone– elected officials, members of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, reporters, or anyone else paying the slightest attention– pretending to find Enbridge’s mistakes, missteps, misinformation, or misleading information to be anything other than business as usual.