Most of us in the environmental compliance business are a little apprehensive with the Trump administration and his promise to streamline permitting processes to improve of America’s infrastructure and create jobs. What does that mean for businesses serving the oil and gas industry now that the Administration wants to “take the breaks off” of the environmental permitting process? We do not completely know. But the apparent perception for those opposing such projects is that less regulatory process means less accounting for environmental impact. A shorter or quicker regulatory process may also equate to less of an opportunity to voice your concern—creating greater frustration.
Frustration on the Rise
Unfortunately, frustration builds to anger and sometimes, unfortunately, to physical and violent action. Companies that are placing their employees in the field to support the oil and gas industry need to understand that their employees are on the front line and also the receiving-end of that anger. Protests are on the upswing with the intent to disrupt the project process and draw attention to the cause, whatever that may be. Anger is often directed at the construction site, contractor workers, compliance inspectors, material suppliers, utility locators, or anyone else that has a connection to the project.
In one recent incident in Florida an individual with a high powered riffle shot at pipeline pipe and heavy equipment on a project site. Fortunately, no construction activity was taking place at the time and no worker was injured. Sadly, the incident ended with the individual being fatally shot by law enforcement.
While shooting is extreme behavior, demonstrations, sit-ins, and rallies are taking place with greater frequency and in a very organized fashion.
For some projects, the permitting process requires that the public be notified and have the opportunity to voice their concerns. Informational meetings and open houses are held to allow the public to hear from regulatory authorities, as well as from the utility company proposing the work. Opposition organizers hold fast to the idea of “strength in numbers” as the way to get your opinion heard and change the minds of those in control of the project. These public meetings too can get out of hand.
Watchful for Danger
What can you do to help keep your workers safe? Here are some tips for preparing your workers to deal with threats and confrontation:
- During daily safety briefings identify security as a talking point and awareness reminder.
- Provide conflict resolution training consisting of role-playing scenarios to develop the skill of how to properly talk to angry persons (people?) and de-escalate the situation.
- Instruct workers to leave any situation where they feel their life is in danger or threats have been delivered.
- Take all threats seriously and report them to law enforcement.
- Scan the social media landscape for chatter on organized and planned activities. Twitter, blogs, website posting, etc. are used by groups to communicate their thoughts and planned activities.
- Contact the regulatory authorities that you are working with to assess their level of effort and resources for monitoring internet activity. Understand how they plan to communicate with you any threats that they receive.
- Contact local law enforcement and ask about local activities, groups, or even individuals that that should be monitored.
- Limit the amount of personal profile information that your employees placed on company websites, and encourage them to limit identifying information on their private Facebook, or Linked-in social networking accounts that could associate them with a project or company.
- Revisit you Crisis Management Plan (CMP). Your CMP is the company’s action document that is used in the event of an emergency. A well prepared CMP helps a company respond appropriately to crisis situations.
- Hire security officers to be present at your meetings or worksites.
About Dan Hannan: Dan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and has been practicing safety for twenty-four years. He is presently the Safety Director for Merjent, an environmental and social consulting firm serving the world’s leading energy and natural resource companies. Merjent consultants have decades of specialized experience on pipeline projects, including planning and feasibility, environmental permitting, construction compliance, operational compliance, third-party analyses, stakeholder engagement, and technology solutions. Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.