Are We Trained to Win Community Support in the Fracture Stimulations Debate?

In every impassioned debate there is aseed of truth hidden within the rhetoric from both protagonists. I have been working on Tight Gas Projects for more than 30 years and have assisted with mentoring and training Subsurface Engineers and Planning Teams through the SPE and for a variety of Operators through IHRDC. However, I have had no formal training and only peripheral exposure to “Stakeholder Management” and the actions required to maintain our “Social Licence to Operate (SLtO).”

In fact, when the pyramid of project management objectives and priorities is established and ranked, most companies do not explicitly identify SLtO issues as a key driver. Of course, we all recognise that these matters must be implicitly addressed by the Health, Safety, Security and Environmental (HSSE) and Quality Management Plans, and will negatively impact the Project’s Costs and Schedule. However, maybe we need to start thinking in terms of a six sided box, rather than a pyramid, for unconventional projects.

Many technical specialists have little training on how to de-risk and manage soft issues. Some of us find it quite a challenge to look at our pet project from the perspective of an external stakeholder. Moreover, we assume that it is management’s responsibility to develop a clear understanding of the activities of our competitors, so we fail to present a coherent E & P story to our fellow citizens.

What if all this activity were taking place in our own back-yard, or the back 40 acres of a family farm? Wouldn’t we like to know more than is stated in most community briefing brochures? Maybe even have the answers to our many questions more clearly explained:

  • Where is all the water that is used to make-up the frac fluids likely to be sourced and why?
  • What is the likely range of ongoing water requirements over the next 5-10 years?
  • How salty are any return fluids likely to be? How will they be contained and treated and what are the residual salt disposal plans? At what point will water recycling become feasible?
  • How much land is going to be needed by this project and for how long?
  • How much trucking is involved? Can trucking be scheduled outside of high road usage times for school buses; commuting; or the movement of farm machinery; cattle; grain or produce?
  • Will the roads, bridges and culverts need to be upgraded and when is this to be done? What are the risks of inadvertent damage and how quickly can remediation to be undertaken?
  • If the noise from the frac pumpers cannot be effectively baffled, can we agree on periods when noise will be kept below that which might be expected from a rural highway or factory?
  • Where are the crews being housed? Will there be any spin-off benefits and/or over-usage risks for the local store keepers; gas stations and motel operators?
  • What is the likely impact on the local medical and emergency services?
  • If you are successful, how will the future activities enhance local employment opportunities for the young people in our communities? What sort of time frame are we talking about?

Fracture stimulation is fundamental, so we need to preserve our rights to frac by reigning in the cowboys and explaining the process and risks more coherently. Within the industry, we understand that the greatest risks relating to frac fluid and screen-out pressure containment relate to the quality of the casing cement job, tubulars and frac lines. But, we may also want to know if those specifying, evaluating, inspecting, and hooking up that equipment are competent and have the fortitude to make the required judgement calls, or to ask their peers for advice and assistance?

Fortunately, the API published ANSI/API Bulletin 100-3, its Community Engagement Guidelines this past summer (www.api.org/publications-standards-and-statistics). Both local stakeholders and operators can use this guidance. It is designed to acknowledge challenges and impacts that occur during the industry’s presence in a given region. These guidelines are intended primarily to support onshore oil and gas projects in the United States for shale developments but may have application elsewhere.

The SPE is also doing a great job with their educational website energy4me.org; and there is an excellent Guest Editorial on this topic on Page 20 of the November JPT by Derek Mathieson and Peter Bryant:

“Energy’s Struggle with Rapidly Changing Roles, Responsibilities and Reputation”.

2 Replies to “Are We Trained to Win Community Support in the Fracture Stimulations Debate?

  1. Bob – thanks for your insight on a major competency that is growing ever more important wherever someone seeks to build a new project. There always seems to be an organized opposition that is well trained in presenting their case or creating disruptions. Some are honest differences of opinion and others have a hidden agendas. The ability to present the case for moving forward is often difficult to accomplish without attending the first year of laws school where you build a thick skin and learn to advocate for your position. These are not the normal attributes of an engineer!

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