Pipeline safety advocates enjoying beignets and coffee in New Orleans during the Pipeline Safety Trust conference.
Whew! Sorry for our little hiatus these past few weeks. We’ve had more than a few matters (mainly professional ones) that have required our attention. And then last week was the 2014 Pipeline Safety Trust conference— which was a great experience, as always. Rest assured that we have not abandoned you.
The trouble now, however, is that we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Fortunately, for some of it we’re going to get a little help from our friends. Among the things we’ll be bringing you over the next week or so:
- The latest on ET Rover— now just the “Rover Pipeline,” according to Energy Transfer– along with information and commentary about the first of the FERC scoping meetings.
- A run-down of some of our experiences at the PS Trust conference– as always, we learned a great deal– including our account of the genuine face time and conversation we had with you-won’t-believe-who; seriously, we have photographic evidence and everything!
- The latest entry in our ongoing “Landowner Stories” series, one that expands the series well beyond Line 6B. It turns out, landowners in Michigan aren’t the only ones Enbridge treats poorly. We’re taking the series south.
- Lastly, we’re going to embark upon our first-ever crowdsourcing project. We’ll need your help on this one! It’s a little something we cooked up with our awesome friend Lynda Farrell, Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition in Pennsylvania. Stay tuned for that one!
What a conference! Once again, the remarkable folks over at the Pipeline Safety Trust— Carl Weimer (at right, in the goofy hat), Rebecca Craven, and Samya Lutz put together a fantastic two days for industry representatives, regulators, and landowners and other citizen advocates. We’re home and still a little giddy over the experience, not to mention deeply gratified to have the chance to meet and learn from so many wonderful, interesting people. Like last year, we were reminded– despite all of our attempts to appear knowledgeable and authoritative– of just how little we know. We learned a lot and have much to continue to think about. We are so grateful to the Trust for their efforts arranging this kind of event and for giving us the opportunity to be a part of it.
In our heads, we are already composing a series of posts. But we can’t get to all of it at once. We need to digest and ruminate and cogitate. If you’d like to read another account of the conference, take a look at Emily Krajack’s post over at C.O.G.E.N.T. (and check out the awesome website while you’re at it; it’s indispensable for anyone who is at all concerned about fracking). As for us, for now we’ll just mention some highlights, some of which we’ll discuss in more detail in the coming days. Here they are, in no particular order and–in homage to the relentless, oppressive Power Point slides we endured for a full two days– in handy bullet point format:
- Rebecca Craven. Period.
- Carl Weimer speaking bluntly and critically in the most amiable, disarming way imaginable. How he pulls that off is either magic or genius. Probably both.
- The cookbook– just you wait!!
- Catching up with new friends from last year: Robert Whitesides, Randy Stansberry, Mike Holmstrom, Linda Phillips, Emily Krafjack, Ben Gotschall, Glenn Archambault
- Making new friends: Julie Dermansky, Ann Jarrell, Jennie Baker (total badass), Chuck Lesniak, Lois Epstein
- Talking homebrew and Tommy Tutone with Rick Kessler
- Bill Byrd saying far less objectionable things than usual– and quoting Mark Twain!
- The KXL activist from Texas interrupting the evening reception to raise a toast to a world without fossil fuels
- San Francisco city attorney Austin Yang reminding PHMSA that delegation does not mean abdication
- David Barnett of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters calling for more industry transparency
- Rich Kuprewicz on “wild ass guesses”
- Whiskey with Josh Joswick telling of his fascinating youthful travels–on bicycle!
- Learning about Liam’s fly-fishing class from Bruce Brabec
- Learning about smoked salmon and Lummi Island from Samya Lutz
- Learning about Shawn Lyon’s Hoosier roots
- Craig Pierson using Shawn Lyon as a napkin at Cafe du Monde
- The traditional post-conference taxi ride to the airport with Mike Holmstrom
- The waiter at the airport restaurant repeatedly calling Beth Wallace “baby” (and somehow not getting himself slapped)
- Fellow Line 6B landowner Dave Gallagher calling out Enbridge reps by name
- Mayflower, Arkansas resident Ann Jarrell leaving not a dry eye in the building
It’s that time of year again! This week, the Pipeline Safety Trust will once again host its annual conference in New Orleans. Among other things, that means Executive Director Carl Weimer will drown his frustrations and celebrate his recent electoral victory in hot, heaping piles of sugar-coated fried dough! He may even once again don that silly hat.
