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Building public support for LNG projects

LNG Industry,

Despite promises for strong economic help in a recovering economy, LNG projects continue to face opposition among NIMBY-type groups. In the Chesapeake Bay, the proposed Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal is facing heavy opposition from groups that include the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and many others concerned with the ecological impacts on the Chesapeake Bay. The Jordan Cove Energy Project can bring over 150 well-paying new jobs to a small town in Oregon. Even though the area has suffered greatly with the decline in the timber industry, the town still does not want the new export centre. In Jones Beach, New York, the opposition is the same as they line up to fight Liberty Natural Gas.

Companies need to look at their strategy of building public support to counter the NIMBY effect to projects, as the outcome for a smooth entitlement of your project is at risk. The US Chamber of Commerce stated that in 2011 over 350 energy projects were delayed or abandoned due to public opposition – and the economic impact of these projects were estimated at about $1.1 trillion in GDP and 1.9 million jobs a year. That is a lot of missed opportunity for jobs and clean energy, all due to public opposition.

The key piece of the puzzle missed by developers in their public outreach strategy is the ‘campaign’ style approach the opponents seem to do so well.

Too often LNG proposals do not offer up an aggressive public affairs campaign when they announce a project, often letting crucial time pass between the announcement of a proposal and when public outreach begins. Opponents use this time to build opposition and sway residents against these projects. By running a political style campaign, it is possible to reach all residents, identify the supporters, and harness them into action for your project. Here are some crucial tactics that LNG campaigns should consider in their outreach efforts:

Announce your proposal wisely

When announcing a project, have a few pieces of direct mail ready to hit all the households in the host community to spread the positive benefits of the project. Follow this up with newspaper web ads, and phone banking of the community to, again, further identify supporters. Have an open house to answer residents’ questions and recruit supporters. All of this should be done in the first few weeks after announcing a project, to not allow the opposition to gel and take over the narrative. Too often companies allow precious time between announcing a project, and disseminating information to the community.

Meet with identified supporters

Once you have a database of supporters built from the mailers, ads and phone calls, the developer should meet with them so that they know they are not alone in their support, and they are a grassroots force that can begin to write letters to public officials, the newspapers, and attend key public hearings and speak out. Rarely will a supporter write a letter for you or attend and speak at a public hearing if you have not had the face to face contact with them previously.

Build grasstops support

In addition to reaching out to residents, stakeholders and well known members of the community, businesses, associations, and other civic groups should also be met with to attempt to bring on board for support.

Keep an updated database

As you begin to identify supporters of your project, that information should be put in a database to refer to throughout the entitlement process of your proposal. Coding your supporters by local legislative districts can also help if you need to target a particular local legislator who may be wavering in support.

The key goal of these types of campaigns is to never allow the opponents an opportunity to seize the moment because of inaction by the developer. Just announcing a LNG project is not enough to assume that everyone will be on board to support it. By running an aggressive campaign and identifying supporters, you have taken a key step of any successful campaign. Knowing what to do with the identified members of a community who support your project is the next step, and one that will allow vocal support to outnumber opponents – whether it be petitions, letters or crowds at public hearings.

In 2013 and beyond, expect NIMBY opposition to LNG projects. Meeting this challenge with proven grassroots techniques will be critical to making 2013 a success for LNG.

Written by Al Maiorino, Public Strategy Group Inc., USA.

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