Gathering Support: How Pipeline Owners Approach Stakeholder Collaboration

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Successful pipeline projects require a number of stakeholders to work together. Pipeline owners must work with contractors, landowners, local communities and governments, as well as Native American and First Nation tribal groups, to build support for a given project.

North American Oil & Gas Pipelines spoke with two of the biggest companies involved with oil and gas pipeline development in North America to better understand the role of stakeholder collaboration in project completion. Tracie Kenyon, spokesperson and senior corporate communications advisor for Enbridge Inc., and Charles Moran, senior vice president, public affairs and communications, at TransCanada Corp., provided their insights to the following questions…

What is your company’s approach to stakeholder collaboration in the development of oil and gas pipeline projects?

Kenyon: Safe, healthy and sustainable communities are of utmost importance to Enbridge. Developing and maintaining good long-term relationships with the landowners, communities, governments and indigenous groups along our pipeline system is one of our highest priorities.

We don’t just operate in communities, we live in them. We work hard to establish and maintain good working relationships with all of our stakeholders. Keeping in touch with our neighbors is very important to us at Enbridge. That’s why we contact landowners, business owners, communities, aboriginal and Native American groups, municipal officials and emergency officials on an ongoing basis. It’s an opportunity to share important information, hear about our neighbors’ experiences, respond to their questions and update them on Enbridge’s safety programs. Our outreach includes face-to-face meetings, information mailings, newsletters, open houses, news releases, our website and social media among others.

Enbridge also conducts a public awareness program that provides information to key groups: our neighbors; farmers and ranchers; emergency officials; excavators and contractors; public officials; and school officials.

Moran: [TransCanada’s] approach is pretty straightforward, it is rooted in our core values of safety, integrity, responsibility and collaboration. We take our relationships seriously since our assets and employees have been part of the communities where we operate for generations — and we hope that continues for generations to come.

We truly view ourselves as neighbors, partners and community members — focused on building positive, long-standing relationships with landowners, indigenous groups, community leaders, non-profit organizations and others that are involved in our business that stand the test of time. In the case of landowners and indigenous groups — who have legal rights and distinct relationships to their land — we have developed guiding principles to ensure they are meaningfully and respectfully engaged in a consistent manner no matter where they live across North America.

What is the biggest barrier to stakeholder collaboration today?

Moran: Communicating early and often is critical to establishing a trusted relationship with landowners, indigenous communities and stakeholder groups. When effective communication doesn’t occur, it can lead to unnecessary confusion, misinformation, and ultimately eroding stakeholder trust.

We spend a lot of time and effort in getting our relationships with indigenous communities and stakeholders right — we realize that building trust and understanding doesn’t happen overnight. We have been safely building infrastructure across North America for 65 years, so we know that engagement, collaboration and relationship development often takes years.

Kenyon: A casual glance at media coverage may lead some to conclude there is a groundswell of opposition to pipeline projects and our business. But the truth is far different. Those stakeholders we interact with most — landowners, tribal bands and various local governments along our rights of way — are overwhelmingly supportive of Enbridge.

For instance, our Line 3 Replacement Project is an integrity and maintenance driven project that spans from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin, and consists of 1,031 miles of 36-in. diameter pipeline.

The $2.9 billion (USD) American portion of the Line 3 Replacement Program (from Neche, North Dakota, through Minnesota, to Superior, Wisconsin) has strong support from unions, tribes, communities, local government and business groups along the route.

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Increasingly, supportive stakeholders are interested in adding their voice to the public conversation about the importance of energy infrastructure. They want a more balanced conversation. The challenge we face today is in supporting these stakeholders as they seek to engage in conversations about the energy we all need and use every day.

TransCanada

What is the role of each stakeholder, including contractors, regulators and local communities?

Kenyon: Enbridge’s pipeline system doesn’t just run through communities — it connects them. The role of each stakeholder is to participate in the process when, where, and how they can.

Our focus is on the safe and reliable transportation of the energy we all rely on. Enbridge advises our contractors and suppliers of our commitment to safety and we work with them to ensure it is upheld.

In our nearly 70 years of delivering the energy people need for their daily lives, Enbridge has engaged with governments, regulators, counties and municipalities in the over 40 states and nine provinces we operate in across North America. We support rigorous, expert regulatory review and oversight, and recognize the importance regulators play in exercising strong oversight over our industry so that the public can have confidence we are operating safely.

It’s important that our stakeholders who live and work along our pipeline rights of way: click or call before they dig; know where pipelines are located near them; know how to recognize a potential pipeline leak; and know what to do in a pipeline emergency. Enbridge works very hard to ensure our public awareness programs are comprehensive and effective in ensuring stakeholders are aware of the presence of our facilities to help prevent incidents.

Moran: It’s complex — each stakeholder group plays a key role in ensuring the success of any project.

Our contractors provide technical expertise in almost every aspect of our projects — helping to safely and reliably build our pipeline projects across complex terrain in North America. Each contractor is an extension of our company and must adhere to our strict guidelines around safety, workplace conduct and training requirements before being accepted as a project contractor.

