Strategising in the face of strategists What’s the biggest challenge for the pipeline industry in 2015? I welcome your thoughts at email@example.com but meanwhile, my initial feeling is: pipeline operators will need to continue to develop the tenacity and flexibility to cope with opposition and protest. Amid increasingly vocal opposition to pipeline projects around the world, and particularly in North America, pipeline projects must be built around the central tenets that things can and will change, and that the road to a permit, and construction work, is often long.
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In the last few years we’ve seen numerous pipeline projects face delays and setbacks, as opposition groups use different strategies to push back construction dates. The Wall Street Journal reports that six oil and gas pipelines in North America alone have been delayed, with another four in the region set to face delays due to ongoing opposition.
Kinder Morgan has moved back its TransMountain pipeline extension (Albertan oilsands to the BC Pacific coast) by another six months to allow for route changes, in the hope that a new route will garner less attention from opponents.
Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline (also set to move Albertan oilsands to the west coast) has obtained a permit for construction from federal lawmakers but construction and operation are subject to a total of 209 conditions and further negotiations with aboriginal communities.
Keystone XL has been met with the loudest clamours for environmental policy change and opponents have enjoyed a level of success by prolonging government review periods and drawing the project into increasingly heated political debates.
ExxonMobil has been holding off calls that it should release further information about a proposed but later abandoned pipeline that was to have run alongside the Pegasus pipeline (the Pegasus pipeline delivered crude from Texas to Illinois before its partial closure in 2013, when it ruptured in Arkansas). Landowners have filed a class action lawsuit against Exxon and want to see information about the proposed Texas Access Pipeline project that never came to light.
In addition, I could write a whole series of columns about route changes, project downgrades and cancellations.
Local opposition to pipelines tends to focus on matters of land ownership, safety, potential for spills and protection of flora and fauna. National opposition tends to be based on bigger environmental issues: pipeline companies find themselves on the frontline of various bigger conflicts, including the questions of oilsands extraction, climate change, aboriginal tensions, landowner law disputes, etc.
While the upstream companies sourcing the resource can sometimes avoid dealing with the community, pipeline companies rarely can. At a conference in Calgary late last year, Al Monaco, Chief Executive Officer of Enbridge, spoke about pipeliners in the spotlight and joked: “We never used to get invited anywhere’.
Pipeliners must continue to focus on the local. Monaco argues that environmental groups looking to slow the progress of oilsands development, for example, strategically target pipelines: “Would you rather go after 100 upstream companies or 100 refineries? No – it makes a lot of sense to go after the midstream part of the value chain”.
In my research I came across some admirable and high-minded discourse on community-based, non-professionalised pipeline opposition, where the aim is not “just about building a group of people who oppose the pipeline in principle: [but] for figuring out collectively how to organise, oppose, and stop the pipeline – and how to dismantle the institutions and structures that support and reinforce it.”1 And that’s my point: it’s the institutions and structures that need to be taking their share of the heat. Pipeline companies are aware of their responsibilities and will work within the strictures placed upon them, but then that must be enough. I’ll end with a quote from Ian Anderson, Kinder Morgan Canada’s President, who sums up the challenges ahead for pipeliners: “You’re always in a campaign mode, it doesn’t matter if it’s municipal, provincial or federal. That’s just going to be part of life.”2