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Gas industry advised to get local support before fighting big green groups

Natural gas companies are better off talkingwith grassroots groups before taking on national environmental organizationslike the Sierra Club and, speakers at Energy Dialogues LLC's NorthAmerican Gas Forum said.

Industry leaders said companies are more likely to garner localsupport even while national environmental groups call for regulators to quashtheir projects, and getting community approval for a project has becomeincreasingly important for its success, said Dan Lumma, senior vice presidentof Kiewit Energy Group.

Lumma joined executives, government officials and other membersof the gas industry at the Washington, D.C., conference. Speakers discussedways to gain support from a public that is increasingly critical of pipelineand LNG projects.

"It used to be that safety was your ticket to being able tocontinue to operate," Lumma told attendees. "I'd say today it's notonly safety, but it's really being a good corporate citizen."

Winning over community members should start with explaining thepotential tangible benefits of a project, Rick Smead, managing director at RBNEnergy, said in an interview at the conference on Oct. 4. "I really don'tbelieve that the average voter and the average consumer in the street reallyrelates what they pay for power to natural gas development."

Educating the public is particularly important, Smead said,after high-profile oil pipeline projects like Keystone XL and Dakota Accessgained national attention in fights with opposition groups and by the federalgovernment. 

"Five years ago, most people in this country didn't knowwhat FERC stood for," said Marty Durbin, executive director for marketdevelopment at the American Petroleum Institute. Now, protesters interrupt theagency's monthly meeting and picket commissioners' homes. Theincreased attention from environmental groups is an "enormouschallenge" for the industry moving forward, said Durbin. 

It is a challenge that must be met with compromise, AndersEkvall, vice president of integrated gas at Royal Dutch Shell plc, told attendees. He said Shell wasable to avoid conflicts with national groups on its project by working with localgroups from the start. 

"It's about having a discussion," Ekvall said."We have to realize that we do have an impact, and we have to be honestand upfront about what that impact is."

Environmental activist Jimmy Betts tweeted Oct. 5 that membersof the groups We Are Cove Point and Beyond Extreme Energy stopped a bustransporting North American Gas Forumattendees to a tour of DominionResources Inc.'s CovePoint LNG LP export facility on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Onthe same day, other protesters blocked the gate to the mansion of Virginia Gov.Terry McAuliffe. They asked the governor to do more to stop gas pipelines andto protect the public from coal ash and climate change, according to ChesapeakeClimate Action Network.