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.
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.
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.
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.
Our follow-up with more information about this legislation has been posted. You can read it here.
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, we received a letter from our right of way agent announcing that he’s moving on to another job close to his home in Minnesota. As strange as it seems to say it, we’re actually sorry to see him go. The truth is that during the construction phase of the project, he was very responsive to us– far more so, from what we’ve heard from many other landowners, than most other land agents. We’ve been sort of lucky in this regard.
In fact, this week we learned just how true that it. Our agent left us with a couple of new land agent contacts for the restoration phase. We called one of them to check on the status of restoration and because we wanted to ensure that our topsoil situation would be handled properly. The agent was not responsive. He seemed annoyed by the call, didn’t have any information for us regarding when we could expect restoration to begin on our property, and was disinclined to even bother looking into our situation. So you can imagine our surprise when, the very next day, crews arrived to begin restoring our property.
So we called him again. Same response: he just wasn’t interested. He didn’t even want to come out and talk with us as we asked. Frankly, he was so unhelpful and apparently annoyed that we were even calling him, that we’re tempted to do something we’ve never done before and name him by name. But we won’t. (However, if you’re on phase one and you want to know who NEVER to call, send me a note and I’ll tell you who to avoid.)
The good news is that the supervisor of the restoration crew and the environmental inspector were both VERY helpful. We had satisfying conversations with both about the items on our line list and what we wanted to happen with restoration. And they appear to have made sure all of those things happened. As always, we took some photos:
The crew– here’s more good news: almost all of them, they told us, are from Michigan– worked remarkably fast. First, they moved our pile of timber (which they were supposed to have moved when the took the trees down).
Then they decompacted the subsoil (or so the environmental inspector said; we’re a little nervous about this).
Then they brought in the new topsoil, as agreed to after they spoiled our original topsoil by mixing it with heavy subsoil.
Then– but only because I asked about it– they moved the big pile of wood chips we wanted saved. These chips were supposed to be hauled away when construction started. But since they didn’t take them away, we thought we’d keep them for mulch. Our line list said to move them to the back of the property, but the crew apparently didn’t know that (more on this in a minute).
But finally, they were placed in the right spot– it’s a much bigger pile than we thought!
We did get a couple of nice surprises. This daisy was on the edge of the temporary workspace– and survived.
Even better, buried underneath that pile of shredded wood were these bearded irises, white for lack of sunlight for months, but still alive. True survivors!
Crews aren’t quite finished yet, though things look a lot better now– no more orange fence! And we are (mostly) satisfied with this phase of restoration. Yet lots of questions marks about re-vegetaation remain. And there are some important lessons for those of you yet to go through this, whether you are on phase one or on phase two. For instance,
- Be sure you touch base with your land agent before restoration begins on your property. Reiterate the items on your line list and mention any new concerns or instructions you might have.
- The only downside to doing that, unfortunately, is that not all right of way agents are reliable or effective communicators. So no matter what you say, it might not make it to the construction crews. Therefore, if at all possible, try and find the restoration crew supervisor before they begin. Repeat your concerns to him.
- Similarly, if you can find the environmental inspector– there should be one on your property at some point– seek her or him out and discuss any concerns.
- We are fortunate to have the kinds of work schedules that allow us to be here to see what’s happening most of the time. We’re sure that’s not true for everyone. So this next piece of advice will be more difficult for some of you. Nevertheless, as best you can, BE VIGILANT. Check on what’s happening on your property. Watch when you can. As much as you are able, be your own inspector. The crews are generally good people (in our experience) and respectful. But communication from land agents isn’t always what it should be, so they might make unwitting mistakes. Watch for them.
- Lastly, if you are on phase two and won’t experience restoration for a very long time, it’s not too early for you to be thinking about these things also– even if you don’t yet have an agreement with Enbridge. Think about what you want to happen on your property once the project is completed. Think about what is unique about your property and important to you and what measures should be taken to ensure that those concerns or unique features are appropriately addressed– then have those things put into your line list. If phase two readers would like it, we’d be happy to work up a separate post on the kinds of things one might have put on a construction line list.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to report on restoration matters as they progress. Please let us know what’s happening– good or bad– on your property as “clean up” continues.
Long time readers of this blog know (we hope) that we have always tried very hard not to dwell on our personal situation, even though we do occasionally report on what’s happening around our property. But when we do, we generally do it to illustrate more general principles about the way Enbridge often carelessly and thoughtlessly (or callously) conducts its business. So it is with the story we have to tell today.
