Chevron Chief: Lesson from Keystone Pipeline – Be Early, Be Factual, Address Issues

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By Paul Mindus, The Saint Consulting Group

The energy industry should learn from Keystone XL pipeline opponents that “we have to do a better job of educating the community, we have to get out there earlier to identify and address concerns before the environmentalists get started,” Chevron CEO John Watson said today at a forum on the energy economy.

Watson, speaking at Chevron’s world headquarters in San Ramon, CA, said “We do have to get out there, be early, be factual and address peoples’ concerns fully.”

The Obama Administration delayed a decision last November on the 1,660-mile pipeline to evaluate other potential routes until after the 2012 presidential election, following energetic opposition from environmental groups across the country and along the proposed route from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Pipeline campaigns and other energy issues that are picked up by non-government organizations like Sierra Club are mostly political, Watson said, “and we do have to address the issues, address false misconceptions and educate the communities.”

Opening up access to oil reserves, offshore or on federal lands, is a key challenge to the energy industry, he said. “The obstacles are not how to produce energy. It’s typically the government and politics that govern access.” The Keystone XL pipeline was a largely political battle, and one where the energy industry has to play a more pro-active role to educate the public, he said.

The approval process for energy development should be one that requires vigorous government review, then finality in a decision, then go do the project. “But single constituents can tie up development in courts forever,” Watson said. He cited the approach taken in Australia, “where the government says we’re going to do this project, but with the highest standards.”

Alex Mehran, president and CEO of Sunset Development, which sponsored the Bishop Ranch Forum, added that in California the energy accessibility issue has come down on the side of  environmentalists, not the energy industry. He encouraged industry to get engaged in forums where they can counter the opposition to business growth.

For more details on how determined opposition battled the Keystone Pipeline, read Jay Vincent’s post here.

Paul Mindus is part of the business development team at The Saint Consulting Group, email 

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