Conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part the Last

Conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part the Last

We’re continuing to play catch-up with all of our unfinished business around here, while also re-visiting our notes from the Pipeline Safety Trust conference (the subject of our recently launched new series!). Among other things, we’re still scratching our heads over Enbridge contractor Precision Pipeline’s baffling flag faux-pas and we’re a little worked up over yesterday’s Enbridge Freep ad (teaser: they found a happy landowner!). We also drove around a bit this weekend and took some construction pictures– since entries to our photo contest are few and far between (but it’s not too late to submit! Please?!). More on all of that is coming up.

Meanwhile, it’s high time we wrapped up our series on our conversation with Enbridge Vice President Mark Sitek. We had a second call with him on Monday and while it, too, was candid and respectful, we’re not sure it was terribly productive. We haven’t quite given up on Mark yet, but we’re less hopeful now about the potential fruits of this exchange than we were a few weeks ago.

But we can start with one positive note: Mark assured me that Enbridge is going to change the indemnification language they present to landowners. The new language will not be two-way indemnification (which we’ve expressed lots of concerns about before), but only a one-way indemnification (that is, Enbridge will indemnify landowners, not the other way around). As an example– we don’t know if this is precisely what they’ll use– here is the one-way indemnification clause in the contract we signed (after objecting to the original two-way language):

Lessees agree to indemnify and hold Lessor harmless against any and all claims, demands, and causes of action, intentional misconduct of its employees, agents, representatives, contractors, subcontractors or invitees.

Now, this change is undoubtedly good news and it does show that Enbridge is capable of a certain degree of responsiveness. We are grateful to Mark for looking into the matter and taking action. He deserves credit for that. At the same time, we do have to qualify our praise on this point since (1) this is a pretty modest action, an easy step for Enbridge to take; and (2) Mark still refused to concede that there was any real problem with the original language other than that it was “confusing” (as opposed to an attempt to shift a portion of liability onto unsuspecting homeowners, as we’ve always maintained). Nevertheless, it is a little step and we’ll take it. And we thank Mark Sitek for it sincerely.

As for other matters, we’ll just say that in general it seemed to us that Mark demonstrated what we have already described as Enbridge’s general unwillingness to honestly, soberly, and self-critically reflect upon its actions and practices or to consider how they look, not from the perspective of Enbridge, but from the perspective of landowners. We believe that unwillingness– perhaps it’s stubbornness– is absolutely endemic to Enbridge corporate culture.

For instance, at a certain point in each of our conversations with Mark, he set forth a kind of bottom line: the fact is, he told us in our last conversation (as I recall, we were talking about compensation for “disturbance and inconvenience”) that Enbridge owns easement rights on most of these properties, rights they have owned for 40 years. And the further fact is that those rights allow them the use of adjacent land (i.e., temporary work space).

Now, on the one hand, this is an indisputable fact (although owning easement rights doesn’t mean they can simply do whatever they want), a fact that we have never once questioned in any way. On the other hand, as we said to Mark at the time, if that’s Enbridge’s bottom line–“we have rights and we’re going to use those rights to do what we want”– that’s fine. Then just say so. But don’t then also pretend that you’re devoted to being a good neighbor, that you want to cultivate good relationships, that you are committed to openness and honesty, etc, etc. Because if you say all that latter stuff, we are going to expect it. And expecting it, we are going to be disappointed and frustrated and call you out when you fail to live up to it.

We’ll give just one further example of this: at one point, Mark also said he thought we’d been a little unfair to Enbridge spokesperson Jennifer Smith. You remember, she’s the one who said that Enbridge does not ask landowners to sign agreements granting indemnification to Enbridge. We have also pointed out that Smith claims Enbridge compensates landowners for “disturbance and inconvenience,” even though Mark himself conceded that, strictly speaking, this is not exactly true. By contrast, we think it is absolutely fair to point out when someone makes dubious claims. In fact, we went out of our way to be fair to Jennifer Smith by writing to her directly to ask her for clarification. Her response? Nothing. She did not respond to us at all. (How’s that for respect and open and honest communication?)

In fact, if anybody has been unfair to Jennifer Smith– and to her fellow spokespersons, PR people, and marketers– it is Enbridge itself. As we said when we first mentioned her, we think it’s probably the case that the Jennifer Smiths who work for Enbridge have no idea about what’s in the agreements presented to landowners or what what actually goes on in negotiations between landowners and ROW agents. Instead, what Enbridge’s Jennifer Smiths know is what Enbridge tells them to say. And when those things turn out not to be true, it’s the spokespersons– because they’re the ones saying it– who have to take the heat for peddling misinformation. Which means that Enbridge is hanging its own people out to dry.

