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|Authors:||Duncan Kenyon, Nikki Way, Andrew Read, Barend Dronkers, Benjamin Israel, Binnu Jeyakumar, Nina Lothian|
|Publish Date:||October 2016|
|PDF Download:||[Landowners' Guide] [Landowners' Primer]|
Project Initiation and Consultation
Negotiating and Leasing
Disputes and Concerns
Landowners and Media Outreach
|Pipelines and Other Infrastructure|
|Abandonment and Reclamation|
|Compensation, Rights, and Hearings|
Working as a group with other landowners and concerned persons and sharing your time, energy and knowledge can strengthen your position when negotiating with a company or taking part in a dispute resolution process.
If you have concerns about the proposed development that have not been resolved in initial discussions with the company, you may want to get in touch with your neighbours. Inform them about the proposed project and invite them to join you if they share similar concerns. This may involve no more than arranging to attend an open house together or negotiating with the company as a group.
In addition to forming a group to work on your local issue, it is a good idea to find out if there is a group working on oil and gas related issues in your region. Regional groups may have a specific or unique mandate, and some may have affiliations with other organizations such as surface rights groups. For example, it might be worthwhile to contact your local airshed group, if you have concerns about the impacts of flaring.
Local and regional groups and individuals also participate in synergy groups. The AER and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers encourage the development of synergy groups, where local people work together with representatives of the government and companies to exchange information and resolve issues. There are dozens of synergy groups in Alberta; you can find out if there is one in your area by contacting the AER or checking the Alberta Synergy website. The Alberta Surface
Rights Federation can tell you if there is a surface rights group in your area. Appendix B provides contact information for various organizations and groups that can offer advice.
If you decide to form a new group, contact as many people as possible, especially if you would like to influence the details of a project before they are finalized, or if you plan to submit a statement of concern when the company files their application with the AER. You may find some people reluctant to join, even if they have concerns about a project, because they do not want to create a fuss or are afraid of potential implications of being vocal about their concerns. Others who do not understand the issues might join if you take the time to explain. Some may assist behind the scenes, even if they are unable to play a public role. Always respect the views of others; you want to find allies, not create enemies. Be aware that you might face backlash, perhaps from neighbours who stand to gain financially from the proposed activity. Remain calm and recognize that there will be opposing views within any community, especially surrounding the potential issues with oil and gas development.
Once you have a core group committed to working on the issue, you need to list your concerns and decide how you want them addressed. It is best to start by negotiating directly with the company, preferably in face-to-face meetings (see Direct Negotiations With a Company (For Issues Other Than Compensation)). It may help to have a facilitator or mediator to help with these discussions. However, if negotiation through the ADR process is unsuccessful, you may want to hold a public meeting, contact public figures, start petitions or bring your grievances further into the public sphere by engaging the media (see Involving the Media).
In some cases, the AER and the company will encourage you to negotiate as a group. If you negotiate as a group, consider engaging a single representative or advocate for the group as a whole, so that they can advocate for a cohesive approach. This may be difficult if you don’t share the same concerns as other people, but it is likely in everyone’s best interest to agree on common issues and what you would like to be done. However, companies have at times discouraged groups from negotiating together, saying that they prefer to work with individual landowners so that they can address specific issues. If you wish to ensure that the company negotiates with your group, it is important to have a clear idea of what solutions are possible for your concerns, and to maintain a sense of professionalism about the process to ensure that the company takes your group seriously.
When you form a group, it is not essential to establish a formal organization, such as a legally chartered society or association. Working through the legal and bureaucratic steps of establishing a society can take a lot of time and energy away from the key task of dealing with the proposed energy project. Since you will need to provide an address for correspondence with the AER and company, identify individuals who can act as contacts for the group and someone to be responsible for handling any money collected.
While it isn’t necessary, there are some benefits to establishing a formal organization. In the unlikely event that a company decides to sue, they will likely sue the organization rather than individual citizens; the organization may become bankrupt but not its individual members.
In the future, the AER may move to more regional approvals, approving large projects or multiple projects at once rather than approving projects one by one. In these instances, it will likely benefit people in the area to coordinate together to amplify any concerns they have with the approvals, outcomes or process. Although this AER approval process is in its preliminary stages, if the AER does begin approving projects using an area- based or regional-based process, coordinated groups from the project area will become even more important.
If a group has a formal meeting with the company, try to get an independent person to take minutes so that you do not have to rely solely on the company minutes. It is helpful if the minutes reflect the discussion, rather than only the assumed conclusions. Action items should be listed separately. It may be useful to record the meeting as an addition to the minutes; note that it is sometimes difficult to get a clear recording of all speakers.
Make sure that everyone receives a copy of the written minutes so they can read them carefully before the next meeting. Watch for errors of omission or emphasis, as well as for inaccuracies in what is actually reported. It is important to go through the minutes at the next meeting to give everyone an opportunity to raise issues; if anyone disagrees with something reported, they should ask for the minutes to be amended. You must ensure that minutes are accurate before they are signed. The company may use the minutes as evidence if negotiations fail and there is a hearing.
