Insight & Analysis
This time it IS in my Backyard! I'm a Stakeholder, not an International Expert
31 August, 2015
I’ve spent 25+ years working with major extractive projects around the world, helping them to engage and collaborate with local communities and address local concerns, to earn and maintain a ‘social license’ and align community and shareholder interests. Over seventy-five projects in dozens of countries all over the world. Suddenly one is in my backyard.
Last week a major LNG project was announced for my backyard, 2 ½ miles from my home on Vancouver Island in Canada and right beside where I love to catch prawns and crabs with my little boat.
Major resource project. In my backyard.
It is a partnership between an Indigenous Tribe, the Malahat First Nation and Steelhead LNG of Vancouver. The project is a floating LNG platform to liquefy natural gas for export to global markets. It is planned for Indigenous owned land just down the shore from my home of nearly 20 years. See project description here. On the surface it seems an ideal example of an Indigenous/non-indigenous business partnership; strategic and impactful.
But, for me, suddenly I am not the ‘international expert’ but one of the ‘local stakeholders’. And already I am being bombarded with outrageous ‘facts’ seeking to ensure I oppose the project. It is different, but somehow still the same.
Here is what I know (or don’t know, as the case may be).
Certainty? Are you kidding? Despite the claims and the certainty of opponents and proponents, we don’t know the social, environmental or even economic impacts with any degree of certainty. They will become known as things move forward. An informed, vigorous and comprehensive discussion is necessary in order to know if this project makes social, economic and environmental sense.
The Malahat Tribe is economically marginalized and deserves better. The Status Quo is not fair. Surrounded by non-indigenous people who are relatively comfortable economically, the Malahat First Nation has 80% unemployment and has somehow been excluded from much of the economic opportunity that has occurred around them over the past 100 years.
The Malahat Nation created a huge socio-economic development opportunity for themselves, they deserve a chance to see if it can be developed in an acceptable way.
Steelhead LNG is impressive. For some time I’ve admired how Steelhead has engaged and consulted First Nations and developed collaborative partnerships and mechanisms for ensuring local benefit and value from Steelhead’s LNG projects.
Not just sideshow value, but meaningful upside participation and long-term value creation. It is impressive. They have integrated Corporate Social Responsibility into their core business strategy. I was so impressed that I have had Steelhead’s CEO address one of my Corporate Social Responsibility programs.
Opposition helps make the project better. No project comes out of the gate without room for improvement. The probes, queries and analysis of investors makes the financial and business model stronger.
Similarly, social and environmental opponents and criticism help to identify opportunities to improve social impacts and environmental performance.
Social, environmental and economic optimization will not happen without opposition. Smart companies and projects find ways to engage with opponents and improve projects.
Viability. There is no way the project should proceed if it can’t demonstrate financial, social and environmental viability and risk management. Fortunately our system has processes (financial markets and regulatory structures) that force demonstration of viability and risk management.
Straight truths are rare. Hyperbole, balderdash and pure bullsh*t are more common. From opponents and proponents.
This project won’t solve all the social and economic woes of the Malahat Tribe (nobody has said directly that it will). It also won’t, as the Anti-everything crowd so quickly claimed, bring Fracking to Vancouver Island or make Saanich Inlet bathtub warm.
We need discussion informed by truths. No single project will solve decades of economic marginalization. Fracking happens at the drill hole, not where gas is liquefied. And, I’m sure science can find a better use for the heat energy by-product of liquefaction than warming up Saanich Inlet.
We can’t afford to get it wrong. The process needs to work and inform how/if we can develop it safely. We can’t afford mistakes. We need it to be the best it can be. We can’t afford mistakes environmentally (I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to be able to catch prawns and enjoy the Saanich Inlet). We can’t afford mistakes economically.
We don’t know. So relax. At this stage we have very few facts and know little. Too much certainty is a sign of a closed mind and swallowing (or promoting) misinformation. We have a regulatory process that is quite good. A lot better than what many countries have.
Only with an informed, vigorous and comprehensive debate will we learn if this project makes social, environmental and economic sense.
The world needs energy. Natural gas is far from the worst form of energy available (would you rather the world used unregulated coal?). Let’s have the process inform us and the discussion and the eventual decision on whether and how the project might proceed.
I know I plan to try and stay as curious, as engaged, as open as possible, and to be as wary as possible of the questionable ‘facts’ that will undoubtedly flow from those who enter the process with closed minds and unmovable positions.