Public Engagement is critical to any large scale industrial project going ahead.  The days when a company can develop a project while being blind to the views of the public are long gone, but are they?

To illustrate of how not to engage with the public: There is a tremendous fight on the Fylde Peninsular in the North West of England regarding Shale Gas Extraction using Fracking. The hub of the story is that some local residents were shocked to find a drilling rig spring up in a field “overnight”, without being told why it was there. The battle lines were immediately drawn and local groups were organised with each side immediately taking entrenched positions. The situation now appears to be lurching from bad to worse with no one engaging with all stakeholders. To illustrate this disconnect; a local politician recently organised a public hearing to promote dialog with all parties but excluded the local pressure groups from the on-stage panel. Some of the stakeholders involved in the battle are:

DECC
Cuadrillar Resources
RAFF
Mark Menzies

Taking a bigger international view, public engagement is now recognised as a critical element of any project going ahead even with Fracking:  a recent report by the International Energy Agency suggests some “Golden Rules”, to enable non-conventional gas to be developed over the “Golden Age of Gas “until the middle of this century. These Golden Rules suggest the Oil and Gas industry should earn a “social licence to operate” before any work begins. These rules could increase the overall financial cost of developing a typical shale-gas well by an estimated 7%, so engaging with the public does not come cheap.

The problem is that many engineers, by their very training, are blind non-technical risks. The hapless engineers may have to stand in front of local stakeholders and justify the project which may have been framed using “structures” such as cost, schedule and technical challenge which all engineers are trained to construct. Such framing is meaningless to local stakeholders who may demand answers to “unconstructed” questions such as “why don’t you go back home and leave us alone?”

Good Public engagement kits are available, especially from the CCS industry which has learnt valuable lessons after some stunning defeats over the past decade, for example Barendrecht in Holland. Similar kits are available from forestry and Minerals and Mining Groups. These kits are very useful tools when used in conjunction with a risk based approach to identifying, assessing and treating public engagement issues.

If similar kits  had been used at the start of the Fylde Peninsular Fracking campaign, perhaps the whole current debacle could have been avoided.

Venture Risk Ltd, have a short presentation on Public Engagement and Risk;  Use the comments form below for your copy.