First, just a little context. In the temporary workspace that Enbridge required on our property was a stand of over 100 trees (some of them were also within Enbridge’s existing easement) and our precious perennial garden, which we planned, dug, planted, and tended ourselves over a period of years. This is what it looked like the spring before Enbridge arrived:
Enbridge leveled all of it. And because there was nothing we could to to prevent them from doing so, we instead gave a great deal of thought and concern to restoration. We’re obviously not a farm, but in order to replant some version of our green wall and our garden, we need productive, fertile soil. From the start, this has always been our primary concern.
Our attempts to have some assurances about care and handling and restoration of our soil inserted into our agreement with Enbridge during negotiations were summarily rejected. Instead, they just referred us to their general remediation practices (we could show you the emails from our ROW agent) and said, essentially, “trust us.” They directed us to the “Environmental Impact Report” on file with the Michigan Public Service Commission for a description of those practices. So let’s take a quick look at a bit of that document.
Under “Clearing and Site Preparation” the report says that “All brush and other materials cleared from upland areas within the construction corridor will be placed as a windrow along the construction corridor and disposed of as agreed to with the landowner.” In our case, what Enbridge agreed to is this (from our construction line list): “Trees with with pink ribbons are to be cut and saved for landowner at NE corner of property. Trees without ribbons are to be cut and hauled away.”
Here is what that looked like after construction crews did their clearing:
Two things to note here. First, that pile of timber on the left side of the image? Those are the trees we asked to have saved. But that’s not, as the agreement states, the NE corner of the property. And second, see the piles all along the orange fence in the middle and right of the image? That’s the shredded remains of the rest of the trees. Those piles should have been hauled away– that’s what we wanted to happen; that’s what we were told would happen– according to our agreement. But as you can see, they weren’t. In fact, they’re still there now (as you’ll see in a moment).
Now, we never complained about either of these things. The timber placement isn’t really a big deal and while we feared the shredded material might eventually become a problem, we trusted that they’d keep it segregated and haul it away after the pipe is placed in the ground. And since we don’t really like to complain constantly, we let these things go.
Much more important than those matters is what the Enbridge Environmental Impact Report and our agreement have to say about the handling of soil (much of which, in our case, isn’t ordinarily topsoil as we brought in loads of rich garden soil when we created our perennial bed). And we’ll just reiterate that we invested a lot of love and sweat into that soil, which is why, as some of you may recall, we were so upset the day a bulldozer started pushing the neighbor’s weed-filled dirt onto our property.
Anyway, here’s what it says in the Impact Report:
Topsoil generally has physical and chemical properties that are conducive to good plant growth. To prevent the mixing of topsoil with less productive subsoil during construction, topsoil will be segregated in selected areas where soil productivity is an important consideration. A minimum one foot of separation must be maintained between the topsoil and subsoil piles to prevent mixing. Where the one foot separation cannot be maintained, a physical barrier, such as a thick layer of straw mulch, may be used between the spoil and topsoil piles to prevent mixing. Use of the physical barrier must be reviewed and approved by Enbridge on a site-specific basis.
So far more than the handling of cleared timber, we’ve always been concerned about this practice, especially the segregation of subsoil and topsoil. That’s why we had this listed also, very clearly, in our line list agreement, which says: “Separate topsoil from subsoil, upon completion restore topsoil to surface and properly de-compact the work area.”
It’s hard to see the pile of stripped topsoil in the picture above, but it’s on the far side of the piles of shredded material. Here are a couple of up-close pictures, the second from a different angle, of the pile of topsoil (in the foreground):
And here is just one more, looking along the temporary workspace line. Behind the orange fence, you can see the shredded material and the pile of topsoil to the left of that. Now, we can tell you that plenty of excavated subsoil was placed in close proximity to this topsoil, certainly closer than the one foot separation listed in the Report.
