EAGE ’14: Industry must work to build trust
AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands – The oil and gas industry can no longer rely on public support and must work to build trust, EAGE’s annual conference has heard.
“60 years ago when the Groningen gas field was discovered and exploited, people were proud of it,” Rien Herber, of Groningen University, said. But society has changed, Herber added, and the city’s residents are now “frightened” by tremors associated with the field’s exploitation.
Herber’s comments, made on the opening night of the society’s 76th annual conference, came during a wide-ranging panel discussion on how the oil and gas industry can be a good neighbor and engage the public more effectively.
Progress will only be made, Herber said, when we stop trying to persuade people to our point of view and instead try to understand the interests and values underlying their opposition -- only then can we talk to people on a personal level. “When you get to that level of discussion, then you can go back up and see if there is a common interest,” he said.
Alison Goligher, E.V.P. Unconventionals, Upstream International, Shell, stressed the importance of engaging with local communities for Shell’s work in the Karoo, South Africa. When she started her role, Goligher spent three days engaging with the region’s inhabitants, a process she describes as “extremely interesting.”
During this time, Goligher learned that “for each person their individual involvement and concerns cannot be easily dealt with on a blanket basis.” Rather, companies need to engage with people personally, on an individual basis, and make sure that “everyone is at the table.”
Companies need a social license to operate, Goligher said. And while it may not be realistic to expect everyone to back a project, pursuing developments that do not enjoy significant majority support is not a good use of shareholders time or money, she said.
According to fellow panelist Rodrigo Pinto Scholtbach, of the IEA, people want to be a part of the energy decision making process and are taking to social media to make their voices heard. Governments from accross Europe are looking for new ways to involve local authorities and local people, he said.
Ruud Zoon, of GDF Suez, called for communities to benefit from the exploitation of resources in their midst. In the Netherlands, he said, most of the benefits generated by the oil and gas industry go directly to the federal government, a process which means that the public only sees the direct negatives associated with the industry.
He cited Canada, where the industry’s corporate income taxes go to the federal government while the royalties are passed to the provinces and local communities, as an alternative. “As a result,” he said, “you see a lot of support from the public and from the province and from the local communities for the activities of the E&P industry” as long as it is done safely and with due care for the environment.
“I think that is something that the governments here in Europe should take notice of because we do bring a lot of positives,” Zoon said.
Pierre-Olivier Lys, representing EAGE’s young professionals, stressed the importance of clear communication, listening to stakeholders and transparency for public perception.
And Maen Razouqui, of Schlumberger, pointed to technological advancements, which have improved efficiency, as a way the impact of operations has been reduced. Technology has allowed for a reduction in the water use and reduced trucking, he said.