Crisis and issues management: are you ready?
It is an immutable fact that some forms of development provoke opposition. Right now, it is hard to think of anything more likely to bring protestors to the streets (or the country lane, or the rural field) than new energy developments, and hydrocarbons in particular. Climate change is high on the national and international agenda, and while there's a clear scientific consensus that humans are contributing to a rise in global temperatures, there's just enough resistance to that idea to stoke the fervour of eco-activists intent on making fossil fuels history. International organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are increasingly adept at harnessing and mobilising this. Social media is proving the perfect organising tool for those who want to raise awareness and plan protests quickly and effectively.
Do these protests succeed? It depends on how you define success. They are frequently disruptive, though they rarely prevent companies from completing their work: when the protest has subsided, the drills go on drilling and the power stations continue to rise . They are frequently incredibly successful, though, in raising awareness. Take shale gas: a glance at Google searches for 'fracking' in the UK shows an unmistakeable spike in interest in the summer of 2013, as protestors flocked to Balcombe, in Sussex, where shale explorer Cuadrilla was working. Look a little harder, and you'll see that during 2011, nine protestors scaling a drilling rig attracted four times as much web attention as a pair of fracking-induced earth tremors. Research from the University of Nottingham suggests that the Balcombe protests were a watershed in public opinion.
All too often, despite the fact that protests are inevitable, some operators and their associates are still unprepared for the scale of the protest that could happen on any one of their sites overnight. Put simply, if you're in the energy business, you should have crisis and protest management plans ready in case you need them. How could protestors affect your sites – and what could that mean for your image, and your business? You'll suddenly find that you have a lot of journalists calling you – are you prepared for that, even late at night on a weekend? How will you keep political stakeholders informed and on side when suddenly every telephone line and every member of staff is clamouring for your attention, and you're not sure what's happening on the ground?
If you know the answers to all these questions, then you're probably in a good position. If you're not, you should be thinking hard about them – give us a call if you want to know how we can help.
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