Activist group The Yes Men have gotten under the skin of another bastion of corporate irresponsibility. The target this time is Enbridge, one of two companies that bring tar sands oil to global markets. Enbridge's latest brainchild is the 731-mile Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. The dual pipeline system will cross rivers and other sensitive ecosystems, bringing tar sands oil to the port while importing natural gas condensates to Alberta. Enbridge has had numerous spills from pipelines in the U.S., averaging one major spill per year over the past decade, including a devastating spill in the Kalamazoo River basin in Michigan.
Two weeks ago, The Yes Men released this video about an exciting new environmental protection project by Enbridge, collecting hair for oil spill response preparation. The campaign is called, "My Hair Cares."
Enbridge is not amused. Here is the statement posted on their website.
“My hair cares” is a hoax and makes light of a serious issue. It is not an Enbridge or Northern Gateway initiative, and Enbridge deplores this cynical attempt to take advantage of public concern about the environment.
Instead of working towards an informed understanding of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project, the perpetrators of this unethical campaign have trivialized last year’s tragic event in the Gulf of Mexico, where 11 people perished, for their own selfish purposes in a misguided attack on Enbridge’s reputation.
In the real world spills are not inevitable, and while the probability is remote, Enbridge’s goal is to be a model of world class safety and environmental standards. Northern Gateway has placed high priority on both the assessment of risks and the measures required to mitigate those risks, including response capabilities and equipment and logistics support that far exceed regulatory demands.
As one of the Top 100 Most Sustainable corporations in the world, Enbridge exists to deliver the energy North Americans need – crude oil, natural gas, renewable and alternatives – safely, reliably and efficiently. That is our primary corporate social responsibility.
Enbridge will vigorously defend its reputation, and is considering an appropriate legal response to this media campaign attack.
Calling The Yes Men unethical for reminding people of the consequences of oil spills, including Enbridge's spill in Michigan, is fascinating and cynical. In the real world, spills are inevitable from Enbridge and its pipelines.
A May 2010 report by the Polaris Institute, drawing on government and Enbridge data, identified 49 “significant incidents” on the company’s pipelines between 1999 and 2009. The accidents, in total, resulted in three worker deaths, 26,000 barrels (more than one million gallons) of oil and other materials spilled, and more than $30 million in property damage.
Between 1999 and 2008, according to the Polaris Institute, Enbridge recorded 610 spills in the U.S. and Canada that released 132,000 barrels of hydrocarbons into farms, wetlands and waterways on the continent. According to the Polaris Institute, this volume of crude "amounts to approximately half of the oil that spilled from the oil tanker the Exxon Valdez after it struck a rock in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1988."
The follow-up video from The Yes Men on the My Hair Cares campaign:
One can excuse Enbridge for being testy and sensitive. Their recent oil spills brought unwelcome attention to their messy record. Opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline from First Nation's peoples across Canada is growing. In fact, 61 First Nations just rejected offers of equity and jobs from Enbridge to allow the pipeline to cross through their lands. I wonder if the pipeline geniuses are smart enough to understand the significance of the date chosen to deliver their rejection. It was the date a certain oil-filled tanker went aground in Alaska. Opposition is also growing in British Columbia to the pipeline and the tanker terminal. A tanker spill of tar sands oil would be far more damaging and difficult to clean up than the Exxon Valdez. And the review of the Northern Gateway project by the Canadian government, which expected to be a slam-dunk for the company, has been referred for further study.
The response by the US Chamber of Commerce was instructive. They first attacked the hosting company for The Yes Men site, then used the prank to raise funds, and then filed a lawsuit. The very same people who pushed the free speech rights of corporations all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court strongly oppose the rights of citizens to speak out against corporations.
The Yes Men punking of George W. Bush spawned his infamous "there ought to be limits to freedom" quote.
You can support the fine work of The Yes Men here.