But when not feasting on beignets, Weimer and the other conference participants will talk about all manner of pipeline safety matters– from public awareness to regulatory oversight to… well, to some technical matters that few people this side of Mike Holmstrom and Robert Whitesides can comprehend. There’s also bound to be plenty of drama and tension: will PHMSA beg the public’s forgiveness? will the pipeline company representatives leave a tip for the waitstaff at Cafe du Monde? will the Exxon people even show their faces? will Rebecca Craven get vertigo from the carousel bar at the Hotel Monteleone? will Beth Wallace be detained at the airport by Homeland Security? will anyone from Enbridge so much as glance in our direction? will Larry Springer be there at all?
We’re not giving a presentation this year, although our friend David Gallagher will be there with, no doubt, some more horrifying pictures of construction right outside his living room. And we can’t wait to meet the tireless Ann Jarrell from Mayflower, Arkansas and citizen-activist Jennifer Baker from Vermont. These heroes will be on this year’s landowners panel, which I will moderate. (I’m still casting about for just the right pithy, cutting remark to kick off the session.) The whole thing will be webcast, just like last year. Consider tuning in. It’s quite fascinating and way more entertaining than you might think.
We will, of course, report on matters as best we can. We might even tweet the occasional Tweet, since the Trust went to all the trouble of making up a fancy, cutting-edge Twitter hashtag. If you’re into that sort of thing, it is: #PSTconf2013. The action begins at 9 am on Thursday and continues through Friday.
We’re a little groggy on this Monday following an exciting four day academic conference we helped to organize at our university, which is why we’ve been a little quiet here at the blog lately. Scholars from all over the world traveled to Michigan to talk about nerdy literary scholar-type things. It was great. Almost as great is the fact that most of our home institutions recognize that the intellectual exchanges and sharing of knowledge that takes place at these conferences is a tremendously important and valuable professional activity. Therefore, most institutions offer at least some form of funding to cover faculty travel expenses to these conferences. And that’s because they understand that it’s not enough just to say you value something; you have to actually do something to prove it. Sometimes, you have to put your money where your mouth is.
You see where this is going? We’re still fuming about the fact that the Pipeline Safety Trust has had to resort to panhandling in order to get ordinary citizens to the Pipeline Safety Trust Conference. It’s now the end of the month and they have not reached their goal– not by a long shot. We think– and we appear to be mostly alone on this– that this is totally and completely outrageous, infuriating. And it’s not just because we think begging is beneath the dignity of Carl Weimer. (Which is saying something; have you seen how the man behaves in front of a tableful of powdery beignets?) No, we’re infuriated because everybody knows how to solve this problem simply and swiftly, saving everybody, especially the people at the PS Trust, who have much better things to be doing, all the trouble of scrambling and begging.
The pipeline companies just need to write some checks. It may be crass to say it, but we all know it’s true: they’ve got plenty of money– millions, hundreds of millions, of dollars that they make every year. Their executives themselves make millions of dollars a year. Each of them could write a personal check to cover the travel costs and not feel a thing. Not only that, as we have already pointed out, they say that they value dialogue with the people the Trust wants to bring to the conference.
Yet collectively they can’t cough up a lousy $20k for the Trust? This is instructive. We now know that unlike universities, pipeline companies are NOT willing to put their money where their mouth is. All of their talk about relationship building is just a bunch of talk, a load of b.s.
Of course, there’s still one more day to go before the Trust’s fundraising deadline, so maybe the industry will swoop in yet (though we’ve already pointed out what a self-serving and inconsiderate move that would be). The more likely scenario, however, is just this:
The companies will write (or have already written) some checks. Most (but not all) of them will donate a little something. It will be small and mostly perfunctory, a few hundred dollars maybe, rather than a few thousand. They certainly won’t create a permanent fund to ensure that citizen travel is always covered in the future as we’ve suggested (and frankly, we think that’s the best idea we’ve ever floated here at the blog). They’ll donate just enough to give themselves a little cover, just enough to be able to say that they donated to cover citizen travel to the conference and prevent people like us from saying they don’t put their money where their mouth is. But the truth will be– though we will never know it because the people at the Trust are too decent, too discrete, and too fair-minded (and we wouldn’t have it any other way) to say otherwise– that it won’t be anywhere near what the Trust needed to raise. It won’t be enough to send all those citizens and local officials from Arkansas and Nebraska and Alaska who ought to attend. It won’t even be as much as Enbridge paid last year to send that gaggle of six or seven spinmeisters they sent.
