If you want to build a pipeline, who do you have to convince that it is a good idea? You’ll need national government approval, for one, from all countries you plan to build through, and this will encompass legislative, environmental and social framework. You’ll need the requisite state, regional or county permits as well. You may need to apply for more localised licences, or perhaps carry out additional surveys, or wrangle over route specifics with landowners.
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You will also need public approval – a very tricky thing to win and perhaps the most important piece of the pie.
Energy projects need public acceptance if they are to succeed. By this I mean they need a general consensus of approval by local civil groups, with a certain amount of friendly dialogue between the pipeline company and public parties of interest, and a healthy dose of compensation offered for any inconveniences anticipated.
People have grown accustomed to having their say. We not only turn out to vote in government elections every few years; we vote in our millions every week for contestants on talent shows. Citizens of the UK recently voted on the voting system and whether it needed to change (it didn’t, according to the result of the vote) and, also in the UK, the government is under pressure to give the vote to selected prisoners. In effect, disenfranchisement in any arena is deemed unacceptable. The public has a voice and has a right to have it heard.
So what does this mean for pipeline projects?
This month we’re running a feature on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). I wanted to cover it because I think it’s an area that will only grow in importance for the pipeline industry. The oil and gas sector is in the public eye for reasons good and bad: it’s an industry of great innovation and resourcefulness, it is an essential part of modern day life, but it also brings with it some formidable risks and, somewhat inevitably given the cutting edge nature of the sector, some past failures.
Public opinion on pipeline projects largely hinges on how the construction work will affect the local area and how ‘risky’ the pipeline is considered once it is in place. Beginning on page 70 of this issue, Gordon Cope, one of World Pipelines’ reporters, looks at how CSR programmes can help companies look beyond economic factors and reap rewards from social and ethical investment and operation. He argues that a CSR programme that encourages honest and transparent social, cultural, ethical, environmental and sustainable practices can add profit to a project and ease potential local conflict.
On the subject of social approval, Cope writes, ‘Companies with CSR programmes open up dialogues with affected communities long before formal applications are made to regulatory bodies. “If you work with stakeholders at the early stages of a project, you can come up with a design that meets your needs and also establishes the social license to operate in that community,” says Trevor Hindmarch, a CSR consultant. “It makes it much easier to gain regulatory approval.”’
Cope stresses the importance of considering local environmental sensitivities at an early stage. He also describes how pipeline companies that are ‘exposed to large numbers of diverse communities, having a good relationship with landowners, farmers and small towns along the way can be extremely important when things go wrong.’
Essentially, a comprehensive CSR programme, effectively carried out, will provide a strategic advantage to the company in question: in a world where everyone has a voice, it pays to listen to a few of them.