Apr 3 2009

Words vs. Deeds

Energy Companies — Polite Words vs. Good Deeds

For landowners who are puzzled about the behavior of energy companies and their representatives, the following anecdote might be helpful.

It is based on a recent conversation I had with Joe Ramsey, who is a Group Vice President in charge of “Project Execution & Process” for Spectra Energy.

He was calling from Calgary in the province of Alberta, Canada; and he wanted to answer questions I had raised about Spectra Energy’s process for investigating itself with regard to landowner complaints about behavior.

As we trolled through our conversation, he said that Spectra Energy has tried to be responsive to me and they do not understand why I “keep coming after” them.

Some at Spectra Energy might consider this a logical question.  In fact, it is an astonishing question because it suggests that Spectra Energy sees itself as the aggrieved party. As I noted last year to the former CEO and CFO of Spectra Energy, the corporate culture there confuses superficial courtesies with integrity; and it is puzzled when polished manners do not result in an embrace by landowners.

In other words, the company confuses polite words with good deeds.

As I explained to Mr. Ramsey, landowners did not initiate a legal assault against Spectra Energy.  It came after us, filing three civil actions in federal court (Johnstown, PA) in the process.

But there’s more to the culture gap between energy companies and landowners.

In January, for example, Spectra Energy sent a proposed “Stipulation and Order” (part of the legal battle we are now fighting in federal court) that read in part:  “This stipulation does not in any way affect the rights of Mr. and Mrs. Benard to seek just compensation in the above-referenced action for the taking of the easements or any other rights, claims or defenses that may be asserted in this action.”   [Emphasis added]

Like a superficial courtesy, that statement of principle turns out to be a platitude because the company filed an injunction asking the judge to forbid property owners from presenting various economic loss arguments as they sought just compensation because the jury would be “confused, misled and distracted … and waste time.”  (This is an excerpt of the actual wording presented to the judge.)  Presumably, there is no point in Spectra Energy’s Yale-educated lawyer talking down to Pennsylvania jurors.

The “keep coming after” question and the attitude behind it reveal much about the corporate culture and value system at Spectra Energy.  For example, how many members of its board of directors and its leadership team have ever been on the receiving end of an eminent domain taking in federal court?

Irrelevant question — not at all.  It underscores a blind spot in the corporate culture.  This cultural preference for polite words vs. good deeds is pervasive throughout the company.  For example, Spectra Energy declares its commitment to “embracing diversity and inclusion” in its corporate charter — while its 11-member leadership team is nearly all white with two white females and one African-American male.  And its 11-member board of directors is all white males with the exception of one African-American female.

The difference between the charter declaration and the lack of diversity is the difference between a principle and a platitude.  It is one more illustration how energy companies confuse words with deeds.

Finally, is it possible that Spectra Energy’s opponents “keep coming after” it because it “keeps coming after” them?

We stand on different sides of a principle (property rights).  Eminent domain is increasingly a hot topic in states across the country.  Even the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) has launched an interactive website as part of its “fight for changes in eminent domain law that empower rather than imperil residents of the Lone Star State.”

Here is the TFB website:

Got to love those Texans, don’t you?

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