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Community Engagement Guidelines for Oil and Gas Companies

After three years of meetings and study, the American Petroleum Institute issued a new set of guidelines for community interaction by oil and gas operators involved with unconventional oil and gas exploration. The document is called “Community Engagement Guidelines” and outlines recommendations for oil and gas development consistent with the concerns and priorities of the community where the development is taking place.

API’s Standards Director David Miller said that “(i)t’s a first-of-its-kind industry standard for community engagement. These guidelines will provide a road map for oil and gas operators seeking to build lasting, successful relationships with local residents in areas of the country where energy development opportunities are open for the first time, thanks to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”

The industry is trying to be a “good neighbor” and use responsible practices, learn from past experiences, mitigate potential impacts and work towards long term sustainability, according to Mr. Miller. He said “(e)ach community is different, and the standards are not designed to be exhaustive, but rather to serve as a reference for developing a plan-of-action that matches the needs and concerns of a broad range of stakeholders-from rural farmers to indigenous tribes.”

The API Community Engagement Guidelines are similar to existing guidelines for the pipeline and railroad industries. API stressed that these Guidelines were not developed as a reaction to communities trying to restrict fracing or oil and gas development. Karen Moreau, the New York State Petroleum Council’s Executive Director, said: “We’re not here to mirror environmental groups’ activities. Our member companies spend their time developing technologies and improving production to make their operations better. We don’t take our cues from environmental groups that apparently aren’t held to the same standards we are. Many of the bans in New York are in towns where there are no prospects for development. We’ve been engaging with communities where it looks more likely.”

The Guidelines are divided into five phases. During the entry phase, where companies determine energy extraction potential, the companies are “encouraged to introduce key personnel to local leaders, share information on safety commitments and operational goals, and set professional standards for local employees and contractors.” During the exploration phase, there should be dialogue and education through community meetings and discussions. In the development phase, “companies are urged to work with local emergency responders to prepare against any potential risks” and to develop relationships with mineral owners. In the operations phase, long-term standards for maintenance and traffic should be implemented, and a public feedback mechanism is also recommended. The fifth and final phase is the exit phase, during which “…it is recommended that (the oil companies) engage with the community regarding plans for reclamation and restoration, and prepare stakeholders for the transition.”

Mr. Miller noted that “As with all our standards on hydraulic fracturing, API’s Global Industry Services division will work hand-in-hand with industry participants to educate operators on the successful deployment of engagement strategies.”

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. While there have always been oil and gas companies in Texas who have treated mineral and surface owners with respect, there also have always been those whose arrogant attitude and disrespect is legendary. I suspect that these Guidelines may not have a substantial impact on the behavior of either group. However, for oil companies who are just getting into the development of unconventional resources, these Guideline should be useful. In addition, for persons in communities in which development of unconventional (or conventional) oil and gas resources is taking place, the Guidelines offer an articulate expression of what is reasonable to expect from the oil or gas company in their area.

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