Remember those crazy Detroit Free Press ads Enbridge ran back in late October? We miss them. We had quite a bit of fun slicing and dicing them. It was pretty easy pickin’s, too. First, they tried to seduce us by featuring an Enbridge employee who only served to remind us of the Marshall debacle. Then they tried to convince us that Enbridge land agents are a kind, friendly, neighborly lot who just want what is best for us. Then they gave us an almost poetic image of a pipeline running through the wilderness that can only be described as “pipeline pastoral.”
Then we got sidetracked. Other matters intervened and we never quite got around to the last of these ads. That’s a shame, because the last one is a real piece of work. We’re pleased to return to it now, at long last. First, take a look. Apparently, this camouflage-clad hunter-guy thinks Enbridge is “Respectful, Responsive, and Fair”:
But that’s not the best part. It turns out that this is no ordinary landowner. No, this is “Dr. Michael Milan, a 24-year Michigan resident” who “has worked extensively with Enbridge over the past three years.” Yes, that’s right, he is a doctor! Evidently, we’re supposed to find this pretty impressive, as if we all recognize that a doctor’s view of Enbridge’s behavior is going to be a lot more credible than all of those unreasonable average-joes. And of course, as an added bonus, Michael Milan is no ordinary doctor; he also exudes a certain authentic Michigan rugged outdoorsiness. Just look at him: he’s wearing a camouflage jacket and a hunting cap and everything!
We don’t know about you, but we find this more than a little insulting. Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad that things have gone smoothly for Michael Milan out there on his “scenic 20 acres,” where he has “received information on pipeline safety and visits from [his] Enbridge land agent” over the course of “five maintenance digs.” We’re also glad to hear that his “land agent stops by regularly just to make sure things are okay.” In fact, we’d like nothing more than for everyone to have such a pleasant experience. And we’ve certainly never denied that plenty of landowners have had perfectly pleasant experiences with Enbridge. But if trotting out this guy, dressing him up like Ted Nugent, and making sure we all know he’s a doctor is somehow supposed to mitigate all the stories of Enbridge’s disrespectfulness, lack of responsiveness, and unfair treatment of landowners– well, that’s just plain offensive.
In fact, for every “Dr. Michael Milan” Enbridge can produce who says Enbridge is “respectful, responsive, and fair,” we could probably produce a landowner whose experience demonstrates precisely the opposite. In fact, we can even produce one who is actually Michael Milan’s neighbor– and we don’t mean a metaphorical Enbridge neighbor either; we mean one who lives in very close proximity to Milan– not to mention one whose Michigan bona fides are at least as impressive as the good doctor’s. Let us introduce you to:
William Aldrich, an electrical engineer for one of the Big 3 automakers and a lifelong Michigan resident:
Since 1981, I have worked to ensure that native trees were allowed to thrive on my property by performing selective pruning and tree removal. I have planted additional native trees not represented and removed many invasive species. Over 30 species of Michigan native trees and shrubs are represented in area designated by Enbridge as Temporary Workspace. I have made it a point of pride to be able to name and protect and enhance the diverse species of plants that reside on my property. I have expended significant time, effort and money to achieve these ends. For months, I attempted to work with Enbridge to minimize the amount of unnecessary damage and return the property to its current mix of diverse native species of plants.
In order to minimize the damage to this native flora, I attempted to work with my land agent to provide a Temporary Work Space that would preserve as many trees as possible while giving Enbridge an additional 200 square feet of workspace. I also reached an agreement with my land agent specifying that the stumps of trees that must be removed in the TWS be left in the ground to allow them to resprout. Yet Enbridge ignored my win-win proposal for modifying the TWS, disregarded the agreement not to remove stumps (tearing them out of the ground anyway), and clear cut numerous trees clearly desgnated by my ROW agent as “do not cut,” some mere inches from the Temporary Work Space boundary line.
In short, my dealings with the designated Enbridge right-of-way representative have been incomplete, contentious, sporadic, unanswered and in many cases violated. Enbridge’s own actions consistently contradict the Enbridge right-of-way representative’s assertions and agreements.
Now that we’ve returned from the Pipeline Safety Trust conference– we’ve already launched our new series of reports on it!– we hope to try and catch up on some overdue posts. First up is the most recent ad Enbridge ran in the Detroit Free Press (and elsewhere, we believe). You might recall that we found it rather difficult to procure a copy of this ad (though we finally decided to reject the notion that there was a conspiracy afoot to prevent us from seeing it). We still have not gotten our hands on it. Fortunately, our wonderful reader Linda supplied us with a description and some copy. [SEE UPDATE BELOW.]
But first, a small item of note. In our first report on the PS Trust conference, we mentioned that there was one exception to the total Enbridge snub of us at the conference. We still plan to post a full version of that story in another conference report. But we will say here that the single Enbridge representative who did speak to us was Director of US Corporate and Business Communications Terri Larson. We had some minor apprehensions about the substance of what Terri said to us (and we said as much to her), but based on our brief interaction, we liked her. She struck us as sincere and we very much appreciated her willingness to engage us; she invited us to do the same. And we will.
We mention that here because it turns out that Terri is one of the people responsible for the series of Enbridge ads we’ve been writing about. (And given how critical we’ve been of them, we think that makes it all the more commendable that Terri approached us.)
