In 2014 the American Petroleum Association (API) published Community Engagement Guidelines.
Key words are “RECOMMEDATIONS” and “GUIDELINES”. This means it’s voluntary, and the industry corporations are not required to follow them.
The opening paragraph states:
“The Community Engagement Guidelines are recommendations designed to promote the safe and responsible development of the nation’s oil and natural gas resources by engaging and respecting the communities where these operations occur. The oil and gas industry can bring prosperity, economic development and enhancements to an area and assist in securing our national energy interests. In order to promote oil and gas development that results in a positive experience for communities, recommended development activities should be aligned with community concerns and priorities grounded in responsible practices and lessons learned from former experiences.”
INVITATION ONLY-PRIVATE MEETINGS
API Community Engagement Guidelines defines stakeholders as: “Any person, group or entity that has interest or concern in an organization and its activities is considered a stakeholder. Stakeholders can affect or be affected by the organization’s actions, objectives and policies.”
Beginning in April 2015, PennEast has held INVITATION ONLY PRIVATE luncheon and dinners for landowners being approached for property surveys and easements. PennEast calls these “informational meetings”. The media, including local newspapers, were not allowed at these meetings.
PennEast reported to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that it plans on seven more “informational meetings” for stakeholders. PennEast did not note the informational meetings would not be open to the public.
Reports from people who were INVITED and attended the meetings described it a sales and marketing pitch. Often specific questions were brushed aside or deflected with scripted talking points.
According to Patricia Kornick, Spokesperson for PennEast: “Landowners have had very specific questions,” Kornick said. She added the meals are an opportunity to gain answers without distractions from those not directly affected by the plans.”
To repeat, according to API Community Engagement Guidelines stakeholders are: “Any person, group or entity that has interest or concern in an organization and its activities is considered a stakeholder….”. One would expect this would at least include homeowners who will be living next door to the pipeline and would be affected.
PennEast has and is experiencing large and active opposition to its project. Property owners have refused survey access and are refusing to sign easements, even in the face of PennEast threats of using Eminent Domain.
PennEast Spokesperson, Patricia Kornick, has described the opposition as a “vocal minority”. For those old enough to remember, the phrase “vocal minority” was used by Former President Richard Nixon’s Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam.
Less than half of those along the PennEast route have granted survey access, and more than 35 towns, counties and other concerned organizations have passed resolutions opposing the pipeline.
In the face of such opposition and with their more public campaigns not working well, PennEast has resorted to the Invitation Only style meetings where a smaller crowd may be more easily controlled and readily sign agreements. The term “captive audience” comes to mind.
In addition to the invitation only meals, PennEast is also attempting to subvert Pennsylvania’s Open Meeting Laws (also known as the Sunshine Act) by requesting strictly private closed door meetings with community officials. Requests by these communities for PennEast to have these meetings public were refused.
Anonymous sources have indicted the strictly private closed door meetings with community officials are about gaining community official support to pressure residents to allow survey access and sign easements.
PennEast and other industry corporations are failing to grasp the level of distrust the public has for their activities. Time and time again, the industry talking points have been shown to be half-truths and deceptive.
If PennEast and other industry corporations want public cooperation they need to be completely honest and transparent.
Alas, to hope for a corporation to be honest and transparent is a pipe dream.
©2015 by Dory Hippauf