Early stakeholder engagement key to decommissioning success
Early engagement with stakeholders has always been central to supporting successful project development and the fast-emerging oil and gas decommissioning industry is no different, according to Platform Communications associate director Tony Johnson.
Mr Johnson, who has more than more than 30 years’ experience in management and advisory roles in the oil and gas, mining, and banking sectors, said that the Australian offshore decommissioning industry was still in its early stages and a lot of learning was going on for all concerned within industry, governments at all levels, regional communities, support contractors and service providers.
“What has been evident from the outset is that every decommissioning project needs to be approached on a case-by-case basis,” Mr Johnson said.
“Taking a one-size-fits-all stakeholder engagement approach by industry may be convenient, but will seriously miss the mark if you’re looking for stakeholder buy-in. Decommissioning is not project development in reverse, or just about getting on with pulling things out of the ocean.”
Mr Johnson added that decommissioning required a way of thinking, particularly given the diversity of views and sometimes conflicting stakeholder preferences, for the decommissioned end state.
“We are all familiar with the divergent views that arise when we propose new projects or want to expand existing ones. But the key difference here is that projects and developments are resource dependent and for a finite period, while decommissioning end state is forever.”
“We should expect bookended views from complete removal to leave everything in situ, and anything in between, depending on a stakeholder’s areas of interest, whether that be regulatory, commercial, recreational, or societal.”
Mr Johnson has spent the past 20 plus years in management and advisory roles for mid-tier to major oil and gas companies with interests in WA and Victoria, across the oil and gas life cycle, from exploration to operations and now with a current focus on supporting regulatory approvals for offshore decommissioning. He has provided advice to companies including Santos, Woodside, and BHP.
He regards himself as a bit of an industry generalist engaging with multiple stakeholder groups across multiple regions, including regulators, governments, community members, Indigenous representatives, media, and other marine users such as the recreational and commercial fishing sectors.
He said that actively listening to stakeholders and understanding their context had been a key theme of his work in the industry.
“I always try to put myself as best I can in their shoes. I see a lot of industry using theoretical models of stakeholder prioritisation into opposed, neutral or supportive buckets. This may help in the development an engagement plan or effective use of limited engagement resources.”
“However, nothing can replace the experience of meeting face to face with a stakeholder expressing their point of view – positive or negative. That moment of understanding “why” a stakeholder holds a certain view is critical to managing business risk, and it is acknowledgement of the “why” with the stakeholder that helps build relationships.”
If there is a key challenge facing industry as it moves forward on the decommissioning journey, Mr Johnson said it was the consultation fatigue facing other marine users because of increased consultation requirements for proposed petroleum projects.
“It’s very difficult to get meaningful feedback when industry has historically consulted on an approval-by-approval basis,” Mr Johnson said.
“Stakeholder consultation on decommissioning end states should ideally be done early in the planning process, not at the point of planning the final decommissioning Environment Plan.”
“We should also, as an industry, be telling our story simply and in language that is clear, simple, and easily understood. And if we know there are likely to be impacts to certain stakeholders then we need to acknowledge them”.
“My analogy here is election time and the plethora of materials that daily clog up my letterbox. Unless the material is relevant to me, I know where it’s going to finish up.”