(In U.S. dollars unless noted)
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - If there was aparticularly bad time for an oil spill, Enbridge IncChief Executive Pat Daniel discovered it.
When Enbridge's pipeline ruptured in Michigan in July, BPPlc's oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was fresh inthe public consciousness, while debate raged over theenvironmental impact of Canada's oil sands and plans for amajor pipeline to ship the crude through the United States.
Enbridge and its CEO attracted the wrath of residents andpoliticians from the region, and the legal and regulatoryfallout from the largest onshore oil spill in recent U.S.history is not over.
Still, experts say Daniel steered clear of many of thepublic relations gaffes that BP CEO Tony Hayward becamenotorious for during the much-larger Gulf spill.
That will go along way in allowing Enbridge, the topshipper of Canadian oil to the United States, to emerge fromthe crisis without becoming a corporate metaphor forenvironmental negligence, experts said.
"If you're affected, it's really hard to understand how anexecutive could be both respectful and humble in Michigan, butwe kind of saw that," said Robert Kolt, a PR instructor atMichigan State University and president of Kolt Communications."I think folks gave him high marks compared to Tony Hayward. Imean, he was absolutely vilified."
Daniel,63, is an avid fly fisherman who has said he wantsto return to cast a line in the tributaries of the KalamazooRiver system when they are free from the damage from the breakof Line 6B.
In a calm and fatherly tone, the Canadian energy veteranhas apologized often and promised to clean up the damage andpay all claims.
The pipeline ruptured on July 26, sending 19,500 barrels ofheavy Cold Lake oil into the Kalamazoo watershed near Marshall,Michigan. It resumed flows on Monday.
INVESTOR RESPONSE MUTED
Enbridge shares did not come close to suffering to theextent of BP's, a function of the different scale of spill,said Lanny Pendill, an analyst with Edward Jones. They are notin the same league. Costs to Enbridge are currently expected tobe up to C$400 million ($388 million) before insurance payouts.Analysts peg the cost of the BP spill at $30 billion.
Enbridge shares rose 63 Canadian cents to C$52.80 on theToronto Stock Exchange Tuesday. That is a gain of more than1 percent since before the spill, and through the nine weeks ofshutdown it did not close below C$49.80.
"I don't see any type of reputation damage. This isn't thefirst spill they had and it won't be the last. Unfortunately,it's the nature of the pipeline industry itself," Pendillsaid.
Indeed, in August, Enbridge was fined $2.4 million for adeadly 2007 blast in Minnesota, and a month later had a ruptureon its 670,000 bpd 6A pipeline in Illinois.
"It does nothing to change the competitive position theyhave within the industry. I'm talking about the relationshipthey have with the shippers. I'm talking about the location oftheir infrastructure," Pendill said.
After the spill, Daniel spent two months in the Marshallregion, staying in a motel, overseeing the cleanup under theauthority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, settingup a claims process for residents and being the company'spublic face at public meetings. For several weeks he held dailypress briefings along with fellow executive Steve Wuori.
During those sessions, and in testimony in Washington,Daniel kept the focus off himself and what the impact might beon Enbridge's reputation. He concentrated on the cleanupprogress and what was being done to help residents deal withlosses.
Kolt said that's key in a crisis, as shown by the publicbacklash against Hayward when he said during an unguardedmoment during the BP spill that he wanted his life back.Hayward was later seen aboard his yacht off the Isle of Wight.He is due to be replaced as CEO on Friday.
"(Enbridge) seemed pretty steady in what they werecommunicating to the press and it did penetrate," Kolt said. "Idon't necessarily think it helped their image, or alwaysprotected their value, or that they were appreciated at all,but I do think the response was pretty good."
Costs to Enbridge will include the purchases of severalhomes in the spill's vicinity. Enbridge made the offers toaffected home owners as part of its pledge to make sureresidents do not suffer long-term harm. The cleanup iscontinuing.
But Enbridge has its detractors. Residents, and Michiganpoliticians such as Governor Jennifer Granholm andRepresentative Mark Schauer, have been highly critical of thecompany's response as well as the maintenance of its pipelines,three of which run through the state.
Much of the anger among residents is directed at conditionsthat led to the spill in the first place, said Dale Rosene, aretired middle school teacher who took students on annual tripsto Alaska to see the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill.
Many of those close to the rupture site have had theirlives turned upside down, he said. In addition, the long-termimpact on the Kalamazoo River system is not known, he said.
"The way that Enbridge and the CEO came across, they talkabout what a great job they are doing and how they are going tomake everything right, but in fact you can't make everythingright," Rosene, 63, said.
"You can fix some things you're being forced to, as youshould be, by the EPA and other folks. But at the same time, Idon't think they've ever taken responsibility for the fact thatperhaps the spill could have been prevented."
With the pipeline restarting, thorny questions remain thatmay require more fixes by Enbridge. They include the length oftime between the rupture and when Enbridge reported it, as wellas early reports of company representatives pressuringresidents to sign away their rights to legal action in exchangefor air purifiers and motel reimbursements.
Daniel said last week that the company will apply what itlearns from the incident to all its pipelines, especiallyunderstanding the metallurgy on its aging network.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board isinvestigating the Line 6B rupture in a process that could lastabout a year, officials said.
($1=$1.03 Canadian) (Editing by Rob Wilson)