Performance improvement and communication key to pipeline industry regaining social acceptance

Pipelines are a top-of-mind, highly politicized topic in Canada right now. There’s no denying it. But when you put aside the rhetoric of some of the industry’s critics, where do average Canadians fall in the pipeline debate? And what can the pipeline industry do to better understand and engage with the Canadian public?

These are just the questions Bruce Anderson, a leading Canadian researcher and principal at Anderson Insight, addressed during his keynote speech at CEPA’s recent Integrity First Symposium, and in an interview we conducted with him afterward.

Through his research, Anderson has noticed that the current climate around pipelines in Canada is different than it’s been in the past. He says that’s because we’ve become increasingly detached from exactly where our energy comes from and there’s uncertainty of the real benefits of pipeline projects.

“People are more anxious about new pipeline projects than they would have been in the country’s past. Part of that is that generally speaking, people are having trouble endorsing big infrastructure projects even though they know we need them because they presume there’s an element of risk. They’re not exactly sure who benefits from these projects. That’s a broader contextual challenge faced by pipeline projects,” he says.

His research also indicates that Canadians are interested in pipeline safety and integrity, industry regulation and exactly how pipeline companies prevent and respond to incidents.

“People are also wondering more and more whether or not there’s the right amount of government oversight and scrutiny on pipelines. They want to know what companies are doing to prevent problems from happening. They want to be reassured that when problems happen that the right steps are taken to mitigate those problems. So there’s a need for more communication from industry to reassure that these are projects that are worthy of their support.”

So how does Anderson suggest the pipeline industry can better communicate with the Canadian public and regain the social acceptance that pipelines experienced in the past?

How Does The Pipeline Industry Communicate with the Public?

1.  Use the right language

Anderson says the pipeline industry needs to step outside the accepted “engineering culture” and use language that Canadians understand. This can be accomplished by focusing on the benefits of pipelines, rather than their mechanics – a tactic he notes industry critics are already quite proficient at.

“Different stakeholders are going to use different language. But if it’s fair for critics of some of these projects to use language that conjures up negative emotions, I’m not sure that it’s wrong for advocates of these projects to use appropriate and honest language, but language that skews towards emphasizing what the benefit of these projects is.”

2.  Know the audience and speak to their needs

Anderson identified two key audiences for the pipeline industry right now – the general public across Canada and those who live in proximity to pipeline projects. Each group has different needs and the industry needs to target communications to address them specifically. For the general public, that involves education on the benefits of pipelines. Those living or working near infrastructure projects need reassurance that their interests are being considered.

We also live-tweeted the symposium, so check out some of the highlights from Anderson’s keynote speech below. Additionally, you can scroll to the bottom to listen to our full interview with him as well.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 110,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2011, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.