As open dockets for pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects groan under the weight of numerous objections from landowners and others, FERC has published guidance on "best practices" for stakeholder outreach. Projects will have an easier time in the regulatory process if developers try to make friends with the locals, the Commission said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Office of Energy Projects prepared "Suggested Best Practices for Industry Outreach Programs to Stakeholders.

"Over the past decade, the natural gas industry has experienced a period of significant growth," the guidance noted. "This growth, along with increased public awareness of the Commission's review process and heightened controversy over pipeline projects, has resulted in greater public involvement in the development and siting of natural gas facilities. As a result, the staffs of FERC and other federal, state and local agencies have become increasingly interested in providing guidance for stakeholder involvement both within and outside the agencies."

The 32-page document presents common practices and highlights tools that FERC-regulated natural gas companies can use to "effectively inform and engage stakeholders during the FERC review process" for interstate pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilities.

Stakeholders aren't only landowners, FERC said. Additionally, a stakeholder list should include federal, state and local legislators; federally recognized tribes; county and municipal elected officials; federal, state and local agencies; local community leaders; emergency responders; special interest groups and non-governmental organizations.

The manual is for reference only, FERC said, and does not constitute a new regulation. "Following any or all of the best practices outlined in it does not guarantee Commission approval for any given project," it said.

Among the efforts project developers should include in their outreach process are a letter introducing the project to stakeholders, as well as community and agency meetings to discuss project benefits and what the project would entail. Materials can/should include a project-specific website, press releases, project summary, landowner letters, company asset and market-area maps, project maps, project fact sheets, project brochures, graphics outlining construction methods, compressor station fact sheets and other materials.

"In our experience, project sponsors have realized substantial benefits from implementing a stakeholder outreach program as part of their project development model," the manual noted. "Companies are better able to successfully navigate the Commission's review processes by creating a respectful, educational, and transparent approach to engaging stakeholders. Although not all projects will experience the same level of benefit, we believe that the absence of public outreach in the planning of a project leads to unnecessary delays."