“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.

Skull Update

According to a report in the Chesterton Tribune out of Indiana, a forensic anthropologist has determined that the skull found by Enbridge contractors is at least 74 years old. That means that the matter is to be turned over to the Indiana DNR’s Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (which sounds like a pretty awesome division). Construction work appears to still be halted until the DNR can determine whether the area is a burial ground.

Mini news roundup

We wish we could start this little news roundup by telling you that Enbridge spokesperson Graham White has issued a public apology to Emily Ferguson for his apparently fictional account of her behavior at an informational meeting regarding Line 9. Unfortunately, we have yet to hear whether White has decided to abide by Enbridge corporate value of “Maintain[ing] truth in all interactions” (although it may be that “maintaining” truth is somehow different than just telling it).

But there’s other news to pass on. Inside Climate News has run its own story regarding the fallen pipe on Dave Gallagher’s property. Needless to say, reporter Maria Gallucci practices the same sort of quality journalism as her ICN colleagues. We only wish the article were a bit longer, as it raises some important questions that could be further explored, such as the lack of regulations (at either the state or federal levels) about pipeline proximity to dwellings, the shoddy work of the MPSC when approving this project, and, of course, the fact that what has gone on out at the Gallagher property is just an extreme version of the troubles endured by countless landowners along the Line 6B route. The article also, unfortunately, doesn’t shed any light on the question of whether the Smith-Manshum account of immediate on site inspection of the dropped pipe really did occur.

Speaking of construction accidents, news from Griffith, Indiana is that Enbridge crews accidentally busted a water main, draining the entire contents of one of the city’s water towers. Thinking back on some other accidents– the tree they dropped on that power line over the holidays, the sewer line they broke at an intersection in Howell a while back– we’re wondering just how common these sorts of accidents are on large-scale projects like this. It’s no clear whether this is routine or whether Enbridge’s contractors are especially accident prone. But even if they’re not particularly unusual, the messy realities of pipeline construction are clearly a far cry from the smooth, hassle-free portrait of the process that Enbridge painted for landowners and municipalities before it all began.

Finally, on the national scene, the Wall Street Journal this morning is reporting that the vast majority of pipeline leaks are not discovered by operators and all their fancy gadgets and doodads, all those high-tech devices they love to talk about, but by individuals on-site. We’re glad the WSJ has done the story, but they’re pretty late to the party. We’ve been talking about this for a long while, as have some of our very favorite reporters. The splendid Elana Schor, for example, was on it way back in August of last year. (Incidentally, Schor’s been getting a fair amount of television face-time lately (and more). We’re glad her voice is reaching national ears, as it should, but we’re also a little worried she’s moving over toward the dark side. We’ve all seen what the tv does to people…)

About those construction delays…

About those construction delays…

We’re already working on our series of posts following last week’s PS Trust conference (we think we’ll start by discussing everybody’s favorite federal regulatory agency!). But there’s a holiday coming up, so we’re not sure how soon we’ll get to the first one. Meanwhile, some more papers have picked up the story of the construction delays on phase two of the Line 6B replacement, including the suspension over to our east that we mentioned last week. There’s this one and this one, for example.

And then there’s this one. If we had the energy, Joseph S. Pete’s article in the Times of Northwest Indiana (whatever happened to Lauri Harvey Keagle, who was doing such good work?) could easily be the basis of another of our “How Not to Write About Line 6B” posts. But to be honest, we haven’t got the energy; sometimes, it just feels too much like howling into the dark and empty wilderness. Suffice it to say that Pete did little more than type up a friendly Enbridge press release. Sigh.

Setting that aside, we just have one little question: aren’t any local reporters even remotely interested in asking the blatantly obvious question here about these delays? What environmental permits, specifically, has Enbridge not yet obtained and why have they not obtained them? Wouldn’t anybody covering this story think to ask that?

We’re trying to find out ourselves and will let you know if and when we learn anything.

How Not to Write about Line 6B (again)

How Not to Write about Line 6B (again)

Since this post will cover some ground that we’ve covered before, we’ll try to be brief. We’re risking repeating ourselves because this really gets our goat:

Yesterday, we read an interesting column by Jerry Davich in the Post-Tribune up in Northwest Indiana. The column isn’t bad. In fact, in many ways, it’s quite good– better than most, we’d say. It’s well written, thoughtful, fair-minded, and even, from our point of view, appropriately skeptical of Enbridge rhetoric. Even better, it gives plenty of air time to Nicole Barker of Save the Dunes, an organization we very much admire. Nicole and her team have been doing excellent and important work down in Indiana. The whole state owes them tremendous gratitude.