As a result, Enbridge and its industry peers will pretend like they’ve actually done something when in reality they haven’t done a thing except make sure dissenting voices are not heard. And they will continue to pretend like they actually give a s#*t (pardon our language) what the landowners along their pipelines have to say, even though the rest of us will see the truth. We will have clear evidence that they do not really care at all, evidence that they care so little, in fact, that they all but guaranteed, by doing nothing more than sitting on their wallets, they would not have to face those landowners. We will see that they are not only hypocritical and cheap, but cowardly too.
You might recall that a couple of weeks ago, we mentioned that the Pipeline Safety Trust has had to resort to crowdfunding in order to raise enough money to send ordinary citizens to this year’s Pipeline Safety Trust conference. In our view, this is a dire situation. Having landowners, advocates, conservationists, engaged citizens, and local officials at the conference, where they get to interact with industry representatives and regulators, is arguably the most important part of the conference. There’s nothing unique about a gathering between industry representatives and regulators. They lie in bed together all the time, speaking candidly and hammering out lily-livered “rules” that masquerade as “regulations.” Those cosy meetings, to say the least, lack perspective and desperately need disruption– which is why the PS Trust conference is so tremendously vital.
Not only that, everyone seems to agree that the exchanges that take place between ordinary citizens and industry/regulators are quite fruitful. Just take a look at the testimonials from folks who have attended the conference.
And not only that, but as we pointed out a couple of weeks ago when we declared it high time that industry either put up or shut up, pipeline companies all profess to value relationships and dialogue with citizen-stakeholders. But it’s one thing to post some pleasing-sounding phrases on your corporate website; it’s quite another to take action that demonstrates unequivocally that they’re more than just pleasing-sounding phrases. What better way for the corporations to do that than to foot the bill to make sure that they’ll actually get to look a landowner or public advocate in the face, shake her hand, and have an actual conversation– at an event that is specifically designed to make such encounters possible?
In fact, we’d even go so far as to say that if it turns out that the companies are NOT willing to step up, open their (exceedingly large) wallets, and make sure those encounters happen, it will provide vivid and powerful evidence that they do NOT, in fact, mean what they say when they talk about cultivating relationships with their landowners and other citizens. It will send a clear message that all the talk is just that, talk, a lot of public relations pablum, a bunch of hot air.
Now, we’re not entirely certain about the current status of the fundraising effort. For all we know, great big checks are in the mail. But we can tell you that a few weeks into the effort, we’ve received no jubilant emails from Carl Weimer or seen any effusive announcements on the PS Trust website announcing that the travel-funding problem has been solved–even though any number of pipeline executives (say, Enbridge’s Stephen Wuori with his $6 million per year compensation package) could sneeze out the $15k the Trust is trying to raise and hardly even sully their handkerchiefs. They’d probably get a tax write-off to boot!
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the money will materialize, that industry is waiting it out a little and planning to swoop in at the last minute to save the day like some kind of comic book superhero. That’s all fine and good, we guess– better late than never. But if that is the case, we have to say that’s pretty uncool and pretty disrespectful toward the Trust and the people who would like to attend the conference. The good folks at the Trust don’t need to scramble around and worry; they’ve got better things to do. And the citizens who will attend have arrangements to make– they’ve got to ask off of work, find daycare for the kids and the dogs, polish their dress shoes. Preventing that from happening just to pull off a dramatic (and self-serving) stunt to look good is just plain cynical and, frankly, a little mean.
Instead, as we suggested before, these large, powerful, wealthy corporations should band together to establish a permanent fund designated for citizen travel for as long as the Trust holds this conference. It would take no time at all and very little expenditure (relatively speaking) to make that happen. Honestly, the fact that it hasn’t happened already strikes us as more than a little outrageous or, at the very least, worrisome.
In fact, just this morning we had a vision of how news like that would be received. Surely, media outlets all over the country would run the story. All it takes is a little press release. In fact, as our own contribution to this effort, we hereby declare that the industry is free to use, in whole or in part, the imaginary press release/news article that came to us in a vision today (and which follows). After all, as always, we are here to help.
