As an Editor of a global energy publication, I offer support to the international oil and gas industries. Indeed, anyone who is employed within the industry hopes for the sector to remain healthy, and feels concern when negative news stories appear on television. When I read about gas companies’ plans for massive expansion in Australia I think, “Brilliant! That will be great for the industry.” When I hear about the huge increase in demand for energy in Asia I think, “Fantastic – more demand for oil and gas makes for a stronger market.” When I hear about companies’ initiatives to move operations into the Arctic my initial reaction is, “Yes – let’s race each other to those supplies! … So long as we don’t damage anything there of course … I’m sure we wouldn’t. We’re more careful than ever before nowadays. I’m sure it will be fine!” In my keen-spirited desire to support the success of the industry I have, at times, thought, “Shale gas bonanza in the USA? I’m sure the fracturing techniques can’t be as risky as some people claim – they probably just don’t understand the process fully. We’ve hit the jackpot! Let’s get at it – and fast!” But when I heard that shale gas had been discovered in my hometown of Blackpool, a Victorian seaside town in the Northwest of England, I thought, “Hydraulic fracturing has begun in the UK – great! … Hang on, my parents live there…”
It made me realise that sometimes it’s easier to support progress in the industry when you are supporting it remotely and far from the front line of industrial development. ‘NIMBYism’ is a pejorative term used within various industries to denote the negative public reaction against plans to develop industry close to residential areas, or areas regarded as worthy of protection. In the oil and gas industry, striving to develop more and more facilities and processes to increase yields – the voice of the NIMBYs is often an annoyance. We see their protestations as an unnecessary and uninformed barrier to progress, and can’t always understand why they don’t want us to succeed with our projects as much as we do. “Can’t they understand that we really really need this stuff in the ground? What do they think they cook with? Where do they think the petrol they put in their cars comes from?”
NIMBYism is a difficult issue to deal with, and I can empathise with both parties either side of the divide on debates such as the one raging in the seaside holiday resort in which I grew up. The claims of the possibility of harmful carcinogens finding their way into local drinking water supplies are lent more weight on a personal level when you realise it is your family that will be drinking it. Of course, the reality is that it’s a huge concern if anyone in the world is affected negatively by any industry practice – irrespective of relationships involved. All we can do as an industry is try to progress in a responsible manner, minimising the negative impacts on the families and communities we necessarily need to operate in close proximity to, in this ever-crowded world.
Is there really a way to keep everyone happy all of the time? I think we know the answer to that….
Written by Anna Scordos, Editor of Oilfield Technology, LNG Industry, Energy Global.