We don’t know whether our interactions with Mark have reached a conclusion. Graciously, he invited us to contact him in the future if we need to do so. We’ll also say that we think that Mark is a genuinely nice guy; we’re sure he’s quite good at his job. But we also think that he is a product of what we’ve been diagnosing as the peculiar malady that afflicts Enbridge culture. Consider this point of contrast: after our PS Trust talk this week, executives of Marathon Pipe Line told us that the story of our experience caused them to think, “is that us?” That is, we gave them reason to take a hard look at themselves and their practices, to consider whether they were actually living up to their own stated values. However, never once– and this includes our exchanges with Mark– have we heard the same from Enbridge. Instead, all we have ever heard from them is, “that’s not us.” Unlike Marathon and others, they remain steadfastly, intractably unwilling to take a hard look at themselves.

Phone call footnote

Just got off the telephone with Enbridge VP Mark Sitek again. We appreciate his time and the fact that he is at least willing to face an actual landowner and hear us out; we can’t say the same about everybody at Enbridge.

With that said, with one small exception, it was an unsatisfactory conversation. If we can stomach it, we’ll try to supply a bit of detail later. In the meantime, we’ll just say that we wish Mark would read and actually reflect on this. It remains, in our view, a very serious problem.

Our conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part 4

Among other things, we’re working this week on our upcoming presentation at the Pipeline Safety Trust conference, where we’re eager for the chance to talk with other landowners, regulators, and industry personnel. We’re looking forward to listening and learning. Perhaps we’ll even get a chance to meet and speak face to face with some Enbridge folks!

Of course, we’ve already spoken at some length with Enbridge Vice President Mark Sitek and we’re looking forward to a follow-up conversation or two. As regular readers know, we’ve been using that initial conversation as an opportunity to diagnose Enbridge, to try and articulate some of the underlying conditions that plague them and cause them to alienate stakeholders. We’ll likely talk about some of this in our presentation at the conference this week.

Just this morning, we were thinking about this alienation of stakeholders after reading the comments of Brandon Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman in the Brandon Citizen. Referring to a number of outstanding questions from a meeting with Enbridge representatives two months ago, Thurman said:

“Enbridge does not appear to be sincere in what they have communicated to the township. They have made statements that they will get information we have requested, but they have not produced it for us.”

Of course, we suspected at the time that Enbridge wasn’t altogether sincere– and more or less said as much in our report of that meeting. But the larger point here is that Enbridge seems to have serious problems with sincerity in general. That’s the topic of this installment in our series:

Part 4; Just tell the @&*! truth

We begin once again with one of Enbride’s stated core values: “Maintain truth in all interactions.” This, we believe, is excellent policy. We try very hard to adhere to it ourselves on this very blog. But based on our experience, this is another value that Enbridge fails to live up to. Indeed, there appears to be something deeply ingrained in Enbridge’s corporate culture that prevents them from simply being straightforward and forthright. We’re not saying that everything you hear from Enbridge is an outright falsehood. But we are saying that in far too many instances, you simply can’t take what Enbridge says at face value. And that’s a problem.

A ramble through our archives will reveal plenty of examples. But here is a quick rundown on some of them:

  • Statements and promises from ROW agents far too numerous to recount.
  • When asked by a reporter at the small-town Tri-City Times about the sudden appearance of pipes near Capac, Enbridge spokesperson said they were for integrity work on Line 5. We found that explanation suspicious. And it was. Manshum later provided a different explanation.
  • In one of their recent ads, Enbridge claimed that “landowner representatives” (ie, ROW agents) are our “neighbors.” But as far as we know, only one ROW agent working with landowners on this project has ever resided in Michigan. All the rest are from out of state.
  • Enbridge spokesperson Jennifer Smith recently claimed that Enbridge pays compensation for “disturbance and inconvenience.” We were led to believe by our ROW agent that Enbridge does not pay for these things.
  • Lands and Right-of-Way Project Manager Doug Aller said that he would call me. He has never called me.

Individually, perhaps any one of these things can be explained away or, in some cases, forgiven: ROW agents are misinformed or under pressure; Manshum just didn’t know what was going on in Capac; Doug Aller is a very, very busy guy; advertisements always shade the truth a little. Nevertheless, the fact is that all of these (arguably) little things– placed alongside plenty of big things– add up. They accrue. And taken cumulatively, they exhibit a pattern of behavior– a pattern that would cause anyone to wonder and worry.

So what does all of this have to do with Mark Sitek? We are not going to claim that he did not speak truthfully with us. We still think our conversation with him was conducted (mostly) in good faith. However, we do think that parts of our conversation illustrated the culture we described before: a culture that for some reason finds it hard just to be forthright. Let us explain.

One of the more interesting moments in our conversation was when I raised the issue of reactivation of the old pipe. This is (possibly) another example of an instance where one can’t quite be certain about Enbridge’s statements. Back in September, we heard four different representatives tell the Brandon board of trustees that they knew of no cases where Enbridge had reactivated an idle pipe. But then it took us no more than an hour or two to find three examples— one featured prominently on Enbridge’s own website. So were the Enbridge reps just not telling the truth? We don’t know. But we are left wondering.