Pipeline Companies Come Together to Fund Citizen Travel
By Joe Reporter, National Newspaper
Sep 18, 2013
HOUSTON, TX– In a rare show of cooperation, a number of U.S. pipeline firms are working together to make sure ordinary citizens have a voice in the development of pipeline safety initiatives. Led by Enbridge, Inc, a coalition of oil and gas industry giants will establish a permanent fund to pay for citizen travel to the annual Pipeline Safety Trust conference.
The Pipeline Safety Trust is a nonprofit public charity promoting fuel transportation safety. Its annual conference, held in New Orleans, brings together industry, government, residents, and safety advocates to work toward safer communities and a healthier environment. In the past, citizen travel to the conference has been subsidized by external grants, but those funding sources have dried up. Executive Director Carl Weimer said, “It’s heartening to see industry stepping up and demonstrating their commitment to fostering positive relationships with ordinary citizens. The Trust is grateful for their generosity.”
Weimer added that the travel fund will allow citizens from Mayflower, Arkansas, the site of a 2013 oil pipeline spill, as well as landowners who live near oil and gas pipelines from other parts of the country, from Maine to Texas and Alaska, and local officials and members of environmental groups to attend the conference and talk with regulators and industry representatives. The company responsible for the Mayflower spill, ExxonMobil is among those contributing to the fund. Other donors include Marathon, Pacific Gas & Electric, Spectra Energy, TransCanada Corp, Williams Pipelines, Sunoco, and Enbridge. While the precise amounts of each donation will not be made public, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, which helped organize the coalition, said that each company agreed to a contribution “in the thousands of dollars, because, let’s face it, for companies with such vast resources and enormous profits that amount is really not a big deal.”
Stephen Wuori, President of Liquid Pipelines and Major Products for Enbridge, Inc. spearheaded the effort to get companies to work together to fund citizen travel. “Our philosophy is that you don’t compete on safety,” Wuori said. “My industry peers all jumped at the chance to participate in this effort. The Pipeline Safety Trust does important work and we all agree that ordinary citizens have a crucial role to play in pipeline safety.”
Gary Pruessing, President of ExxonMobil Pipelines said that “Continued dialogue is critical to the long-term relationship between our employees and our neighbors. Funding citizen travel is a simple and inexpensive way for us to foster that dialogue.” Other executives expressed similar sentiments.“Everything we do depends on the strength of our relationship with local residents.” said Russell Girling, President and CEO of TransCanada. “Helping to ensure that some of those residents will always be in attendance at the PS Trust conference is our way of trying to walk the walk.” Christopher Johns, President of Pacific Gas & Electric said that “It is important for us to inform and problem-solve with our diverse stakeholders. For us, this is more than just talk. Our donation to this fund is a matter of putting our money where our mouth is.”
Citizen activists and environmental groups hailed the action by industry. Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation said, “While we often have serious disagreements with industry, we are all committed to doing everything we can to ensure the safe transport of oil and gas. The industry is to be commended for doing more than just paying lip service to open dialogue with citizens and advocacy groups.”
Wuori, the Enbridge executive, deflected the praise heaped upon him for leading this effort. “This is simply what it means to live our core values,” Wuori said. “The fact is that we are multi-million dollar corporations. A few thousand dollars is for us a very small investment. But it’s one that we believe will yield big rewards.” Alan Armstrong of Williams Pipelines echoed Wuori’s remarks. “Our company takes great pride in the relationship of trust and harmony we’ve developed with the many landowners and communities with whom we co-exist. Giving a few thousand dollars each year to get some of those landowners to this conference is, quite frankly, the least we can do.”
Rebecca Craven, Program Director for the Pipeline Safety Trust said that she wasn’t surprised that industry stepped in to help. “We have worked hard to develop productive relationships with industry and government through the conference,” Craven said. “Because of that, I know that companies’ statements about building safety partnerships with members of their communities are more than just rhetoric. This proves it.”
This year’s conference will take place November 21-22. More information is available at the Pipeline Safety Trust website, pstrust.org.
While not directly about Line 6B matters, we’ve encountered a number of tangentially-related material the past couple of days deserving of your attention, not least of which are some follow-ups to the awful spill in Arkansas, a terrible, vivid reminder of why all of us should be deeply concerned and continue to speak up and help foster public discussion of pipeline safety.
Some of our favorite journalists are on the case. Over at her “Riding the Pipelines” blog, Elana Schor provides some interesting— and disturbingly familiar to those who have read the NTSB report on Marshall–background on Exxon’s safety record with regard to the Pegasus line that just burst.