Regulatory authorities establish and oversee regulations to ensure the energy industry adheres to specific environmental, safety and socio-economic guidelines when moving forward with an infrastructure project. We operate under some of the most stringent regulatory requirements in the world, and we work closely with regulators to ensure we meet, or often exceed, these standards set for the industry. In many cases this involves collaborating with regulators to share best practices and find innovative solutions that move the whole industry forward. We have many examples in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico where we have worked with our regulators and local authorities to try new techniques in construction, environmental reclamation and community engagement that have proven very successful, becoming the model approaches for how successful project implementation occurs in North America.

When it comes to local communities, landowners and indigenous groups, we view them as integral to the success of [TransCanada’s] business. They play a critical role in everything we do, from helping us understand the local environment and supplying the talent and materials we need to run our business, to ensuring the safety and security of our assets by letting us know if they spot a hazard such as unauthorized digging near one of our facilities.

pipeline workers

How do you get each group on the same page?

Moran: We focus on bringing everyone involved to the table early to ensure they are part of the discussion right from the start.

From project start to finish, we work with our stakeholders to coordinate local open houses, conduct public presentations, community meetings and one-on-one discussions to gather input into our project plans. We provide written materials such as fact sheets, brochures, maps and other pieces to ensure everyone has accurate, continuous up-to-date information, and when person-to-person meetings can’t be created, we utilize email, toll-free telephone lines and real-time website tools to help ensure information is readily available.

After construction, we continue our ongoing engagement efforts with additional helplines and online accounts that enable our landowners to reach TransCanada personnel 24 hours a day, and work to promote integrity initiatives — such as “call and click before you dig” — to educate and raise public awareness about pipelines. This, along with our active participation in industry groups and policy discussions with regulators and government, helps us to continuously implement best practice stakeholder engagement initiatives within our industry.

Kenyon: Keeping in touch is very important to us. We maintain close contact with those neighbors who live near our pipelines and facilities — including farmers, ranchers or landowners, communities, indigenous and Native American groups, contractors, emergency responders, and public officials — on an ongoing and regular basis.

This provides everyone an opportunity to share important information about or projects and operations and allows us to be responsive to our stakeholders’ questions and concerns. It also allows us to better understand the priorities of the communities in which we work so that we can meet at the table as partners, find common ground and help advance those priorities together. It’s precisely why we partner with community organizations that champion solutions for safety, environmental and social issues and make strategic investments that advance these solutions.

What is the most important aspect of stakeholder collaboration?

Kenyon: When it comes to understanding stakeholder interest in our projects, listening is key. In Enbridge’s view, the best way to understand stakeholder views, questions or concerns about our projects and operations is to engage them in a genuine and meaningful way.

Every relationship, and every community, is different. So we engage in a two-way dialogue, where we provide updates to our projects and operations, but also engage in listening to get feedback from stakeholders and discuss their priorities. In fact, through active listening and meaningful engagement with our stakeholders, we have made improvements to projects. It makes our projects better, it makes our company better, and it makes our relationships stronger.

It’s about connecting and getting to the heart of what matters most to our stakeholders and coming together to find solutions.

Moran: I think there are actually two important aspects.

One is creating an environment built on trust and mutual respect: one that fosters open and honest dialogue whereby individuals feel heard and comfortable sharing their concerns and questions.

The second is understanding that each project we work on presents unique issues and opportunities — no two are alike. This means that they can impact stakeholders in different ways and we must adjust how we work with, communicate and support them through all phases of a project.

How has the role of public engagement changed over the past five years when developing pipeline projects?

Moran: It has changed substantially. Our stakeholders have become increasingly interested in how we do business and the role pipelines play in the broader energy system. For many years, pipelines were out-of-sight and out-of-mind for most people — now many new projects have become the targets for those who are opposed to fossil fuels and have become much more politicized than in the past. Overall, the industry has recognized that we need do a better job explaining the vital service we provide in delivering the energy our society relies on every day. We must demonstrate to the public that we are experts when it comes to delivering energy safely and responsibly, and that we bring tremendous benefits to the communities where we operate.

Kenyon: In the past, stakeholder engagement was driven by projects — informing them important construction milestones and investing in various community initiatives — activities that had a beginning and an end.

At Enbridge, we believe in the importance of building and maintaining relationships through the entire lifecycle of the project and ongoing during operations of our assets. Relationships are built and maintained over the long-term not just at the start of a project. It’s important to engage with stakeholders early and often.

Our people live and work in the communities near our network and it’s important to our people to be a good neighbor, to be involved in our communities and to work towards common community priorities.

What is the best approach to working with landowners?

Kenyon: We are committed to ongoing open and honest communication with all members of the communities that are affected by our pipeline projects. We respect and share the safety and environmental standards that are important to landowners along the right-of-way. And we value their feedback and questions.

We make sure that those affected by our activity know what is happening and that we are available to provide updates, quickly respond to inquiries and address their concerns.

Pipelines are a very public conversation today. So, any opportunity for us to advance understanding and balance that discussion is important, no matter the audience — not just for Enbridge, but for anyone who relies on energy to fuel their quality of life.

