This panel noted that non-technical risks must be managed. Non-technical risks are those associated with the regulatory, public, socio-economic, governmental and environmental issues. In terms of production delays, stakeholder (community) related delays are much greater than commercial or technical delays. Thus, it is in the best interests of drilling companies to work with communities to reduce these delays.
Companies now go into the communities to determine what the greatest concerns and risks are and then address and manage them. For example, air emissions are obviously a concern. Companies work to ensure that such emissions are minimized and that neighbors near the drilling platform understand this. In essence, the companies want to obtain a "social license" in the community as much as a regulatory permit or license.
As a society, we use large amounts of energy, but there is a disconnect as to how that energy is generated. Right now, most electric power is produced by the burning of coal. Natural gas, which is more environmentally friendly, is taking on more of this function.
Energy companies need to get a full appreciation of the nearby communities. Companies must be involved and invested. That means reaching out to local government and citizen groups. Trying to get beyond fear that is not based on science. However, it has been difficult to get out and meet all of the people who might be impacted. Thus, a decision was made by many in the industry to bring the community to the rigs and let them see what is going on. Rig tours were started a few years ago that turned out to be very popular. There is a belief now that the companies must show families what the oil and gas companies are doing.
One rig tour/open house now draws as many as 7,000 people on a given Saturday. The rig tour is a type of picnic. Other members in the community now use to tour/picnic to highlight their own needs and raise funds. The companies will partner with these community groups, such as local rescue workers and hospitals, in these fund raising efforts. The tour is used to showcase the needs of the community and show how the oil and gas companies can help, more than just writing a check. The companies want to become a part of the community and retain connections.
Sometimes there is a fear that protestors will show up and disrupt the proceedings. Actually, this process tends to eliminate shouting matches and provide a good dialogue with the community. Tough questions are encouraged and answers are given. Protest demonstrations at these rig tours are now far and few between.
Some people in nearby communities still feel some conflicts. On the one hand, smaller businesses welcome economic develop, but still have some apprehension about potential environmental risks. Accurate information is the best way to address these apprehensions which many times are mistaken. There is also some concern that once the shale play has been exhausted, the companies will leave. Realistically, however, the wells are going to be here in the Marcellus Shale area for many years. According to the industry, shale gas still represents one of the best ways to grow the economy in this region in a safe and responsible manner.