And Lisa Song, who has evidently been extraordinarily busy the past few days, has a terrific article at Inside Climate News linking the Arkansas spill to the recent petition to the EPA and PHMSA filed by the National Wildlife Federation and others for stricter regulations of tar sands oil transport. What caught our eye in particular was this:
The section of the pipeline involved in Friday’s spill in Arkansas was originally built in the 1940s, according to an Exxon spokesperson. The full length of the pipline was used to transport crude oil from Nederland, Texas north to Patoka, Illinois. After lying mostly idle for four years, the pipeline’s flow was reversed in 2006 to carry Canadian dilbit to Gulf Coast refineries. Exxon said the reversal was an industry first, and that it required 240,000 man-hours of work to accomplish.
That’s right: Exxon reactivated a 66 year-old, 20-inch pipe so that they could pump diluted bitumen through it, which must be sort of like sucking peanut butter through a paper straw. And of course, considering that there’s a soon-to-be-idle line in our backyard right now, these examples of pipeline reactivation make us very, very nervous.
Closer to Michigan, the Detroit Free Press has just run two very interesting articles: one about the state of gas pipelines in Michigan and the costs (and difficulties) in repairing them and the second about the dreadful regulatory situation regarding those same lines. The Freep had the good sense to call up our friends at the Pipeline Safety Trust. In the first article, Executive Director Carl Weimer points out the primary difficulty when it comes to repairing these lines (and ensuring public safety!): “What it comes down to in most every state we’ve looked into is, who is going to pay for that replacement?” he said. “It often gets passed along to ratepayers, and public service commissions hate to do that because they catch a lot of grief.” And speaking of the public service commission (which certainly wouldn’t want to catch any grief!) in the second article, the PS Trust’s Rebecca Craven (another of our heroes) notes that the commission’s general haplessness (that’s our characterization, not Rebecca’s) is compounded by the same woeful lack of staffing and resources that plagues PHMSA and agencies in other states:
“They [PHMSA] simply don’t have the number of inspectors they need to adequately oversee the amount of pipeline in the system, and states are in the same boat,” said Rebecca Craven, program director of the Bellingham, Wash.-based Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for improved energy transportation safety.
Up in Canada, there’s a great article in the Tyee about pipeline safety and landowner advocate Dave Core, who is the founder of the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations (and yet another of our heroes!). Dave recently gave a presentation to a Canadian senate committee. What he had to say will surely resonate with most readers of this blog. Here’s a little taste:
“My goal this morning is to bring perspective to the issues of landowners when confronted by pipeline companies. That is, the issues when private property owners, like yourselves, come up against government supported and subsidized corporations that are allowed to come packing with government regulations to take our lands, our rights and leave us with annual risks, liabilities, a duty of care that we do not want, costs and the pipeline junk which includes the resulting safety and liability issues of historical contamination and pipeline collapse when the companies pack up and leave.
“Before I proceed I would like you to pretend you are sitting around a kitchen table with your family and a ‘land agent’ has just left you with a brown envelope with a Section 87 Notice, an NEB Regulatory Notice, stating that a pipeline company is going to put a pipeline in your backyard and the easement agreement and the compensation offer are included.
“The stress has only just begun. Next come teams of land agents, the men trained in profiling and in telling every tale they can to get the deal signed while they sit at your kitchen table drinking your coffee. He/she might even be your neighbour’s son or daughter. It is like you have stepped into a spaghetti western with cowboys coming to your door, not packing a gun, but a big smile, lots of lies and packing government regulations that allow them to threaten you if you question them.”
The rest of the article, aptly titled “Pipeline Company Bullies,” is well worth reading.
Also from Canada comes this interesting op-ed in the New York Times, providing a counterpoint to tar sands development boosterism.
And finally, one closer to home. The Livingston Daily Press & Argus ran an article a couple of weeks ago that slipped past our radar (thanks for sending it, Beth Duman!). It’s about the dissatisfaction of some landowners– those good people the Nashes and the Watsons– as construction nears completion. The bad news, however, is that even though the construction phase is coming to a close, a whole new round of likely headaches and difficulties is on the horizon: the restoration phase. You can bet we’ll be on the case.
We’ve been thinking a bit about regulatory matters today— and oh! have we got a lot to learn–as we try to get to the bottom of Enbridge’s seemingly unverifiable claim that certain features of the new Line 6B exceed certain federal regulations (which features and which regulations? Enbridge prefers not to say…).
