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Pipelines Perfecting Stakeholder Outreach

Pipeline companies are putting much more emphasis on stakeholder outreach in their plans for pipeline construction, including extensive communication with all stakeholders as part of early planning right on through construction. And they are incorporating changes where possible to address issues raised by state and local governments, advocacy groups and property owners.

Debbie Ristig, vice president, engineering and compliance for CenterPoint Energy and project manager for the company's 172-mile, 42-inch diameter Carthage-to-Perryville pipeline, explained at a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) workshop last Monday how early involvement of all the interested parties, including land owners, and federal, state and local officials, helped keep the project on an accelerated schedule.

One goal, identified after Hurricane Katrina, was to get the pipeline in service before the 2007 hurricane season to provide more reliable inland transportation for Barnett Shale gas in the event of damage to coastal facilities. After starting the pre-filing process in August of 2005, phases I and II to transport 1.2 Bcf/d went into service in April 2007. Phases III and IV will be adding compression to bring the capacity up to 1.5 Bcf/d.

It's important to communicate often through all phases, putting multiple people on the ground so there can be early identification of issues and challenges, Ristig said. Building credibility and trust with local groups and landowners is primary. She pointed out that building long-term relationships with the communities in which their pipelines operate before, during and after construction is critical.

Making changes to accommodate concerns whenever possible is also important. Much of this takes place prior to and during the pre-filing process. She measured their success with the Carthage-to-Perryville pipe by the fact that by the time they got to the environmental impact statement only a few minor issues remained to be addressed.

FERC Commissioner Phillip D. Moeller conducted the workshop, which included outreach representatives from other pipelines. He said that while those participating were all from gas pipelines, the information could be needed on the electric power side since Congress is discussing giving FERC siting authority for power transmission lines.

The pipeline personnel involved in outreach all said that identifying the issues early is important, giving them time to work on the problems, so that by the time they get into the later stages of the process there are no surprises. Important tools are open houses, letter campaigns, project-specific brochures, before and after photos and videos of construction, toll-free hotlines, landowner visits to installations and meetings of company executives with high-level government officials.

The pipeline outreach representatives commended FERC's pre-filing process and involvement of FERC personnel in the early stages as extremely helpful. But pipelines should go into the pre-filing process with as much information about the project as they can generate, including feasibility studies and due diligence, said Cindy Ivey, manager of public outreach for Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line. She said it was helpful to have their customers go with them; "they establish the purpose and need." Also, the local distribution companies, which are known in the community, can be helpful at meetings with other stakeholders.

Outreach is valuable to the pipeline company because it minimizes the so-called "dry hole" costs in getting the gas to market, Ivey said.

In the open houses it's important to let people vent, said Susan Waller, vice president, stakeholder outreach for Spectra Energy Transmission. "They need to tell you they're not happy. It's important to be careful in selecting who from the company is going to be in that room, because they might not react properly."

"There are a lot of emotional issues out there and my technical presentation doesn't really address those," one pipeline engineer said after a stakeholders open house.

Julee Stephenson, director of regulatory and government affairs for NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage, said companies should be using Internet tools as well, including Facebook and Twitter. "You need to have whatever is on your website on other sites because people won't necessarily go to your website."

It's important that communities and local groups understand that for pipelines "eminent domain" doesn't mean they can just take properties as local jurisdictions often do for road-building, Ivey said. She said they make it clear at the open houses they are there "to establish fair market value. We don't even use words like 'acquire, take or obtain.'"

Ristig said an important part of their project was open and honest negotiations with landowners. Early sign-ups are critical and CenterPoint made sure those early signers got additional payments if the payments to later signers were higher.

Ivey said it was new for Transco to incorporate outreach as an integral part of the project. "We learned a lot on the initial projects, and we're doing things differently now. Building credibility and trust is vital; they need to hear it from us and they need to hear it often."

Ristig said they even had tried to build their schedule to avoid construction work near duck hunting grounds during hunting season. They would work on parts of the pipeline out of turn if necessary. Not all the best-laid plans are successful, however. "If you want rain anywhere, just start building a pipeline." The day after the Perryville project started it rained 16 inches at the construction site.

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