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Patrick Daniel was hardly seeking celebrity status when he took the helm as CEO of staid pipeline giant Enbridge in 2001. But the lanky Albertan became a lightning rod for anti-Big Energy sentiment as he dealt with, among other things, a massive oil pipeline spill in Michigan in 2010 and a heated controversy over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry oil sands output to the Pacific. As he plans to step down this fall, the 65-year-old will leave with a reputation on all sides of the energy debate for accountability and grace under fire.

Why leave now?

We have so many bright young stars in this company and it's important to ensure that they get a good opportunity. And we've never had a stronger long-range plan. We've revised our growth forecasts upward.

Was the timing of your departure your choice?

I probably would have preferred to get away a couple of years ago, but the plan I had with the board was that they had to be happy with the depth of management. The timing was my decision, and I was encouraged by my two sons—for years, they've been telling me to slow down.

What will you do?

I'm not embarrassed to say that I don't know. From the day I entered grade school, I've pretty much known what I wanted to do. Now, I'm intentionally saying no to

all opportunities so that I can give it a little thought.

Won't you miss not pushing Gateway to whatever conclusion it reaches?

I'm going to miss all the day-to-day in this business and all the challenges and opportunities, and Gateway is just one of them. When I first moved into the pipeline side of the industry, some of my colleagues who worked upstream said, "You're going to the dull part." Pipelines are anything but dull—I wish they were a little duller than they are right now. We provide an essential service to society.

Were you ready for the controversy over Gateway?

I don't know that you are ever ready for that kind of front-page exposure. We'd seen what the upstream had already gone through with opposition to the oil sands, so we weren't too surprised when a lot of people turned their attention to pipelines. They realized they wouldn't get sympathy in Alberta by opposing the oil sands, but they might get sympathy in Washington opposing pipes to carry oil sands crude.

Do you regret not winning more public opinion over to your side?

It has been a disappointment, but I don't relate that to Gateway, but to two other things: industry issues around Keystone XL, which is not an Enbridge project, and the disruption of hearings on our Line 9 proposal, which would re-reverse the flow of oil in our pipeline from Sarnia to Montreal to allow it to carry Western Canadian crude east, rather than transport North Sea oil west. People don't realize how important energy is. They oppose energy projects at the same time they step on the gas pedal.

Does the industry face not-in-my-backyard resistance to every project?

In our Energy4Everyone foundation, our employees volunteer to install more efficient appliances and energy sources around the world. I wish people could have been with them a few weeks ago, helping to install home solar lighting systems in a village in one of the poorest regions of Peru. The locals' attitude was: "In my backyard, please." In North America, we used to face the same challenges. I grew up in a house where we went to the coal shed for a bucket to keep the fire going, and we went to the town well to pump water for our Saturday night bath. We've lost touch with that.

Are you sad to see Canada so divided over energy?

It's frustrating, yes. The importance of the industry today reflects a bit of a power shift from East to West. I've tried to be as apolitical as I can over the years. The current federal government is more supportive of the industry than any we've seen in a long time. That's very encouraging for us in Alberta.

Why not write a book on crisis management?

I don't think there is any rocket science. You take responsibility and then you go to work and fix things. It would be hard to stretch that into a book.