But this put us in mind of some things we heard and learned at the Pipeline Safety Trust conference earlier this month. As we’ve said before, we spent much of that conference being reminded of how much we don’t know about so many things. We also learned, in a couple of instances, that we’re a little naive. For example, the Friday morning keynote address at the conference was delivered by Cynthia Quarterman, chief Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal regulatory agency responsible for oil pipeline safety and oversight. As it turned out, that morning we were sitting with our friends Beth Wallace and Robert Whitesides, who mentioned to us in passing that Ms. Quarterman, prior to her appointment to PHMSA, worked for a Washington D.C. law firm and represented oil industry companies including– are you ready?– Enbridge. We did not know this. Which, to be honest, made us feel a little silly.
But back in 2010–when we were nothing more than a gleam in the eyes of our pipeline safety parents– Quarterman, not surprisingly, found herself on the business end of a lot of sharp criticism after the Marshall spill for her ties to Enbridge. In fact, she recused herself from all Enbridge-related matters, no easy task when Enbridge-related matters were among the most urgent matters with which her agency had to deal. Needless to say, such an intimate relationship between industry and regulatory officials does not engender a lot of confidence, especially in this particular case: you’ll recall that the NTSB report on Marshall is every bit as critical of PHMSA and its “inadequate regulatory requirements” (among other things) as it is of Enbridge and its particular failings and failures.
All of this may well place in context (for us, anyway) one of the more head-scratching, perhaps even inflammatory, remarks of the conference. In a “briefing” on PHMSA’s current activities, another PHMSA official, associate administrator Jeff Wiese, cited the following as two of the “environmental” challenges facing his agency:
- Terribly under-informed populace highly dependent on a fossil fuel fed, overly lean, energy supply chain
- Growing public intolerance to risk – but highly rate sensitive
It’s safe to say that this didn’t sit that well with the citizen advocates at the conference. In fact, for a listener disinclined to give Mr. Wiese some benefit of the doubt (we’re on the fence about this), one might easily see this as an expression of some contempt for the public– ignorant, mindlessly addicted to fossil fuels, and cheap. If we’re being honest, it reminds us a bit of the sort of contemptuous attitude toward ordinary landowners we’ve seen on more than one occasion from Enbridge representatives: Joe Martucci, for instance, at a Groveland Township meeting shifting in his seat impatiently and sighing as landowners express reasonable concerns, then reminding us all (again) that cars use oil.
Wiese’s remarks are also reminiscent of Enbridge insofar as they appear to shift a portion of the blame for his organization’s failures on to others. In fact, we thought much of Wiese’s presentation demonstrated the same tendency we’ve seen from Enbridge to avert its gaze when shown a mirror. Or perhaps we’re just a bit too sensitive on the point: judge for yourself.
As we said at the beginning, we’re still learning when it comes to these regulatory matters. And we don’t know that much about either Cynthia Quarterman or Jeff Wiese, so we don’t want to be unfair. But it doesn’t inspire much hope to learn that the two organizations most responsible for the disaster in Marshall (Enbridge and PHMSA)– the two organizations we all have to rely on to ensure there won’t be another Marshall– have such a close relationship. Nor does it help when they appear to exhibit the same troubling set of attributes.
We don’t have any plans to make job listings a new feature of this blog, but when a really good and relevant one comes along, it only makes sense to post it. Perhaps one of our readers has an enterprising young relative looking for a great opportunity. This position with the Pipeline Safety Trust looks to us like one of them.
If we weren’t already gainfully employed (and if we were 20 years younger), we would consider it ourselves. Seriously, the chance to work with Carl Weimer and Rebecca Craven– such kind, committed, good-humored, and super-smart people– is alone a major draw. Check it out. Pass it along.
We kicked off our series of reports on last week’s Pipeline Safety Trust conference in New Orleans by describing some of the response from attendees to our presentation (if you haven’t seen it yet, you can still watch it here). In that report, we described Enbridge’s odd (but ultimately not surprising) snubbing of us. We’ve been mulling this over and can’t quite decide if it’s because we are simply insignificant to them (this is likely; we have no illusions about our importance) or because we’ve become a slight menace to them (probably less likely) or because they really just don’t want to hear from any of their critics (in our view, by far the most likely option).
