Prepare early for pipeline projects now

The history of the Keystone XL Pipeline is a nightmare for everyone in the industry, its destiny decided by political leaders of different persuasions. Proponents were left in limbo as it was off, then on and then off again following changes in Whitehouse leadership.

It wasn’t just political leaders: stakeholders and the public for and against the pipeline influenced these decisions. Could the same thing happen in Australia? The answer to that must be yes. As trust in institutions has declined in our country, people are demanding greater transparency and accountability in an increasing range of circumstances.

Proponents of projects such as pipelines (old and new), must prepare for this in the earliest stages of their projects, according to Professor Peta Ashworth, co-designer of the Future Fuels CRC Social Licence to Operate Training Package.

Social licence to operate is based on credibility, legitimacy and trust. Once established between project proponents and all the stakeholders in the project, a social licence may be created but it must be nurtured and maintained. It is easy to lose but hard to gain. Unless acceptance of the project is shared across the entire network of stakeholders affected by its operations and throughout the lifecycle of the asset, a social licence is likely to fail.

Losing it can have serious and expensive consequences. These may include increasingly stringent approvals processes, rerouting of pipelines and a contagion affect that can negatively impact on future projects by the same company, and on projects from other companies that are similar in nature.

For example, the Eastern Creek Energy from Waste project was refused consent in 2018. A revised proposal from a new proponent was going through a public consultation phase at the time of writing. Of a total of 630 submissions received, 600 reportedly objected to the project.

Without training and experience, as well as deep involvement in stakeholder groups, pinpointing likely objections and addressing the issues of concern to stakeholders could be difficult, Professor Ashworth says.

“You cannot underestimate where the opposition is going to come from,” she says.

The Social Licence to Operate Training Package was designed after a survey of industry stakeholders, including from APGA, was conducted. The survey found, among other things, that while there was an awareness of the importance of a social licence to operate, there was little understanding of its meaning, of how it could be enabled, and how it translated into relevance for the pipeline industry.

The training package has been designed to be practical and hands on. The package includes a module on stakeholder analysis that provides the basic requirements to identify the range of project stakeholders, what their interests and concerns are, and how to prioritise those interests and concerns. It also uses a number of case studies to help participants learn from the experiences of others.

Being self-paced it allows participants to progress at a rate that works for the individual, either on their own or with a group of peers if they choose. This provides the potential to apply the learnings and the processes that are part of the modules to work situations and projects that may be planned or under way.

Training package co-designer Dr Kathy Witt, also from the University of Queensland, said the training aimed to increase understanding of the crucial importance of gaining and maintaining social licence.

“We really emphasise that obtaining a social licence is not a tick-the-box exercise,” she says. “It involves really understanding the community, what are their needs and what are their concerns…bringing them all along with the project.

‘’Good design requires more than an engineering solution. We believe cultural and ethical considerations are also part of good design in terms of community engagement.”

Dr Witt says the benefits of working to obtain a social licence early in the development of a project can be considerable.

“There are definitely economic benefits to gaining and maintaining a social licence, and people are realising that incorporating these things early into the design phase can save money,” she says.

“There’s a lot more pressure on every project to be more transparent. Increasingly, this is a critical element of social performance and there is more demand for this in many aspects of corporate accountability.”

Professor Ashworth says that there is an increasing awareness and understanding of the importance of the social licence to operate, and this can only benefit the pipeline industry, as well as other industries, and the public, in Australia.

“People are more attuned to the social licence to operate, and they know they need to make it happen,” she says.

She encouraged people in the industry to take advantage of the Social Licence to Operate Training Package which is free to APGA members.

“It gives you a lot of skills, and builds awareness around what you need to consider,” she says “And the more skills people have, the better things will be.”

Senior decision makers, managers and executives are particularly encouraged to take up the training package to help spread awareness and thus provide the best outcomes for the industry.

So far, around 50 people have enrolled in the training package and around 20 have completed it.

APGA members can sign-up for the Social Licence to Operate Training Package either via the Future Fuels CRC or by the APGA website: (APGA website log-on required).

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This article was featured in the July edition of The Australian Pipeliner.


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