An any rate, Mark was much more straightforward about the matter than almost anyone we’ve ever heard. He eventually conceded– after a while, not right away and with some reluctance– that it is possible they could use the deactivated pipe in the future, though they have no current plans to do so. In fact, he said Enbridge has the legal right to use that pipe.

Now, we don’t much care for that answer. I don’t want that pipe ever to be used again. But it is the truth. And we respect the truth. The problem, we pointed out to Mark, is that nobody EVER says that. The only thing anybody from Enbridge ever says about that question is “we have no plans” to put it back into use. And when they say that, they just sound evasive, less than truthful, certainly not forthright. Yet they seem to have no sense of this whatsoever. They seem unable to grasp the simple fact that people would much rather be dealt with truthfully and straightforwardly, even if the news is bad, than be dealt with evasively and misleadingly.

The same holds for the matter of the indemnification language we’ve discussed so many times before (most recently here). Mark disagreed with us about the meaning of that language (that may be the subject of a later post), though we maintained that its net effect was corrosive to relations. But when we suggested that Enbridge stop shopping that language to landowners, Mark expressed concern about what the “storyline” would be– that is, he was worried that changing that practice would simply allow people to say, “see, Enbridge admits that it’s been doing wrong.”

Yet that reply is the whole problem we’re describing here. Mark’s primary concern in this case was not with repairing relations with landowners, with doing what’s right, with confronting the truth of that indemnity language, with making changes that might benefit everybody. Rather, his concern was with Enbridge’s public image.

What he seemed not to understand– what Enbridge, in general, seems not to understand (just witness their series of recent ads)– is that this relentless devotion to its public image is precisely (paradoxically) the cause of its poor public image. Saying you’re a good neighbor isn’t the same as being a good neighbor. Saying you treat people fairly isn’t the same as treating people fairly. Saying you value the truth isn’t the same as just telling the @&*! truth.

 

 

Our Conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part 3

Our Conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part 3

Lately, we’ve been thinking our way through the conversation we had a week ago Wednesday with Enbridge Vice President Mark Sitek. Rather than providing a transcript from memory of that conversation, we’ve touched upon some of its highlights to try and understand– even to diagnose– the malady that plagues Enbridge (in our view). So far, we’ve discussed Enbridge’s insularity and the difficulty they seem to have looking at matters from the point of view of others– obviously, those two things are related.

In our third installment, we will consider another related trait: the trouble Enbridge seems to have taking accountability for its actions.

Part 3: Taking Accountability   (more…)

Our conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part 2

Our conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part 2

Yesterday, we launched our new series centering upon the telephone conversation we had Wednesday with Enbridge Vice President Mark Sitek. We’re using that exchange as an opportunity to try and diagnose and account for the condition that causes Enbridge to act in ways that alienate landowners and the general public (not to mention other stakeholders). In the first installment of the series we discussed Enbridge’s defensiveness, its tendency to portray itself as unfairly victimized. The basic thesis of that post was two-fold. We suggested that (1) it’s absurd for the party that wields all the power, has all the resources, and nearly always gets its way to pose as the victim; and (2) that such a pose is the result of an extreme insularity that prevents Enbridge from seeing things from a broader perspective. For that matter, we suggested at the very end of our post, Enbridge seems to have trouble adopting any perspective other than its own narrow one.

In this our second installment, we’ll take up that last point, which is all the more important because it is one of Enbridge’s stated core values. As part of their commitment to “Respect,” Enbridge states that its employees will “take the time to understand the perspective of others.” This, along with their other values, is what Enbridge describes as “a constant beacon by which we make our decisions, as a company and as individual employees, every day.”

Part 2: Understanding the Perspective of Others   (more…)

Our conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part 1

Our conversation with an Enbridge VP, Part 1

As we’ve mentioned, on Wednesday we had an extended telephone conversation with Enbridge Vice President for Major Projects Execution Mark Sitek; he’s the VP who signed the “letter” that appeared in lots of newspapers a couple of weeks back. Mark struck us as a good man, easy to talk to, and a good listener. We’re grateful he took the time to speak with us–especially since so many other folks at Enbridge– like spokesperson Jennifer Smith and Lands and Right-of-Way Project Manager Doug Aller— are clearly ducking us.

As you can imagine, there is an awful lot to report from the conversation. We think we learned some important things from the experience and we confirmed for ourselves some other impressions we’ve had about Enbridge for a while. So instead of just providing a summary of our conversation, we thought we’d focus on what was instructive about the exchange and attempt to extrapolate from it some general lessons– touching upon details of the conversation as we go.   (more…)