We’re Back! With Updates!

We’re Back! With Updates!

Pipeline safety advocates enjoying beignets and coffee in New Orleans during the Pipeline Safety Trust conference.

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!
2013 PS Trust Conference Highlights

2013 PS Trust Conference Highlights

IMG_20131122_154816_398What 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
This Week: PS Trust 2013!

This Week: PS Trust 2013!

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.

carlBut 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.

In which we struggle to maintain our measured tone…

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.

 

Breaking News (we wish!)

Breaking News (we wish!)

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.

News roundup: beyond 6B

News roundup: beyond 6B

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.