John Bolenbaugh, the oil worker who claims he was fired for blowing the whistle on a top-down cover-up that followed the 2010 spill of more than a million gallons of tar sands crude in Michigan, has made good on his vow to use proceeds from an April settlement to sue Enbridge, the Canadian energy giant responsible for the pipeline rupture.
Bolenbaugh revealed in a phone interview yesterday that he and his attorney, Thomas Warnicke at Fieger Law, had been waiting to complete the brief until they had the results of last week’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) probe into the causes of the spill and a parallel investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA) into possible safety violations. Bolenbaugh said their case is bolstered by PHSMA’s two dozen citations for likely violations associated with the spill and its reporting, the record $3.7 million fine, as well as NTSB’s stinging report and public hearing, in which NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A. P. Hersman likened Enbridge’s negligence and botched emergency response to “the Keystone Cops.” Bolenbaugh called the results of those investigations “good,” but warned that they only covered pre-spill safety violations and the initial response and reporting. NTSB and PHSMA steered clear of the ongoing cleanup effort -- the bailiwick of the Environmental Protection Agency -- which, to Bolenbaugh, is of equal, if not greater, importance. “There’s so much more left to uncover,” he said, “which is the whole point of this lawsuit.”
In the brief, filed today by Warnicke with the Circuit Court of Calhoun County, Bolenbaugh reiterates his claim that he was directed to cover up oil by employees of O’Brien’s Response Management, an Enbridge contractor named in the suit. When Bolenbaugh refused to follow the order and reported it to an Enbridge supervisor, according to the brief, “Defendant Enbridge became furious with Plaintiff” and told Bolenbaugh’s employer that “Enbridge never wanted to see Plaintiff on the job site again.” (This account was corroborated by the April testimony of the human resources manager who fired Bolenbaugh.) According to the brief, Bolenbaugh’s firing was “a direct and proximate result of Enbridge's directive.”
The suit further claims that when Bolenbaugh launched a campaign to publicize Enbridge’s cover-up, that in “a concerted effort to interfere with and deter Plaintiffs truth-seeking activities, Defendant Enbridge, including through its agent Defendant DK Security, engaged in activities to harass, threaten, intimidate and defame Plaintiff.” Many of those activities -- including following Bolenbaugh’s truck, blocking his exit from public areas, and calling police to arrest him for trespassing on land not owned by Enbridge -- have been documented by Bolenbaugh on video. The suit alleges that Enbridge and its contractors are therefore guilty of tortious interference with employment, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation.
How Enbridge responds to these charges remains to be seen. I was unable to reach Jason Manshum, Enbridge’s senior advisor for community relations, either at his office in Marshall, Michigan, or on his cell phone. We will update this story when and if he responds. For now, Bolenbaugh held a small press conference in Battle Creek this afternoon and shared the brief with reporters. He also announced plans to step up his publicity efforts via his website and new t-shirts, emblazoned on the back with the slogan: “Stating the truth with video proof.”
Bolenbaugh acknowledged, via phone, that this was only the next step in a very long process and that it might be years before the suit comes to trial. “But it’s been almost two years already,” he said. “I’ve learned patience.”
Image: Mary Anne Andrei