What types of energy project prove most contentious in your jurisdiction and why?

Disputes have arisen in Mexico regarding various types of energy-related investment, including as a result of pressure from social groups (eg, landowners or users, environmentalists and third parties with no land rights, but political or economic interests). Such disputes have involved contracting parties, public companies (eg, Pemex and the Federal Electricity Commission), private companies and the government. While it is difficult to conclude which type of energy project is the most contentious, those involving renewable energies, oil, gas pipelines and power generation have all been subject to controversy.

Have any energy projects been delayed or frustrated in your jurisdiction following successful public opposition? If so, what lessons can be learned for future projects?

Yes. Some companies have had their infrastructure and energy projects significantly affected – for example, TransCanada in Chihuahua state and ATCO in Hidalgo state. When undertaking an infrastructure or energy project, it is essential to carry out efficient social management. Developing a well-designed work plan and formalising it with landowners and users and the community as a whole is fundamental. Knowledge and sensitivity are required when working with key people in order to satisfy their interests. It is also important to identify third parties who have only personal or political interests in the project. Further, commitments to the community as a whole must be fulfilled at all times.

Who should have standing to oppose new energy projects? Only parties that are directly affected, such as local communities, or also parties that are indirectly affected, such as environmental organisations?

The relationship between new energy projects and the deterioration of the environment (ie, sustainable development) has become an important concern for preventing more of what is now considered to be irreparable environmental damage that will affect future generations.

However, not all energy projects that are considered harmful to the environment represent a real threat, and environmental organisations can mislead communities in this regard. In the long run, a well-developed energy project may be more beneficial than damaging, as it could help to improve the community's socioeconomic conditions.

The manipulation of the press and provision of misleading information by some environmental organisations (eg, Greenpeace and Cairn Energy in 2010) have led to public mistrust. While environmental organisations have good intentions, they may not always be right. The argument of "better safe than sorry" is not sufficient to prevent the use of new techniques when trying to achieve general development. As such, only organisations that are directly affected by an energy project should have the right to oppose it.

What steps can government and stakeholders in your jurisdiction take to overturn successful public opposition to new energy projects?

First, the needs and customs of the community that might be affected by a new energy project should be identified. It is important to establish a good relationship with the affected community, as this may prevent opposition. Such a relationship can be fostered with a social and demographic baseline study, as well as through identifying the social impacts of the project.

The community's needs and how the energy project can help to achieve these – for example, by prioritising the environment or improving the community's infrastructure during the construction stage – should also be identified.

A key technique is to involve people who feel that the project will affect them and seek their opinions using different mechanisms, such as field work, interviews, indirect and direct observation and data analysis. The press can also be helpful in this regard, by creating informative campaigns which advise the community on the project's timeline and how it will be beneficial (eg, through job creation and environmental and security improvements).

In conclusion, involving the community, respecting people's opinions and customs and avoiding confrontation are key ways in which to overturn public opposition to new energy projects.

What strategies can governments and stakeholders adopt to promote local support, improve community engagement and better inform local communities of the potential benefits of new energy projects?

A good strategy for promoting local support is to improve community engagement by better informing people of the potential benefits of a new energy project. Communication should:

  • be efficient;
  • involve no technical language; and
  • convey all of the project's benefits to the local community, as well as the associated risks.

Information regarding the potential benefits of a new energy project may be conveyed via television, the radio and social media, among other avenues, and should convey multiple messages to each social group in the community – for example, an article and expert interviews could be published for adults, while television ads could target the younger population. The core message of this communication should be that the project will generate better opportunities for the community, such as:

  • economic growth;
  • low-cost energy;
  • well-paid jobs (locals will need to be employed, especially in light of the existing international climate); and
  • a better quality of life.

Honesty is the best long-term strategy, as this will lead people to trust the government and companies that are interested in such projects. Acting contrarily will result in trouble for investors, as the community will feel that it has been misled.

The above marketing should also prove that environmental risks are under control. If not, the community will feel insecure and is unlikely to support the project or the government.

Finally, to improve community engagement, it is necessary to establish communication channels so that people can discuss any issues in a professional and ethical way, thus contributing to the benefits generated by the project.

It may sound obvious, but trust is the key factor when promoting energy projects in the Mexican market.

For further information on this topic please contact Juan Fernando Ibáñez Montano, José Álvarez Márquez, Luis Roberto Ruiz Munguía or Mauricio Lievana​ at Ibáñez Parkman y Asociados SC by telephone (+52 55 5250 5912) or email ([email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]). The Ibáñez Parkman y Asociados SC website can be accessed at www.i-parkman.com.