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  (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

 

(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Al Monaco: Putting the pipeline business on a new track Add to ...

Al Monaco pauses, for a moment, to apologize.

“Do you mind,” he says, “if I spend a minute on this?”

He jumps out of his seat, swings open the doors on a wall-mounted whiteboard and begins to scribble.

Mr. Monaco is the new chief executive officer of Enbridge Inc. He holds the reins to a $31-billion company that runs the world’s longest crude oil system, plays a central role in keeping Canada’s energy sector alive and, as of late, occupies a spotlight in the corporate world – between spills and the threat of spills – that few companies can match.

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There is, in other words, plenty for Mr. Monaco to talk about. But first, splitting the whiteboard into two columns, he begins to sketch out how he sees the world. It’s a personal mission statement – or, if you like, a manifesto, in bullet points.

“You’ve got a few unassailable facts,” he says. Canada is highly dependent on exports. Oil makes up 15 per cent of those exports – “so that’s one fact.” But those exports are all aimed at a place that wants fewer and fewer of them. “What you’ve got is declining U.S. consumption,” he says.

These are the global market factors. Slow U.S. GDP growth. Rapid economic expansion in Asia. Fewer, more efficient cars in the U.S. More vehicles, and more oil demand, in Asia. At the same time, oil and gas are gushing from the earth in parts of the U.S. not accustomed to producing energy, further complicating the ability of Canada to sell into that market. “I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here,” Mr. Monaco says. “But I’m trying to build a story.”

That story points to who he wants to be, as the man tasked with shepherding a company that believes it can fix those market factors, in part by burying steel – to Canada’s east and west coasts, and across the U.S. – that would realign the continent’s energy compass. Enbridge’s operational practices were likened to the Keystone Kops, and Mr. Monaco must now convince Canada that his company, and his leadership, can be trusted with the delicate work of realigning that compass.

He turns to the second column, and begins to fill it with words like “consultation.” These are his keys to unlocking the first column.

“The business environment is different today,” he says. “What stakeholders want is not just the economic value of capital investment. They want you to build and develop energy on a sustainable basis.” Because, he says, “it’s not just about the money.”

At the same time, Enbridge faces unprecedented chances for profit. It’s staring at so much work it now expects to post 12-per-cent annual growth in coming years. North America, Mr. Monaco has said, is being “re-piped” as new energy corridors connect burgeoning oil and gas supplies to markets. He calls it “the renaissance,” which is “by far the biggest thing that’s happened in our business in 20, 30 years.” Add it all up, and there’s well over $100-billion in pipelines to be built in the next decade.

But if Enbridge is to dip deeply into that, it has to convince the world it can do it without fouling rivers and killing salmon and sickening neighbours. So this is the face Mr. Monaco wants to present: an Enbridge that doesn’t push its projects down the throats of angry landowners and past nervous native reserves. Ask him how he is different from his predecessor Pat Daniel. Ask him what stamp he wants to leave on this company. Ask him how he gets a project like Gateway built. He will tell you he is orchestrating change at a place that, he acknowledges, did not pay as much attention to safety or the environment in the past.

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