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“The Process” as Problem

  July/August 2018 / Vol 8 Issue 5

“The Process” as Problem
By: Shayla Owens, Orion Strategies

 

According to oil and gas development and leasing attorney Daniel B. Markind, Esq., the natural gas industry was MIA and ineffective in reaching those in the audience that were either uninformed or even misinformed about the industry at a recent public hearing that took place in Pennsylvania. For Markind, it seems that the lack of support stems from the industry’s own tendency to not present a strong case for itself.

In a blog post that was later shared by Natural Gas Now, Markind describes the nature of a recent Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) hearing where
hundreds of speakers were allotted three minutes to present their case for or against the industry, with the majority showing exuberant support for the DRBC’s attempts to implement a fracking ban in the Delaware River Basin. According to Markind, a literal few provided comments of support for the industry at this particular hearing – a hearing that could have served as the setting for the industry to educate those unfamiliar with the operations, economic benefits, and myriad of possibilities associated with developing natural gas.

PTo sum up his argument, Markind wrote, “Until the industry gets serious about making its legitimate case to everyone in the State, it has no right to complain about how the public in Pennsylvania doesn’t understand the good it provides.”

So how does the industry “get serious” with its public outreach strategies? For starters, more emphasis is needed on encouraging its employees and supporters to be vocal about their position and arming them with the knowledge and tools necessary to make their case.

From a communications perspective, if industry representatives are not in attendance at public hearings, such as with DRBC’s, then there is no one there to monitor and control the messaging. Even more of a problem, if the industry is only slightly present, then little is being done to actually combat the opposition’s case or recruit supporters of the industry.

Markind is not a gas company representative, but like him, some within the industry agree that strategies of communication and public outreach among gas companies needs to see more time,focus, and obvious strategy. It seems that the industry has a tendency to simply “trust the process” during public comment periods and hearings rather than make an impactful public show of support against an opposition that is strong, vocal and organized.

But what is this “trusted process” if it does not include effective community outreach, sharing of factual information, and advocating by industry ambassadors?

The idea of trusting the process takes many forms but can be thought of as a series of checking boxes on the path for approval and completion. This is seen for projects with all scopes such as road use, pipelines, or power generation. Often times, these projects include a public comment period or public hearings to gather input from the community. Companies see these requirements as steps to be completed, rather than fully utilizing these opportunities as ways to demonstrate and build the support of the local community.

In reality, a solid project plan should include a strategy for rallying community supporters, such as with property owners, elected officials, and persons in relatedand downstream industries who, like Markind, are not directly working in the industry but work alongside or support gas operations. People are less likely to actively support a project unless directly asked to do so, which can lead to the situation Markind described. Therefore, a company must make a concerted effort and take proactive steps to build their network.

Another reason it is important for companies to be proactive in communications about the industry and their projects has to do with the changing way we as a society talk to one another and share information. The Internet, social media, cell phones, email, and other technologies have made it incredibly easy to share information – factually correct or not – across a large audience. If companies do not provide information about a project, people will look to other sources, which may not be accurate. Even the media gets it wrong often times, and that can have a lot to do with the voices that are present at these meetings, sharing incorrect information about the industry. It is imperative for companies to recognize these platforms as tools to inform and build their base of supporters, rather than considering them a box to check.

Gas companies must stop hiding behind the idea that the process will see itself through and will lead to the approval of both simpler and more controversial projects. More effort should be put into real conversations with people that are current advocates and also potential supporters for the industry. Once the industry catalyzes and leads these conversations, the voice of the industry will be amplified. That is how advocates are made and how the positive light shed on the industry can be intensified. That should be the new trusted process.

For more information, contact Shayla Owens at 304-982-6050 x107 or sowens@orion-strategies.com

 

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