If you plan a public meeting, be sure to check the sports calendar and other local events so you select a date that will ensure maximum attendance. Invite as many people as you can by telephone or email, but also advertise the meeting in the media (see Issuing a media release). It is a good idea to invite the company and the AER (or, if appropriate, the Farmers’ Advocate or the Surface Rights Board) so they can hear everyone’s point of view. Also invite local municipal councillors and, if there is a health issue, an official from Alberta Health Services.
At the start of the meeting, the facilitator should introduce any guests and propose an agenda. Then the spokesperson for the core group — who should not be the same person as the facilitator — should explain why the meeting has been called, and outline the group’s main concerns and questions. At the appropriate time, members of the public should be invited to give their views. Ask them to give their names when they speak. The company, the AER, or other government body and any other guests should be invited to express their views if they wish. At the end of the meeting, the facilitator should call on a representative from the core group to outline any next steps, such as a formal meeting with the company to review ideas put forward that evening, and invite people to volunteer their help.
If the AER or company does not attend the meeting, it is a good idea to inform them of the conclusions reached at the meeting, communicate any outstanding concerns, and possibly provide them with a copy of the minutes. The group may also want to send a copy to the media (see Involving the Media), or perhaps bring a contentious issue to the broader public by writing in to the local paper, posting on social media, or providing local media with an interview.
Much of the work in negotiating with a company will be done by the smaller core group. How often you hold public meetings will depend on the circumstances, but such a meeting will probably only be necessary if there is a major development or change in the process, for example, if a hearing is called.
You may also want to set up a fundraising committee as it is unlikely that you will get enough from passing the hat at a meeting to cover all your costs. Some people may prefer to help with fundraising rather than write letters, get involved with negotiations or prepare evidence for a hearing.
To keep other local people informed, you could issue a short newsletter, send media releases, or set up a group website. You could also ask the company if they will set up a website on which they post notices of meetings and minutes of the meetings they have with you.
The media can help you reach a wider public, which in turn will make other residents aware of the proposed project and your concerns. This can help build support for your activities and increase the chance of successful negotiations with the company.
Media attention can also ensure that the AER (or other government or regulatory body) is aware of and involved in your issue. It is important that you keep the regulators informed about developments in case the media asks them to comment. The greater the publicity and concern about an issue, the more attention it will likely receive.
You may also find media useful if all attempts at alternative dispute resolution has failed. Many companies are concerned about their public image and want to avoid negative publicity.
“Media” includes the following:
If you are planning a meeting, the media can help you reach a wider public. Your local paper or radio station may make free public service or community announcements. The local paper will likely publish a letter to the editor about your activities. In addition, you may want to place an advertisement in local newspapers, or announce the meeting date and purpose through social media channels (local Facebook groups, community blogs, local websites). You will likely have to share the cost of some of these activities amongst yourselves, but if you “pass the hat” at a meeting, you may get enough to cover some of the costs.
Find out how soon you need to submit a notice or advertisement when fixing the date of the meeting. Media often have an advertising deadline several days or weeks prior to publishing. The advertisement should appear at least a week before the event or meeting date. You can suggest to a newspaper the page on which you would like the advertisement placed, but they may not be able to meet your wishes.
If you have a message to get out, distributing a media release can be very helpful. It should not be long, but should consider the following:
When your news release is ready, email, fax or deliver it to your local and regional newspapers, radio and TV stations. Contact information for press releases, letters to the editor and advertising managers can often be found online.
As all media outlets get large numbers of news releases, it is a good idea to follow up the release with a phone call. You may want to call a few media contacts before sending out the release to give them some background to the story. It is worthwhile offering to meet with local media to explain the situation and give them more details. You may need to inform them about the issues that concern you, such as the health implications of sour gas wells and flaring, or the risk of water well contamination. By giving them background information you have gleaned from the AER, Farmers’ Advocate or Surface Rights Board, you will help them put your story in context. For example, if you are concerned about a potential leak, you might want to draw their attention to the number of leaks and spills that occur in Alberta each year as reported by the AER. Many journalists do not have time to research all aspects of an issue themselves, but will be happy to use background information you have gathered from legitimate sources.
Don’t forget to send a copy of your news release to both the company and the regulatory body dealing with the issue (such as the AER or Surface Rights Board). You might want to specifically address the release to the attention of the person in the company or board dealing with your concerns. It is not only a courtesy to inform the company and board; it will also enable them to be better prepared to respond to the media if they know in advance what you are saying.
It is also a good idea to send a copy of the release to your local elected representatives. They should be sent a separate invitation if you are inviting them to the meeting, but they will also be interested in seeing your release.
Some important things to remember when dealing with the media: