Al Monaco, Comedian

Al Monaco, Comedian

Corporate executives say the darnedest things! This week, Enbridge CEO Al Monaco got to have a little sit-down to talk with the Duluth News Tribune–reminding us of the time Enbridge President Steve Wuori got to have a sit down with the Ed. Board at the Lansing State Journal— and causing us to wonder anew why these executives get a special audience with these papers. Why doesn’t the Duluth News Tribune invite, say,  Richard Smith from the Friends of the Headwaters in for some of that friendly shoulder-rubbing? In the interview, Monaco says some pretty hilarious things (the paper calls them “insights”), none more hilarious than his comments about environmentalists:

Misperception we’re “fighting environmentalists”

“I think maybe there’s a perception that we’re fighting environmentalists. My approach to this has always been, ‘Let us work with you. Let us figure out how we can improve the project.’ So if there are some ideas — whether (from) a community member, whether it’s a government agency, or whether it’s an environmentalist — we’d like to hear those ideas, and if it makes the project better we’ll look at it. I’m trying to make a point here that it’s not necessarily them and us. It’s what’s best for the project (and) what’s best for the communities so we protect the environment. That’s what our goal is.

“We do sit down with environmental groups, and our approach is to try and engage them, to try and understand their point of view, and hopefully they can try and understand our point of view. … Our first focus is to do what’s best for the environment and to make sure were operating safely.”

Obviously, we have no way of knowing whether Monaco actually believes this, is making some sort of joke, or just thinks it’s good p.r. to say such absurd things, knowing that the newspaper Ed. Board will just dutifully type it up and print it in their paper. What we do know, however, is that Monaco’s comments are funny enough to earn him a regular gig on one of the late night talk shows, or maybe his own HBO special.

Unfortunately, reality is slightly less amusing. Let’s just recall a quick example of how Enbridge really deals with each of these groups: environmentalists, “community member[s],” and “government agencies”:

Here is Monaco’s predecessor Patrick Daniel explaining how environmentalists are “revolutionaries” out to upend society as we know it.

Here is Enbride spokesperson Graham White making up a demonstrably false and disparaging story about a concerned community member (and a follow-up).

And here is Enbridge Vice President Richard Adams looking a major government agency– the EPA– straight in the eye and telling them something other than the truth.

It seems to us that the only groups Enbridge really cares to “sit down” with to share their point of view are friendly, credulous newspaper editorial pages willing to grant them “exclusive” interviews.

 

 

“Life Amongst the Tar Sands” (Video)

“Life Amongst the Tar Sands” (Video)

As some of you know, we were fortunate enough to participate in a forum about tar sands oil development in the Great Lakes Region a couple of weeks ago. Organized by our friend, fellow Line 6B landowner, and Notre Dame University professor Patricia Maurice and hosted by the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values.

Patricia and I were joined by MSU’s Steve Hamilton, who has been a consultant on the Kalamazoo River cleanup, and Beth Wallace, who you surely know by now. Each of us presented for 15 or so minutes and then we took questions from a wonderful and wonderfully-engaged audience.

We thought the event was a smashing success. The room was full and the audience interested, each of my fellow panelists was smart, passionate, and informative. We were even able to meet some people face to face whom we’ve only interacted with through the magic of the internet. It was wonderful to put some faces to some names. Our only regret (but not a surprise), no one from Enbridge attended. Still, the forum went so well that we are hoping to reprise it elsewhere in the months to come. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can watch the whole thing online, thanks to Prof. Greg Madey for filming and to Notre Dame’s engineering pubs/graphics crew for getting it posted online:

 

 

Thanks, finally, as well to all who attended and, especially, for Patricia for her warm hospitality and her hard work bringing everything together.

More on the Erosion of Your Property Rights

More on the Erosion of Your Property Rights

On Friday, we brought you the disturbing news of some new legislation introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives by Rick Outman. HB 5254 makes a very subtle and seemingly small change to Act 16, the Crude Oil and Petroleum Act, removing the word “landowner”and replacing it with “owner of agricultural property” from the section of the bill describing the rights of those whose property will be acquired through eminent domain.

This, in our view, is a proposal that should trouble everyone. Whatever your view of the use of fracking or oil and gas development or state energy policy or climate change, it’s hard to imagine anyone– with the exception, it appears of Rick Outman and his compatriots in Congress– who thinks that pipeline companies should get to do whatever they want, without any rules or restrictions, with your private property. Trust us, when some company comes knocking on your door, backed by the state, to dig up your back yard (and you can’t stop it), you will hope that there are as many rules and regulations in place to make sure they behave and treat you and your property respectfully as possible. Just ask these people. As it stands right now, there are precious few such rules. After this bill, there will be even fewer.

Which is why we believe this is an issue that should create bipartisan coalitions. EVERYONE should be troubled by it, from conservative anti-government champions of private property rights to liberal environmental groups looking to halt or at least slow oil and gas development. We’ll be interested to see if such groups, whether alone or together make any noise about this bill. We certainly plan to and we have already written our state representative Joseph Graves. We’ll be sure to update you on his response.

In the meantime, there’s a bit more to this story that we need to share. As it turns out, this legislation is not solely about fracking, although that is certainly an element of it. It is actually part of a suite of interrelated bills designed to promote gas and oil development (an effort that, according to an MiLive story this morning, has yet to pay off). In fact, the two bills we mentioned on Friday (HB 5254 and 5255) will only take effect with the passage of another bill HB 4885. That bill, sponsored by 16 House Republicans, including Joseph Graves would give tax breaks to oil and gas developers by significantly reducing the severance tax those companies currently have to pay to the state for the oil and gas they extract.

In fact, something else we learned after looking in to this is that CO2 is not just used for fracking. It is also commonly used for oil extraction as part of what is called “Enhanced Oil Recovery.” So this suite of bills is not only promoting fracking, but further oil development as well.

But, again, you don’t have to oppose HB 4885 and the encouragement of more oil and gas exploration– personally, we do oppose it; we think it’s the wrong path for Michigan and poses too many dangers to our precious natural resources–to oppose its companion legislation. Indeed, it’s astonishing to us that the sponsors of the tax break bill aren’t proposing exactly the opposite sort of companion legislation: a bill that would give landowners MORE, not fewer, protections. That would seem to be a way to make the prospect of more development and more pipelines more palatable to those who might otherwise oppose it.

Instead, for reasons we simply can’t fathom our state elected officials– too timid and cowardly even to require energy companies simply to behave themselves on the properties of those constituents the official have been elected to serve– seem to want even more Michigan citizens to endure the pain and misery experienced by Line 6B landowners.

Please call or write your state representative and urger her or him to stand up for private property rights, and for the protection of the interests of you and your fellow citizens, not those of the oil and gas industry.

Note (Jan. 28, 2014): the House Committee on Energy and Technology held a hearing on this legislation this morning. Here is a brief overview of what happened. More to come.

Breaking: Fracking’s Assault on Property Rights

Breaking: Fracking’s Assault on Property Rights

In the midst of the property rights nightmare and landowner abuse that has been the Line 6B replacement, evidently the Michigan legislature has decided to make things even worse for Michigan property owners. Just yesterday, Representative Rick Outman introduced legislation that would further erode the already weak rights of property owners in the path of oil and gas pipelines.

Bear with us while we explain:

Remember Michigan Act 16 of 1929? We’ve talked about it a lot here over the past year or more. It’s the law that governs the transportation of crude oil or petroleum through the state of Michigan and grants carriers of those substances the power of eminent domain. It’s the law that our first land agent pulled out of his pocket the first day we met him– and that was before Enbridge had been granted the right of eminent domain by the MPSC. Of course, it didn’t matter, since Enbridge all but owned the MPSC; in fact, the MPSC helped Enbridge to more or less re-write Act 16 of 1929 to suit their own and their industry peers’ interests.

Well, two bills have just been introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives seeking to amend Act 16. The reason for these amendments can be stated in one word: fracking.

Now, we haven’t spent much time discussing fracking here at the Line 6B blog. Generally speaking, we try to keep ourselves focused. Also, unlike some places in the country, like Pennsylvania, where our friends like Emily Krafjack and Lynda Farrell (among others) are working hard to protect landowners and natural resources, fracking– or at least the kind of hydraulic fracking that has become so controversial nationally–hasn’t been a major problem in most parts of Michigan. As we understand it, this has mainly to do with geology.

Which isn’t to say fracking is not something we should be worried about. It is and we very much are. There are plenty of reasons to be wary and vigilant, not the least of which, as some of our very best friends will tell you, is the possibility of oil and gas development in some very beautiful and sensitive recreational areas in our state. Plus, there’s the water– which is where the proposed legislation comes in.

You see, high pressure hydraulic fracking typically requires water– lots and lots of water. And water, of course, is a precious natural resource, not something to be squandered, especially in a state like ours that with a culture so deeply rooted in outdoor sports and recreation. However, there are apparently other fracking methods that don’t need to use all that water. Those methods use, instead, carbon dioxide. CO2 fracking, although it has its downsides– cost being one of them– might well be better for the environment. So– and we are still learning about this ourselves and are therefore not prepared to make any firm pronouncements about it– if there’s going to be more fracking in Michigan, this may be the desirable kind.

Which explains why HB 5255 is seeking to amend Act 16 to include the following language to the section of the Act addressing “condemnation for acquisition of right of ways”:

(B) AFTER RECEIVING APPROVAL UNDER THIS ACT AS REQUIRED FOR CRUDE OIL OR PETROLEUM, TO TRANSPORT BY PIPELINE GASEOUS OR LIQUID SUBSTANCES, CONSISTING PRIMARILY OF CARBON DIOXIDE, THAT WILL BE PUT IN STORAGE OR THAT HAVE BEEN OR WILL BE USED TO PRODUCE HYDROCARBONS IN SECONDARY OR ENHANCED RECOVERY OPERATIONS.

It’s the “gaseous or liquid substances, consisting primarily of carbon dioxide” part that is new. As it is written now, the Act only mentions oil. The reason for this change is obvious: if we’re going to frack with CO2, we’re going to need lots of it and  it’s going to need to get moved around. Apparently, this is exactly what our legislators foresee: the need for the transportation of lots of CO2 gas. That gas is probably going to get transported by pipeline– which means building more pipelines. Through people’s property.

So that’s mixed news at best–although there may well be more to the story than we understand yet. It’s (possibly) mixed because CO2 fracking might not be such a bad thing (in relative terms, that is), even though building lots of new infrastructure presents all kinds of potential problems– problems of precisely the kind that those of us on the Enbridge pipeline route have had to endure. But it’s here where the news is not mixed at all, but very, very bad.

You see, there’s a companion bill to HB 5255. It’s HB 5254 and it also seeks to amend Act 16, but a different section. Here’s what HB 5254 would do: it would change the language of the bill so as to redefine who the protections of the act apply to. Specifically, it would remove the word “landowner” and replace it with “owner of agricultural property.” What that means, then, is that the protections included in the bill (and granted, there aren’t a lot of them, though there are some) would ONLY apply to “owners of agricultural property,” not to “landowners.” Non-agricultural property owners– and presumably that means most people, like you and me–would therefore have even FEWER rights than they do now if and when a pipeline gets to run through their property. Oil and gas companies could just have their way on your property– even more so than they do now.

Needless to say, this is outrageous. As I think anyone who has lived through the Line 6B nightmare or anyone who has paid careful attention to it will attest, the state of Michigan needs to STRENGTHEN property rights, not further erode them.

This, we think, is an actionable matter, an urgent matter. Please take the time to write or call your legislators to oppose HB 5254 and its blatant assault on individual property rights in the name of fracking. In the meantime, we’ll learn more about this legislation and, as soon as we can, post a follow-up with more information.

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Our follow-up with more information about this legislation has been posted. You can read it here.

 

Pet coke developments

Pet coke developments

As we mentioned yesterday, we spent a couple of days early this week in Washington D.C., speaking with Michigan legislators and State Department officials. That trip, hosted by the National Wildlife Federation, will be the subject of our newest series– stay tuned for detailed accounts of the conversations we had.

For now, we will note that when we met with representatives from the offices of Senators Stabenow and Levin and Representative Gary Peters, the subject of those piles of petroleum coke at that facility on the Detroit River inevitably came up– partly because the staffers wanted to use it as an opportunity to demonstrate what they’re doing to protect the citizens and the natural resources of Southeast Michigan. We’re glad for that– especially since, as you may have seen by now, the pet coke problem is far from solved. Just this week, a chilling video emerged of clouds of pet coke dust blowing across the Detroit River. Dave Bagatello blogging at the Windsor Star has more details on the story. But here’s the video. Eerily, it put us in mind of the “feathery plume,” the “black billowing cloud,” the “airborne toxic event” of Don DeLillo’s marvelous, disturbing novel White Noise:

 

Recently, we linked to reports that storage those piles o off pet coke would be suspended, temporarily, at least. We expressed a bit of skepticism about this at the time. And sure enough, reports this week seem to suggest that Detroit Bulk Storage would very much like to continue storing the stuff, which has become a major source of income for them– a source of income that only stands to increase once the “replacement” of Line 6B is completed, since the new line will significantly increase the amount of dilbit– the source of that pet coke– making its way to the Marathon refinery in Detroit.

So it’s good news, as we were told in our D.C. meetings and as the Detroit Free Press is reporting this morning that Senators Stabenow and Levin have introduced a companion bill in the Senate to the one Representative Peters introduced in the House earlier this month. The bill calls on the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency ” to conduct a study on the public health and environmental impacts of the production, transportation, storage, and use of petroleum coke, and for other purposes.” (The full text of the House bill is here.)