So what’s the problem? Well, once again, it’s the frame. The implied narrative of the story as Davich tells it is that the Line 6B project just pits groups like Save the Dunes against Enbridge. It’s a story of environmentalists versus energy– a simple, clear, compelling, dualistic narrative.

And what’s Davich’s position? Well, he seems to have some sympathy with the enviros like Nicole Barker, but then he (cleverly) allows Barker and Robert Thompson, executive director of the Porter County Plan Commission, to state what he describes as his own “contrarian opinion on this slippery issue”:

“It’s been quite a ride dealing with this for the past two years, and seeing the pipeline come through my area in LaPorte County is still shocking each time I drive by,” [Barker] told me.

This is where Barker unknowingly hints at my contrarian opinion on this slippery issue after I repeatedly hear similar concerns or complaints from many residents.

“Then again,” Barker noted, “I am driving by and it’s my car and my usage of fuel that is contributing to this.”

“So while it’s easy to point fingers, it’s a reminder that Northwest Indiana needs to do a better job of designing communities around people rather than vehicles.”

Thompson echoed this pragmatic, look-in-the-mirror reality check.

“As long as people are going to use their autos and we demand or want lower gas and oil prices, we are going to have companies trying to service that demand,” said Thompson, who rides his bicycle to work to avoid paying for gas.

“This is my choice. But if people are going to have the demand for oil and gas, we are going to see projects such as Enbridge in the area.”

Now, it’s hard to see just what’s “contrarian” about the position stated by Thompson here and endorsed by Davich. Spend 30 seconds in the comments section of any internet article about oil or gas production and that position will invariably be one of the first ones you encounter. Far from being contrarian, it’s just about the most obvious opinion available.

Just how obvious, how un-contrarian is it? Well, it’s the very first thing that Enbridge says, all the time. We’ve heard it over and over and over, from Joe Martucci (remember him?), from Patrick Daniel, from Tom Hodge. In fact, there is almost nothing Enbridge loves more than this version of the Line 6B story because they know it’s a way of framing the story that works to their advantage. Every time. Just look: even environmentalists like Nicole Barker and Robert Thompson concede the point! Enbridge wins!

The problem is, as we’ve said before, that it’s a false choice and a lousy frame. For one thing, it’s a false choice because the idea that we would  suddenly run out of fuel for our cars if Enbridge didn’t get to build its new pipeline is ludicrous. But let’s set that one aside. It’s a lousy frame because it obscures a whole host of other very serious problems with the Line 6B project, many of which (unlike our dependence on fossil fuels) could actually be solved rather quickly: the weakness of federal and state regulatory oversight, the granting of eminent domain to foreign corporations and the erosion of individual property rights, the disregard for local authority and ordinances, the terrible mistreatment of landowners by a rich and powerful multinational corporation.

Just to be clear: we are as concerned about the environmental threats posed by tar sands oil production as anyone. But these are the other issues at stake in the Enbridge project and they can’t easily be fit into the simplistic enviro vs. energy narrative. In fact, you can be the most die-hard drill-baby-drill petroleum-guzzling Hummer-driving energy advocate in the world and still think that the company building the pipeline should have to behave itself and respect the states, municipalities, and private properties through which it passes. That is, you can be in favor of the pipeline project but critical of how Enbridge is going about completing it.



News roundup

News roundup

We’re working on the second installment on our trip to Washington DC last week to meet with legislators and regulators. If you missed part one– about the meeting we did not have— please check it out.

In the meantime, some interesting articles and stories have appeared in the press in the past week or so. Here we go:

We’ve mentioned before Enbridge’s “Albert Clipper” expansion, which is currently going through the presidential permitting process, just like Keystone XL. This was one of the topics we discussed with representatives of the State Department last week. We’ll have a lot more to say about it in the weeks to come and we’ll likely be encouraging you to speak up once the public comments part of the review begins. For now, we”d just point you to this excellent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Eric Hansen. It’s excellent. Here’s a little taste:

Connect the dots on Enbridge’s efforts to quietly network thousands of miles of pipelines — a system that would lock in both Wisconsin and our region as a major transportation corridor to ship tar sands crude oil overseas to the world market for decades to come — and a reasonable citizen would be outraged.

Profit and jobs would go to Canada. Crude oil would go overseas. Toxic risk would stay here, sprinkled throughout our region in the crude oil spills, air quality and public health impacts that would certainly come.

