Editor’s Log: Responsibility

Accepting responsibility for our mistakes is something that never comes easy for individuals. So it is no surprise that often it is even harder for large organizations or corporations to also own up to their mistakes and react in a responsible manner.

Two different tragedies prompting strong corporate reaction have gone a long way in restoring my faith in the hearts of at least some of our gas companies. Last month I wrote about the personal tragedy of Nick Stavropoulos that led him to PG&E following the disastrous and deadly San Bruno explosion in 2010. There, as vice president of gas operations, he has taken on the daunting task of not only restoring PG&E’s system top-notch status, but also in attempting to restore faith and trust in the company through a thorough revamping of all safety protocols. As Stavropoulos stated, PG&E has “made it our mission to become the safest gas company in America.”

In late February, another devastating incident occurred when a gas explosion killed one person and left a swath of wide-spread damage to a residential neighborhood of Royal Oak, MI. It was quickly determined that the drill head of an HDD rig brushed a 5/8-inch gas line. Escaping gas eventually led to a build-up of fumes and explosion.

Consumers Energy, the area’s gas provider, immediately sent out a press release expressing sympathy to the family of the victim and other people impacted by the accident. Further, Consumers Energy stated they were fully cooperating with the Michigan Public Service Commission and other regulatory agencies to determine the cause of the incident.

Many HDD-related businesses that work for Consumers were concerned when the company soon after announced it had suspended directional drilling operations throughout the state until details of their investigation could be completed.

But Consumers acted quickly, decisively and with transparency. Within a week of the suspension of drilling activities, Consumers Energy publicly accepted responsibility for the accident. The mistake was their own – not a contractor or other hired partner. The drilling unit that struck the gas line was owned and operated by Consumers Energy.

“We have taken appropriate disciplinary action, including terminations for failure to follow established policies and procedures. We take our responsibility to protect our communities, customers and employees very seriously and are committed to a zero tolerance policy when it comes to their safety. With this commitment in mind, we continue to be vigilant and proactive in taking steps to reassure the public,” Consumers announced.

After completing its detailed review and validation of standard operating procedures with employees and contractors working on Consumers Energy’s system, directional drilling operations resumed the following week.

When Senior Editor Jeff Griffin contacted the company regarding the incident, there was no public relations shuffle and spin. Instead, the company immediately put Griffin in contact with
Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy vice president of energy delivery. The company wasn’t interested in pointing the finger or avoiding blame. Rather, they committed to learning from their mistake and taking substantial steps to improve their safety record – all in a public forum. They were more than willing – even anxious – to have an open and frank conversation with Griffin.

To say this reaction was unusual is an understatement – and a welcome reprieve from typical “spin” responses. Kudos to Consumers Energy for the courage and commitment to take the responsible path.

Quiet milestone

When Duke’s Root Control completed a project this spring that sent the company past 200 million miles of sewer pipe chemical treatment, there wasn’t a huge party or celebration. Indeed, most of the company personnel weren’t even aware that such a threshold had been passed.

Though obviously proud of such a major accomplishment, company officials decided to keep the event low-key. Duke’s President Mike Hogan said it is important to put the milestone in perspective with the company’s total body of work.

“We believe that the first foot of pipe we treated more than 35 years ago and every foot treated since then is equally important with foot number 200 million. We know we could never have achieved this record if it were not for years of successful treatments performed by employees, past and present, and the loyal customers we serve.”

A humble reaction, but an amazing milestone in any field. Congratulations to Duke’s and may you pass 300 million miles of chemical root treatment in the not-too-distant future.

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