Russ Girling's ascent last summer to the top job at pipeline and power giant TransCanada Corp. looked pretty smooth at first. After all, he was inheriting a strengthened company from predecessor Hal Kvisle. Then, the BP oil spill and the Enbridge pipeline leak in Michigan heightened controversy over TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil sands output to the Gulf Coast. All this and cost overruns on a nuclear retrofit means the 48-year-old Mr. Girling inherited both a strong company and a very hot seat.
Was it some cruel joke becoming CEO at this difficult time?
Certainly it would have been nicer to have a summer uninterrupted by things like that. But it comes with the territory and I was fully prepared in the way the company ran the succession management process. I'd been moved into every [major]job in the company and had the chance to be chief operating officer for a year.
What's with this study released by the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE]on Keystone XL? You say it makes the case that the pipeline reduces foreign oil dependence; environmentalists say it shows the line isn't needed.
The facts are the U.S. consumes 15 million barrels of oil a day. Whether the environmentalists like that or not, that's a fact. Americans import 10 million barrels a day of that from other places. Two-point-two million and a bit comes from Canada, which means eight million barrels come from other places around the world.
If you bring another million barrels a day from Canada - and that's already contracted to refiners in the U.S. - that means they are not going to refine so much crude oil from elsewhere. Bringing in Canadian crude oil will back out crude oil from somewhere else. When we talk to refiners who are contracted to our system, they say they are displacing heavy oil from Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia. So to suggest that is not going to occur - well, I don't know what facts they would use to back that up.
What about the claim that any U.S. fear of critical oil sands output going to Asia is unfounded because of the barriers to building a new pipeline to the Pacific?
I don't really know what underpins the logic they bring to the table. The logic which I would suggest the DOE had in mind, and we have in mind, is the oil sands are the second-largest reserve of crude oil in the world, and they will get developed. If the U.S. denies access to Canada for that crude oil, there are other places around the world that are interested in accessing that oil and ensuring it gets developed.
How long will the State Department's crucial overview process take?
What we've been told is the State Department has yet to determine if they need any additional information. But at some point, they will issue a final environmental impact statement. Our understanding is there will be a 90-day public-interest-determination process. I'd say we are looking at four to five months of process left and we've kind of tagged that date at mid- to end of summer in terms of a conclusion.
What's the toughest thing about your job?
After the BP spill, it's the increase in regulatory scrutiny, oversight and public pressure to ensure that what we're doing is in the public interest and it's safe from both the public and environmental safety perspective.
Is your communications role hard for you?
I love this business and I love what I do. I'm proud of our capabilities. Getting the opportunity to talk about it isn't a hard thing. There is a certain satisfaction, especially when we're in this marketplace of misinformation - which can be frustrating.
I like running the business better than talking about the business, but I get to tell people we're not demons, we're actually providing a public service. We're making sure the lights stay on and the economy keeps running every day and we do it behind the scenes and we are usually not in the limelight.
How will a Russ Girling company be different than a Hal Kvisle company?
There will be subtle differences in style but the company transcends individuals. One difference is our educational background and what brought us to the job. He came up through more of a technical side, and I came through more of a market, business development and finance side. I rely more on the technical people to do their work and I focus on my strengths - where is the market going, and how do we maximize the financial returns?