At any rate, here is the description of the ad we received from Linda:
Huge picture of beautiful landscape with pipe snaking through it. Headlines: Line 6B: ENGINEERED RELIABILITY……Enbridge is replacing segments of its Line 6B pipeline that runs through Michigan and Indiana to ensure the continued secure supply of energy resources through this key transportation system. Throughout this process, we want you, our neighbors, to know that careful planning is going into engineering and constructing this system.
These pipeline segments will meet or exceed regulatory requirements with design features including:
-Increased wall thickness from the current .250 inch to a minimum of .375 and up to .625 inch under wetlands and water crossings.
-35 remotely controlled electric valves, in addition to valves at pump station sites.
-Higher strength steel and state of the art fusion bonded epoxy coating to help inhibit external corrosion.
Based on this description, we’d have to say that this is the least objectionable of the ads that have run so far. At the same time, you’d surely be disappointed if we didn’t find something to which we object. So, briefly, here goes:
We’ll let the “our neighbors” bit go just this once; that’s well-covered ground at this point. Instead, we’ll focus on some other things we’ve said (or asked) before. That is, all this stuff sounds great, especially since most of us know very little about these technical matters. But a closer look might give one a bit of pause. For example, telling us the number of remotely controlled electric valves (if one even knows what they are) is close to meaningless unless one first knows, say, what a standard number of valves is for a particular length of pipe. (This is the sort of thing that a bunch of the tech-heads at the PS Trust conference, like our friends Robert Whitesides and Michael Holmstrom likely know.)
We could say similar things about the other items. After all, the list really raises more questions than it answers. For instance, why the range– a rather wide range– of wall thicknesses at wetlands and water crossings? What thicknesses will be used at which crossings? Why and how is that determined? How would anyone who wanted that information find it out?
The same might go for the statement about how “these pipeline segments will meet or exceed regulatory requirements.” We’re not told which of the listed design features exceed regulatory requirements (and it’s not even 100% clear that the regulatory requirements we’re talking about here are U.S. requirements). In fact, this very question– about which federal requirements the design of this pipeline exceeds– is one that we stood up and asked at the now-infamous Brandon Township “workshop.” Perhaps you’ve heard that it’s now been more than two months since that workshop and Enbridge has STILL not answered that question– or any others.
So here is what we’re going to do. We’re just going to write to Terri Larson and ask her this one simple question: specifically, which design features of the new pipe exceed which regulations? We will report back what we learn.
Just one final point, one that we have also made before: we have little doubt all of these technological improvements are surely a very good thing (how could they not be compared to a 40 year old pipe?!). But it bears remembering that at Marshall, technology was a relatively small part of the problem. Technological failures didn’t make for disaster in Marshall; human failures did.
[UPDATE: Thanks to our friend Nate Pavlovic who sent us a photo of the ad last night. We especially like its pastoralism, which almost makes it seem as if the pipeline is a natural feature of the landscape itself, like the trees and the grass. But it puts us in mind of the great Wallace Stevens poem, “Anecdote of the Jar”– just substitute “pipe” for “jar” and “Michigan” for “Tennessee”:
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.]
Three weeks ago in an ad published in the Detroit Free Press (and elsewhere), Enbridge promised:
over the next four weeks we will use space in this newspaper to share project updates and to address some of [the public’s] questions. . .
And for two weeks, they (sort of) delivered on that promise. That is, they did use space in the newspaper–they just didn’t use it all that well and they didn’t really address any questions. Instead, they gave us more marketing spin and predictable sloganeering.
But what the ads lacked in actual informational value, they more than made up for in instructiveness. We thought the ads pretty effectively demonstrated the disconnect between Enbridge’s words and actions— the same disconnect we’ve been describing for months. And to be honest, we’ve really enjoyed slicing and dicing the ads. They’ve become the highlight of our Sunday mornings of late.
So you can imagine our disappointment when we came home with our Sunday edition of the Freep only to search the paper in vain for this week’s ad. Evidently, Enbridge has abandoned that strategy– which means they only made it two out of the four weeks they promised. We’re still hopeful that they’re just taking a break, perhaps because of this week’s elections. In the meantime, we’ll try to find something else to do with ourselves.
You would think at this point we would cease to be surprised at Enbridge’s baffling public communications. Yet they continue to astound us. That is certainly the case with the latest ad they’ve published in the Detroit Free Press. They appear to be utterly incapable of presenting even the most basic information without misleading or dissembling. But we’ll say this much: at least they’re consistent.
Last Sunday, Enbridge launched a new ad campaign in newspapers across Michigan and Indiana. We devoted considerable attention to that first ad, which appeared in the form of a letter by Vice President for Major Projects Execution Mark Sitek. In the letter, Sitek promised:
. . . over the next four weeks we will use space in this newspaper to share project updates and to address some of these questions. We will expand on the purpose of the projects and what community members can expect from us. We will present our process for reaching right-of-way agreements with landowners. We will also provide insight into the regulatory process and requirements guiding the projects’ development.
We eagerly awaited the next installment, ready to assess the quality of the information Sitek would provide. Well, a new ad did in fact appear this Sunday, only it didn’t at all provide any of the information Sitek promised.
Yesterday was a record-breaking day, in terms of traffic, on the Line 6B Citizens’ Blog. We don’t know if that is attributable to Enbridge’s letter in the Detroit Free Press— though if it is, we’d like to thank them for the little boost! Whatever the case, we are grateful to everyone who stops by, we hope you’ll return, and we’ll continue to try and make it worth your while.
In this post, we’ll wrap up our extended discussion of the Enbridge letter/ad. If you missed the earlier installments, please take a look at parts 1 and 2 and 3. (more…)