Building long-term relationships and offering landowners opportunities to ask questions helps us get to know our stakeholders better and understand their priorities. Our Line 3 Replacement Program, for example, illustrates the importance of our relationships with our landowners. Our engagement with landowners has been so strong on this project, it has resulted in nearly 100 percent support among landowners on both sides of the border.

Moran: We are proud of the positive relationships we’ve build with more than 100,000 landowners across North America. No matter who they are dealing with from our company, our landowners will treated in a way that lives up to our guiding principles for landowner engagement. These principles include being respectful and trustworthy, treating all land owners fairly, and being accountable and following through on the commitments we make.

We truly are neighbors to our landowners and we act that way — whether it’s coming to their aid during a flood, negotiating with them fairly, or working with them to try out new techniques to improve the quality of their land following construction — they can count on us like they would any other neighbor.

How can pipeline contractors aid in stakeholder collaboration to ensure project success?

Moran: Pipeline contractors provide our organizations with another avenue to get our stakeholders directly involved in the planning and construction of our pipeline projects. Contractors work closely with local contracting businesses, indigenous contractors and local communities in conjunction with TransCanada to provide training and employment opportunities for those interested in the trades industry.

They also ensure direct connections with local labor unions to support highly skilled laborers with the expertise needed to build projects safely and effectively. Job opportunities, community investment initiatives and business benefits help local economies grow and promote healthy, prosperous communities.

Kenyon: Contractors make an important contribution to the team. A strong commitment to safe construction practices reduces the risk of pipeline damage and ensures both the safety of those working along the right-of-way and the safety of those who live along the line.

Enbridge is committed to ensuring that significant opportunities are provided to communities near our projects and operations. To ensure follow-through on this commitment, we’ve established a Supply Chain Team, responsible for engagement of local and indigenous businesses in Enbridge’s projects and operations across the country. This team oversees implementation of a new and enhanced process for projects and operations procurement.

Our contractors must understand that they are ambassadors of our company and that they have as much impact as any employee when it comes to managing relationships. We have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy to build and maintain relationships with our valued stakeholders. We are working on their land, in their communities, or in their traditional territory. We expect our contractors to follow all safety best practices, protocols and procedures and to treat all our stakeholders with respect and dignity, the way all of us want and expect to be treated.

What role does social media play in stakeholder collaboration?

Kenyon: For most corporations, social media channels are used primarily as tools to amplify the messages they’d like to convey to the public. In essence, they are a megaphone where little two-way dialogue takes place. Others use social media as a tool to monitor conversations that involve their stakeholders.

At Enbridge, social media is one of the many tools we use to engage and work with our stakeholders. In many cases, this means being present and engaging in conversations on what matters to them.
We believe we must engage with stakeholders where they are and when they want to have those conversations — be it at coffee shops, open houses, town halls, and, increasingly, on social media channels.

We use many different channels to listen to our stakeholders’ priorities and engage with them on their terms.

Moran: Social media has become an important tool in our communications efforts with stakeholders. We pay increasingly more attention to social media because of its content and reach –providing real-time information to the public and our stakeholder groups, including our employees who are our strongest ambassadors and advocates. We continue to evolve our efforts to ensure we are using this critical tool to share information on who we are, what we do and how we do it.

Social media has also reinforced a growing need to address misinformation timely and accurately to ensure our stakeholders are appropriately informed. Many of our stakeholder groups simply want factual information to make informed decisions about our practices.

We understand that not everyone shares our point of view about our projects, but we are committed to listening closely to the needs of all our stakeholders — including our opponents–and responding with positive solutions that enable us to meet people’s energy needs in a manner that builds trust.

What trends do you see for the future of stakeholder collaboration and pipeline development?

Moran: I believe the fundamentals of successful stakeholder engagement never really change – engaging early, listening carefully, understanding and respecting the views of our stakeholders, indigenous groups and landowners will always be critical to our business. The importance of building relationships with key stakeholders will never go out of style, but the tools we use to communicate and collaborate are changing all the time. Understanding the ‘how’ we effectively engage going forward is important — balancing the need for personal connection and traditional communications channels with the ever-evolving technology, digital and social media vehicles is where we will continue to spend our time.

Kenyon: Enbridge projects and operations are a strong contributor to the North American economy, services and overall energy security. We believe that the energy industry is an import economic driver. Whereas in the past, our engagement efforts may have focused on economic benefits relating to our projects and operations, now we recognize we need to articulate how we deliver the energy we all use every day. That is, we need to show progress on delivering energy more efficiently, more sustainably, more socially responsibly and more safely. Expectations of our stakeholders are changing, requiring Enbridge to adapt and be responsive to those expectations.

Pipelines are a hot topic of conversation today. Successfully delivering on our project commitments requires nearly every department within our company to be focused on meeting the needs of our customers, our regulators, communities and other stakeholders as we bring these projects to fruition and through our operations. We’ve got to engage every stakeholder where they are and engage with them early and often.

Bradley Kramer is managing editor of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines. Contact him at bkramer@benjaminmedia.com.

Editor’s Note: Photos provided by Enbridge  and TransCanada.

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