One reason we think the last explanation is the most likely is because we learned at the conference that other companies do want to hear it– or at least they are willing to listen. Craig Pierson and Randy Stansberry from Marathon Pipe Line, in particular, struck us as quite sincere about wanting to take a hard look at their own practices. We thought the same of of Francisco Salguero from Pacific Gas & Electric. And we know that Vern Meijer from TransCanada actually took the time to sit down with Bonnie and Jon Kruse after their rather scathing presentation on how TransCanada has treated landowners out west.
We mention Marathon, TransCanada, and PG&E again because one of the things we learned at the conference is just how much these companies are inevitably linked together, rather than simply separate and in competition with one another. For instance, a refrain among regulators at the conference was the importance of companies’ willingness to share information when it comes to safety– whether that information is data, best practices, or technology. Claudia Bradley from Canada’s National Energy Board stressed the importance of sharing, as did Mark Rosekind of the NTSB. In fact, Rosekind made the point quite forcefully, almost as an injunction: “You don’t compete on safety!” he said. So while it may make for good advertisement for a company like Enbridge to claim (as they do) that “Enbridge is recognized as an industry leader in pipeline safety and integrity,” Rosekind’s point was that no one (or, if you prefer, everyone) should be the industry leader in safety.
A similar need for a confluence of interests (or so one would hope) was implicit in Carl Weimer’s (and others’) discussion of the strange and disturbing story of how industry standards become incorporated into federal regulations. Because they often rely on consensus, industry standards may not always reflect best practices when it comes to matters of safety (since standards may need to be watered down in order to achieve consensus). Within such a system, it’s not hard to imagine how a handful of bad actors– who place self interest ahead of safety– can actually work against outcomes that are in the best interests of everyone.
The same holds true, we believe, when it comes to the treatment of landowners. One of the things we said to those executives from other companies (and we weren’t telling them anything they didn’t already knew) is that Enbridge’s bad behavior, its alienating actions, aren’t just bad for Enbridge and bad for the landowners who are forced to bear the brunt of them. They’re bad for the whole industry. They’re bad for Marathon and PG&E and TransCanada. After all, the general public (understandably) doesn’t much distinguish between one pipeline company and the next. So when Enbridge violates a local ordinance, deals unfairly with a landowner, or ignores its own safety protocols, those actions reflect upon every pipeline company; they tarnish everybody’s reputation. Frankly, if I were Craig Pierson, I’d be furious with Patrick Daniel and I’d be on the phone with Al Monaco telling him to get his house in order. Enbridge may not want to listen to ordinary people like us, but we suspect they’d listen to their industry peers.
In lots of ways, the Pipeline Safety Trust conference was a humbling experience. It didn’t take long– about a minute into Carl Weimer’s opening remarks, in fact– to realize just how little we know compared to all the smart, knowledgeable people in our midst. We learned a great deal and came away with so much to think about. Fortunately, the PS Trust has made it possible to go back and revisit things with their terrific webcast– available here.
We need to mention one little unfortunate note about the webcast, however: the best session of the conference (in our view)– the Environmental panel featuring Beth Wallace, Anthony Swift, and Gabe Scott– wasn’t filmed. We have a hunch as to why (it’s no fault of PS Trust’s!) and will discuss it in another installment in the series, one devoted entirely to that panel. Yes, that’s a teaser.
For our first installment, however, we’re going to talk just a little bit about ourselves, begging forgiveness. If you missed our presentation, you can still watch it here. (And don’t neglect our fellow panelists Emily Krafjack and Bonnie and Jon Kruse— they were excellent. To regular readers of this blog, there wasn’t a great deal that was new in our talk and so we’re not going to rehash it. Instead, we want to say a few words about the aftermath:
More than a few people approached us afterwards– that afternoon and evening and the next day. Precisely who approached us and why, we think, is quite telling. Here’s a rundown of some of the folks who found what we had to say useful or thought-provoking:
- Francisco Salguero, Executive Manager at Pacific Gas and Electric. Francisco deals with public awareness and landowner relations. He was the first person to approach us to ask a question that nearly blew us away. After noting that his job entails working with landowners and the public, he said, “what can I do better?” And he meant it. We had a terrific exchange.
- Craig Pierson, President of Marathon Pipe Line, LLC. Over beignets at Cafe du Monde, Craig said that our presentation had the contingent from Marathon all abuzz, asking themselves, “is that us? are we treating our stakeholders that way?” And already– the very night of our talk– Craig and his team were talking about ways that they could find answers to those questions and adjust their practices accordingly. Wow.