So where is this headed? Well, yesterday construction crews were hard at work on our property, finally putting the pipe in the ground. That means some serious excavation– the removal of lots and lots of subsoil. And in one place, where they will tie in to the pipe they bored underground several weeks ago, they had to install a big blue steel box because the slope of the trench walls are very steep. Here’s a look:
By now, we’re sure you know where this is going. All of that dirt (clay, really) they excavated to lay the pipe and install that big blue box had to be piled somewhere. Here they are piling it:
See where they put all that excavated subsoil? Yep, right on top of our topsoil and even spilling into and onto the shredded material. So much for segregation. Here is a shot from the same angle as the one of the topsoil above:
And here is a closeup of the new mixture:
As we said at the start of this post, we don’t like to dwell on our personal situation. Mostly that’s because we know very well that compared to many others affected by this project– like our friends Beth Duman and Amy Nash, not to mention plenty of other people we’ve heard from or heard about– we don’t have it so bad, even though the state of soil on our property does mean a great deal to us. Many good people along Line 6B are in far, far worse situations than we are. We are very sensitive to that fact.
But that doesn’t excuse these violations. In fact, the sort of thing we’re describing here has happened and is happening all up and down the line. Enbridge would have you believe that these are just mistakes, aberrations. That’s what we’ve been told in the past by Enbridge executives. Mark Sitek told us, “we’re not perfect.” Mark Curwin told us “mistakes happen.” And those things are probably true. We get that. We even let little mistakes (like the placement of those felled trees) pass.
But when these things happen repeatedly (we’ve documented how many just on our property?). when a large percentage (a third? half?) of landowners have each witnessed two, three, four, or more “mistakes” on their own properties, when the same sort of “mistake” is made over and over again, well, then it ceases to be a mistake and has to be called a pattern of behavior, evidence of shoddy practices. And it’s a pattern of behavior and a set of practices that are totally at odds with the way Enbridge presents itself to the public and with the way that Enbridge presented itself to the MPSC. In fact, as our citations from the Environmental Impact Report (submitted as evidence to the MPSC) show, Enbridge, one can only conclude, simply misrepresented to that agency the way that it conduct its business. (Not that the MPSC much cares.)
Now, we’re not without some slight measure of confidence– though we’re extremely wary– that Enbridge will try to take steps to make this situation with our soil right. But it’s going to take a fair amount of effort and convincing on our part, adding more frustrating experiences to our already rich store of them. And the fact is, as we have said dozens of times, it didn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way. If only they just do as they say.
Oh boy. This morning Eric Lawrence of the Detroit Free Press (as we’ve said many times, one of our favorite reporters who has done excellent work on Enbridge matters for months) has a new piece explaining that Enbridge does not want to pay for more studies assessing damage from the Marshall spill. Here’s a taste:
The pipeline company responsible for the 2010 tar sands oil spill that fouled almost 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River is refusing to pay $800,000 to complete two new studies to assess the spill’s damage.
Trustees of the National Resource Damage Assessment, an effort to assess the damage caused by oil spills and other hazards, wants Enbridge to participate in the studies, which involve vegetation and recreational use in the area affected by the spill.
The group comprises state and federal agencies, such as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as two tribal governments.
But Enbridge notified trustees in June and October that it was “declining to cooperate” because adequate data had already been collected.
Here we have yet another example of something we have discussed repeatedly over the past eight months: Enbridge’s unwillingness to take full and complete responsibility for the Marshall spill. Instead, they only pretend to take responsibility. Mostly, they want to pretend that the Marshall debacle is over and done with; they want desperately just to move on. We’ve covered numerous examples of this:
We have also dealt with this matter in our discussions about and with Enbridge executives. For example:
The point in all of those cases (and others) has always been the same: Enbridge seems not to understand what it means to truly take responsibility. They seem to think that somehow they get to decide when things have been made right. But truly taking responsibility means leaving that determination up to those whom you have wronged, or those in a position to decide when the situation you created has been rectified, when the mess you have made has been cleaned up.
What’s even worse is that in the face of that disaster and Enbridge’s refusal to fully take responsibility for it, the good people of the state of Michigan have STILL allowed Enbridge to build a new pipe that will increase the capacity of oil they can transport and thereby increase their profits– by millions and millions of dollars.
It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation; she’s one of the many fine people it’s been our good fortune to get to know since Enbridge entered our lives. Beth is a dogged advocate for Great Lakes region conservation and the protection of Michigan’s natural resources. She’s also been a thoughtful and valuable critic of the way Enbridge has conducted its business in this state in the wake of Marshall and beyond. And she has been a trusted advocate for landowners on the Line 6B project.
So here’s something cool: we all have a chance to express our gratitude to Beth for all of her hard, committed work– by helping her to win a “Telly” for the video NWF made about Beth’s pathway into activism. Just follow this link to give the video your “thumbs up.“