Google+ Followers

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

European Shale gas and Oil Summit 2

Stakeholder engagement - Communicating with the public - continued

I have just asked a question, which I paraphrase here:

Most of the questions so far have been about communication between companies and the planning authorities. Clearly companies feel more comfortable with that than talking directly to the general public, and indeed they have to engage the local planning authorities to obtain the correct planning permissions. Does the panel think that the best way is to talk to the public more directly and at a stage before the position of a well pad has been defined so that local sensitivities can be avoided and be seen to be avoided.

Sam Schofield of Cuadrilla agrees that ordinary language down the pub is the correct way of doing things and that there is the scope for academics to act as honest brokers is huge, especially in making up for the BBCs failure. He points out that industry cannot fund academics and suggests that DECC ought to arrange some public information push.

Andrew Austin of Igas supports this, mentioning that some flexibility exists in planning shale gas pads and the exact position is best arranged with the input of the local community, such that schools, say, can be avoided and transport routes can be made to have as little impact as possible.

Jennifer Moore, the Head of Planning at Chorley Council underlines the point that EARLY and GENUINE engagement with the public is essential, and that local authorities are in the best position to provide the initial contacts.

European Shale Gas and Oil Summit

I am sitting here waiting for the second day of two to start.

The subject of the morning is how to 'engage stakeholders'. It will be an interesting one since all the operating companies and support companies representatives that I talked to yesterday were extremely keen to let the public know what they were doing to make shale gas as safe as possible. It is no surprise that they think that no body trusts them, when actually, no body trusts them! They all believe that academics are the answer. 'People trust academics don't they!', they say. I say the problem is many fold. Perhaps the first one is in the title itself. If I go down the pub and say to the people there that I am interested in stakeholder engagement, I know what sort of response I am going to get. Yet the interest in shale gas in your average pub is extremely high.

Sam Schofield of Cuadrilla feels that it is 'naive' to assume that finding the right way to communicate the industry's method as the correct way is the goal. In fact it is 'arrogant'. He feels that a real open dialogue is required instead. Jennifer Moore, the Head of Planning at Chorley Council and Lisa Kirby of Hampshire County Council point out that council staff and planners are also mistrusted, and could be increasingly mistrusted as payments from the shale gas companies start coming to parish and local councils.

Andrew Austin of Igas makes a plea that the general public is out for information but just gets argument from the extremities.

My experience tells me that all the time you see the extremely for (companies and the Conservatives) versus those extremely against (various fracktivists). The BBC is one of the worst proponents of this, and that is important given that Sara O'Hara's team at Nottingham University have found in their polls that the great majority of people take their information on shale gas from the BBC, always set FoE or Greenpeace against a company spokesperson in the name of balance. Instead of balance, they get argument and drama. At the end of the day the BBC has failed in its remit to inform the public, instead generating only drama. There is no reason why the BBC cannot always ensure that an engaged academic occupying the middle ground can diffuse such artificial arguments.