On July 28, 2015, following a marked increase in protests at Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) open meetings and outside FERC headquarters—which in one case to date resulted in the rescheduling of an open meeting to “better ensure the safety of [FERC] staff and the public”1 —as well as rule changes prohibiting “disruptive conduct” at FERC open meetings,2 the staff of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects (OEP) published a guide entitled “Suggested Best Practices for Industry Outreach Programs to Stakeholders” (the Outreach Guide). The Outreach Guide seeks to present best practices and highlight tools that OEP believes FERC-regulated natural gas companies “can use to effectively inform and engage stakeholders” in the application and review processes for the siting, construction and operation of interstate natural gas facilities and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals.
The Outreach Guide states that, “[o]ver the past decade[,] the natural gas industry has experienced a period of significant growth,” which, “along with increased public awareness of [FERC’s] review process and heightened controversy over pipeline projects, has resulted in greater public involvement in the development and siting of natural gas facilities.” As a result, “development of stakeholder outreach programs and the successful implementation of those programs throughout the ‘life’ of a project (i.e., from project inception to abandonment) has become increasingly important as public awareness of and involvement with these projects continues to grow.” After consulting with natural gas industry participants, OEP “combined the results of those discussions with [its] experience to identify some of the best practices for stakeholder outreach” and produced the Outreach Guide.
Ultimately, the Outreach Guide states, OEP “believe[s] better communication and education,” developed through effective stakeholder outreach programs, “will lead to decisions and actions that ensure the highest levels of environmental protection, provide opportunities for public participation, and improve timely processing for infrastructure projects in order to meet the public demand for energy.” While improvements in stakeholder outreach alone are unlikely to stop or reduce the likelihood of protests regarding natural gas infrastructure projects at FERC or elsewhere, the Outreach Guide should serve as a welcome and useful resource to natural gas industry participants seeking to develop and implement more effective stakeholder outreach strategies as well as to those that already have effective programs in place.
1 David Bradley, With Large Protests Looming, FERC Reschedules May Meeting, Natural Gas Intelligence, May 8, 2015, http://www.naturalgasintel.com/articles/102263-with-large-protests-looming-ferc-reschedules-may-meeting.
2 Disruptive Conduct at Commission Open Meetings, 80 Fed. Reg. 13,223 (Apr. 13, 2015) (codified at 18 C.F.R. § 375.203).