The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

The Social License

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted October 6, 2011

A recurring theme during API's hydraulic fracturing workshop this week was industry's need to be a "good neighbor" to communities where natural gas development is planned or already under way. A panel of state regulators mentioned it, as did some non-industry observers and others. Transparency, communication, community awareness. Not just to be seen as a good neighbor, but to actually be one.

Message received.

The fact is API's comprehensive slate of standards and industry practices includes guidelines to help operators function in concert with the people who own natural gas leases. (See Annex A to Standard 51R.) Most companies recognize the need for such a relationship. Those operating in the Marcellus Shale region say relationship building includes not only those from whom leases are obtained, but entire communities where drilling and production take place. It's an ongoing process. Maintaining the public's confidence is critical for the shale revolution to grow.

Part of this is sound practices and field-tested operating standards - and letting people know lots of thought has gone into things like proper well construction. Part of it is communicating that state-based regulation, aided by organizations like STRONGER, is working, as the Senate was told this week. The Northeast-Midwest Institute's Rachel Dawson told the API conference that the presence of substantial standards "begins to speak for itself" in reassuring the public.

Part of it is transparency, which the industry supports with the FracFocus online registry of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar talked about transparency this week, calling for "disclosure with some safeguards concerning proprietary information." We're on it.

Beyond those things are the characteristics of what Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives called "good corporate citizenship" - a sensitivity to local concerns, an investment in the community.

API Senior Policy Advisor Richard Ranger probably said it as well as anyone when he talked about the need for companies to secure the "social license to operate." Companies routinely consider the issue of "finding cost" in looking for hydrocarbons: geological and geophysical surveys, engineering studies and the actual costs of drilling. Creating real partnerships with communities is every bit as important, Ranger says:

"Is it not time to include the cost and effort needed for constructive engagement with communities in the areas where our industry operates not simply as an add-on, but as a finding cost that is integral to the success of the operations and the investment required to sustain them?"

Great point, one that needs to grow and develop as revolutionary technical advances unlock the riches of abundant natural gas from shale.

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Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.