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OTC panelists put a priority on stakeholders

BY JOHN BETZ, Associate Editor

HOUSTON -- Outside the oil and gas industry, the term stakeholder normally has the narrow definition of any person owning an actual monetary share in a company. It is interchangeable with shareholder. However, in oil and gas, the concept of stakeholder is more broadly defined, and often includes any party that is affected by the activities of an operator, be it a government, a community or lone person with no financial investment in the company whatsoever. One afternoon panel, “Integrating Stakeholder Interests in the Global Offshore Industry,” assumed this second definition of stakeholder and asked the question of how oil and gas companies could meet the meet their needs.

The quote that best summarizes the panel’s discussion came from Eni’s Francisco Vacas, when he said,
“Regulatory compliance alone is not all our stakeholders expect from us.” From community enrichment efforts such as funding local sports teams to environmental diligence, the panelists outlined meaningful ways that oil and gas companies can gain the trust of all parties that fall under the heading stakeholder.

The first panelist, Nord Stream’s Georg Nowack, outlined a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to creating what he called, “an environment of trust” among stakeholders. Nowack explained that Nord Stream’s Baltic Sea pipeline faced a tough, uphill battle in public opinion polls, when the project first began in 1998. In his PowerPoint presentation, Nowack displayed a series of old newspaper headlines, which accused the project coordinators of everything from pollution to spying. But the company took the necessary steps to court the public, and also the government for that matter, a stakeholder which if not satisfied would keep Nordstream from garnering the necessary permitting.

After 3,000 pages of applications, 450 meetings, 25 public hearings, 16 international consultations, pledges to create dozens of nature refuges (each of which would be monitored for the next 20 years), and countless other measures, Nordstream not only completed the daunting Baltic pipeline, but also won public approval. Polls taken in 2012 demonstrated that public stakeholders had warmed up considerably to the Nordstream pipeline, when compared to the 1998 numbers.

Center for Offshore Safety’s Charlie Williams discussed how self-regulation and transparency can be employed to increase stakeholder confidence in operator activities. William’s main focus was SEMS (Safety & Environmental Management System) and why it is not yet a complete solution to safety and transparency problems. While the 2010 Workplace Safety Rule requires that all operators maintain some kind of SEMS, there are not many specific directives as to how to proceed and because of this SEMS vary widely from operator to operator, leaving room for error.

Bridging documents are one example of this: These documents link operators and contractors in a concrete manner, and establish clear responsibilities. However, there is no mandate for these bridging documents, they are merely suggested SEMS components and there are no consequences, so far, for not keeping record of them. Williams suggested that further standardization is necessary for SEMS to be successful across the entire industry.


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