- Randy Stansberry, Region Manager, Marathon Pipe Line. Randy approached me and reiterated some of what we discussed with Craig Pierson. We got him thinking, he said, “are we living up to our values?” To try and get some answers to that questions, Randy described their plan to contact landowners for focus groups in order to gather feedback. This was, you can imagine, tremendously heartening.
- Vern Meijer, Vice President, U.S. Operations, TransCanada. Vern also thanked us and noted that our presentation caused him to think about his company’s treatment of landowners. Incidentally, we found ourselves sitting next to Vern during the final session of the conference. As landowners and other advocates spoke, he was actively taking notes!
We spoke with a number of others as well. But these four are the main industry reps who went out of their way to speak with us– something they certainly did not need to do (after all, who are we to them?). We plan to follow up with them and, in some small way, cultivate beneficial relationships with them.
Now we’re sure that by this point, our readers, a perceptive bunch, can see where this is going: PG&E, Marathon, TransCanada. We did NOT spend our 15 minutes talking about the ways these companies treat landowners. So it would be reasonable for you to expect us at this point to recount the conversations we had with people from Enbridge or to tell you about the productive dialogue with Enbridge attendees that our presentation initiated or to describe to you how the conference helped extend and build upon the conversations we’ve had with Mark Sitek.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any of that. And the reason I can’t tell you any of that is because the Enbridge representatives at the conference– there were, we believe, five of them– all but ignored us. With just one exception, not exactly related to the primary theme of our talk (we plan to make that encounter the subject of another installment of this series), the Enbridge representatives in attendance did not seek us out for more conversation. They did not thank us for our perspective. They didn’t ask a question, offer a point of clarification or even of rebuttal. Unlike the folks from PG&E, Marathon, and TransCanada, the Enbridge attendees could not be bothered to talk with us at all. In fact, they didn’t say a single word to us.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. There was our brief encounter with our old friend Larry Springer– you remember him as the guy who singlehandedly sparked a series of posts a while back. Standing in line for lunch on Thursday, we happened to see someone in front of us with an iPad, upon which was displayed this very blog. Unable to contain ourselves, we politely interrupted just to say, “hey, that’s our blog,” to which the gentleman with the iPad replied, “Yes, I know”– and then turned away before we even had a chance introduce ourselves and engage in what one would expect to be the ordinary pleasantries of such a moment. But he was turned toward us long enough to afford a quick glimpse of his name badge. Yes, that’s right, Larry Springer actually– and quite rudely, if we’re being honest– snubbed us.
Now, we’re not much bothered that Larry Springer snubbed us. But one would have thought that, say, Lorraine Little would have introduced herself. After all, she’s one of the people at Enbridge we’ve tried (and failed) to engage. Still, we’re not that bothered that she didn’t speak with us either. No, what really bothers us is this:
All of those people from Enbridge at the conference who couldn’t be bothered to speak with us? They’re all from the PR department. I mean, Craig Pierson is the actual President of Marathon Pipe Lines. Vern Meijer is the Vice President of operations at TransCanada. These are people who make real decisions, people who are in a position to institute real changes, people whose jobs are not primarily devoted to spin. The Enbridge attendees, by contrast: all spin doctors.
What’s so baffling about this is that the conference actually presented Enbridge with an opportunity to prove us (a little bit) wrong. They had a chance to show that they really are willing to listen carefully to landowners, that they really are interested in open and honest communication, that they really do, as their values state, “take the time to understand the perspective of others.” They had a chance to cause us to come home and type up a blog post praising them for treating us respectfully, a post describing our new Enbridge friends. They could have given us cause to write an entry expressing gratitude toward them just as we’ve expressed gratitude toward Salguero, Pierson, Stansberry, and Meijer above. They could have given us a tale of a positive encounter with Enbridge to bring to our readers. And the truth is– perhaps they simply don’t believe this–we would LOVE to tell that tale. But Enbridge (stubbornly? willfully? deliberately? we have no idea) failed to take advantage of that opportunity.
Instead– and it gives us no real joy to gloat about this–they simply confirmed so many of the things we’ve said about them time and again– the very things we said in our presentation. They once again showed themselves unwilling to engage openly and honestly with stakeholders unless on their own narrow terms. They once again showed themselves unwilling to take a sober look at their conduct and practices and engage in a bit of serious introspection. They once again showed that even matters as vitally important as landowner relations and pipeline safety are to them not much more than p.r. matters.