And speaking of Keystone XL (we talked with officials about that, too, in DC), it appears that some legislators are none too happy with some recent remarks by the President (if you missed them, they are here). Which legislators are displeased, you ask? Well, none other than the House Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton. Yes, that Fred Upton, the guy who represents Kalamazoo! Upton is among the most outspoken supporters of KXL– which, we suppose, gives him something to do since he certainly doesn’t spend any time whatsoever inquiring into what Enbridge is doing back in his home state and district. We’ve spent a fair amount of time here lamenting the appalling failure of leadership in this state when it comes to Enbridge– and we made that point repeatedly to the people we spoke with in Washington– but Upton, with the possible exception of Governor Snyder, might well be the worst offender. Given the district he represents, he should be leading the charge in looking out for the interests of Michigan landowners and the state’s natural resources. Instead, he’s leading the charge in hastening the transportation of more tar sands oil through the U.S.

Speaking even more of KXL and Enbridge, Pulitzer Prize winner Lisa Song has another excellent article over at Inside Climate News describing yet another Enbridge plan to out-Keystone TransCanada while almost nobody, as we’ve said many times, is watching. It’s more piecing things together, this time converting gas lines to transport tar sands oil. But it’s okay because you can rest assured that PHMSA will do almost nothing to ensure that the plan is safe and sound. The PSTRust’s Carl Weimer notes that “Operators don’t need permission from PHMSA to change the contents of a pipeline, and the conversion process doesn’t trigger environmental studies. Operators simply create a plan of operation that meets PHMSA’s pipeline safety regulations, he said.”

From Indiana, Jeff Harrell at the South Bend Tribune posted two articles this week about the Enbridge Line 6B project, placing them helpfully in larger contexts. It’s very solid work and we especially appreciate his focus on Native American concerns about the project. His first article begins, for instance, with representatives from the Pokagon Band of the Potawotami Tribe, who live on the Michigan-Indiana border.

Inevitably, Jason Manshum shows up in the article with more absurd, misleading remarks. He’s back to complaining about the “tar sands” term again: “Manshum calls the term “tar sands” “… a misnomer, a slang word associated with this type of crude by opponents.” But of course, this is total baloney. The industry itself used that term for decades until someone in Manshum’s line of work (spin doctoring) decided back in the 1960s that “oil sands” sounded friendlier.

Harrell’s second article, which unfortunately (we don’t hold him responsible for this) bears the very stupid headline, “Pipeline Has Support, Opposition” (they could have just said, “Humans Agree, Disagree”), considers Line 6B in relation to KXL, which we’ve been trying to convince reporters to do for a very long time. Manshum’s on board for this one, too, assuring us all that pipeline corrosion is not a problem with diluted bitumen:

Enbridge’s Manshum cites the U.S. Department of Transportation’s investigation into the spill to dispute the claim that the line broke from abrasive tar sands oil corroding the inside of the pipe.

“One thing they made crystal clear was that the rupture was not caused by internal corrosion, but on the outside, or the exterior of the line related to the coating,” Manshum says.

Strictly speaking, of course, what Manshum says is true. But it’s more than a little ironic that he’d cite the NTSB report, since what it also shows is that Enbridge ignored the pipe’s exterior defects and that their “culture of deviance” from safety protocols contributed tremendously to the Marshall disaster. Honestly, we sometimes wonder how Jason Manshum can sleep at night.

Lastly, Jennifer Bowman has a lengthy and interesting article in the Battle Creek Enquirer about Enbridge’s home buyout program in Marshall. It’s a piece that we imagine is quite pleasing to Enbridge, since Bowman talks with some people who had very positive experiences with Enbridge. She spoke also with some unhappy landowners, but they are more or less portrayed as greedy whiners. We find this entire situation quite fascinating and disturbing in many ways, though we confess we don’t know enough about it to make many confident pronouncements. We also think that Bowman’s article leaves a great many questions unasked; we’re going to think and learn more about this and discuss it more in a later post (hopefully). For now, just one little observation:

What is it with people that makes them so uncharitable toward others? Why the need to belittle those whose experiences differ from their own? We’ve seen this sort of tactic– from fellow landowners!–before. And we see it again from Wayne Groth, who gets lots of ink in Bowman’s article. Groth believes he got a good deal from Enbridge– and we’re very glad for that; we wish it were the case with everyone. But then he has to go and say this:

“The ones screaming the loudest are probably the greediest,” Groth said, “and they’re looking to cash in. They remind me of damn trial lawyers that want to sue for money and put the company out of business.”

In all seriousness: does Groth really know this? Does he even know who is “screaming” loudly, much less what those (imaginary) screamers are screaming about or for? We doubt it. This sort of talk just makes him seem like a guy with very little imagination, very little ability to adopt the perspective of someone else a person whose mindset is, “I got mine; screw the rest of you.” And that’s just downright unneighborly.