Editor's Log: Responsibility

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | May 2013, Vol. 68 No. 5

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.