Now, we think that studies are very good things. We believe in actions grounded in facts and sound science. For those reasons, we strongly support the legislation and commend our Michigan officials for their efforts. But we also believe in caution and prudence when it comes to matters of public health and environmental impacts. And in this case, that means that we ought not to wait for indisputable evidence for public health risks and environmental damage before prohibiting enormous piles of nasty, black, powdery residue, the by-product of dirty tar sands oil. Rather, indisputable evidence that those piles pose no risks whatsoever– an extremely remote possibility, we suspect– ought to be an absolute condition for storing them. The legislation Congress will consider (hopefully, if the bills make it out of committee!) includes no such conditions. Nor are such conditions required, as we understand it, by the DEQ, from whom Detroit Bulk Storage is supposed to obtain permits. But of course, the DEQ, like most of our state and federal regulatory agencies, is weak and mostly gutless.

Oh, and speaking of requirements, if it were up to us, we would impose a simple requirement on anyone publicly discussing the matter of pet coke in Detroit  (exempting, of course, those residents in Detroit and Windsor directly affected by the stuff): you don’t get to write about it without at least a sentence that states very clearly how that stuff gets here in the first place: It starts with the mining of tar sands oil up in Alberta, Canada, which entails the destruction of thousands of acres of carbon-absorbing, ecologically rich Boreal forest. It then makes its way through a network of pipelines owned and operated by Enbridge, running across the state of Michigan, through our backyard!, and down to the refinery in Detroit, where the tar sands oil is processed, leaving behind–as the filthy byproduct of already filthy fuel– petroleum coke. That’s the stuff that then gets sent to the bank of the Detroit river where it gets blown into the air, into the river, and onto people’s balconies.

In other words, without Line 6B, there would be no pet coke problem in Detroit. If you’re concerned about one, you should be concerned about the other.

About that petcoke

About that petcoke

This morning, we’re a little irritated. Remember that story about those disturbing piles of petroleum coke, a byproduct of the dilbit refining process, that we reported on a couple of months ago? Well, the New York Times ran a piece by reporter Ian Austen on the story just this week– and it’s getting a lot of play. It’s all over the web and social media. And of course, we think this is a very good thing. In fact, the more attention this gets the better. The last thing we want is to have that gunk spilling into the Detroit River. And a national discussion about the costs of using this filthy byproduct– what one expert in the article calls “the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth”– is long overdue. So, three cheers for Ian Austen and the New York Times. Well, make that two cheers.

Why are we irritated? Two reasons:

First, because the main reason the story seems to be getting so much play– and perhaps a major reason why the Times picked it up in the first place (two months after the story broke here in Michigan)– is because the petcoke can now be linked to the Koch brothers, those wealthy conservative super-villains (to people on the left). Linking this story to the Kochs makes for some good outrage. Here’s how Austen frames his piece:

Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.

And no one knows quite what to do about it, except Koch Carbon, which owns it.

The company is controlled by Charles and David Koch, wealthy industrialists who back a number of conservative and libertarian causes including activist groups that challenge the science behind climate change. The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.

The coke comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands — and producing the waste that is sold to Koch — only in November.

But in our view, it really shouldn’t matter; it shouldn’t make it any more concerning to know that the Koch brothers own that stuff. We’d find those piles of black dust on the shores of the river alarming if they were owned by our own brothers. The fact that this story has to be shoe-horned into a familiar ideological narrative in order to get it on the national radar is, we confess, bothersome– irritating.

The second reason we’re irritated is because the Times piece never says how that stuff– or the stuff that makes that stuff– got to Detroit in the first place. Instead, it says only this:

An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.

Detroit’s pile will not be the only one. Canada’s efforts to sell more products derived from oil sands to the United States, which include transporting it through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, have pulled more coking south to American refineries, creating more waste product here.

Marathon Petroleum’s plant in Detroit processes 28,000 barrels a day of the oil sands bitumen.

See what happened there? The Times went and pulled a Stabenow on its readers (if we may coin a phrase). That is, just at the moment when one might expect an explanation of how Enbridge’s Line 6B– the line that ruptured in Marshall in the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history– feeds diluted bitumen to that Marathon refinery, at that very moment, instead of rehearsing a bit of Enbridge history in Michigan and beyond, Austen turns to a discussion of… Keystone XL! Never mind that Enbridge, as we’ve said before, is quietly building its own KXL. Never mind that Marathon’s plant is about to increase production by more than half because of the” replacement” of Line 6B (thereby producing even more petroleum coke). To the Times, it’s as if Enbridge and Line 6B don’t exist. Once again, as with Senator Stabenow’s staff, Keystone appears to be the only game in town.

And we’re sure that’s just how Enbridge likes it.