Do pipeline companies need social license?

Although the words “social license” are now common in pipeline conversations, the idea of social license is relatively new – the term was actually coined by a Canadian mining consultant named Jim Cooney in the late 1990s. Social license may be a new idea, but it is one of the most important issues in the pipeline industry today.

“Social license is about trust, respect, performance, improvement and humility and having those principles embedded in what you do,” said Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada during a panel discussion on social license at the International Pipeline Conference in Calgary.

Companies have realized that in order to build new pipeline infrastructure, they must obtain a social license from the communities where they operate.

What is social license?

In order to obtain a social license, pipeline companies must first be able to define what this concept means.

It’s about trust in the company to do the right thing, trust in the industry to keep the public safe,” said Katie McKinnon, stakeholder engagement specialist with TERA Environmental Consultants and one of the experts on “The Quest for Social Acceptance” panel.

So, does social license really matter?


Now, more than ever, pipeline projects are debated in the context of broader issues such as climate change, environmental protection and economic prosperity. All these issues affect the future of Canadians, and so all Canadians deserve to be part of the conversation.

“Canadians need to see that their voice will be heard, and they can have an impact on the decisions being made,” said Jason Switzer, director of corporate consulting at Pembina Institute – a research, advocacy and consulting organization working for a clean energy future.

Pipelines are critical infrastructure; they deliver the energy Canadians use every day. Energy resources are a key part of Canada’s economic prosperity. However, the risks of climate change are also real. In order to find a balance between sustainability and prosperity, pipeline proponents and pipeline opponents must work together to find the best way forward for Canada.

“On the issue of climate change and environmental integrity, there is common ground. We all want the same thing,” said McKinnon.

What are pipeline companies doing to obtain a social license? 

The pipeline industry is listening to Canadians and knows that in order to earn their trust, companies must communicate transparently and listen thoughtfully to stakeholders.

“There needs to be recognition and commitment to the concerns of stakeholders from the beginning and every phase of (a pipeline) project,” said Switzer.

The industry also knows that its reputation with Canadians hinges on its ability to operate safe pipelines. That is why companies are working together through programs like CEPA Integrity First to drive toward a collective goal of zero incidents.

“The industry wants to and should be adopting practices, procedures and protocols above and beyond the regulatory requirements,” said Anderson.

Read more about how the pipeline industry is working together to earn the trust of Canadians.

This is the fourth post in a four-part series based on information shared at the International Pipeline Conference in Calgary from Sept. 29 – Oct. 3. Over 1,400 pipeline professionals from around the world attended the conference.

Read other posts in the series:

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, 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.