Pipelines and Public Relations

“Information Session”. Now isn’t that a friendly, non threatening term. And indeed that’s exactly what the Kinder Morgan Information sessions on their proposed new pipeline to bring Alberta Tar Sands crude to the coast to load onto tankers were for the most part.  These are almost over, with just one left in this region on Salt Spring Island in January.

 I attended the one in Nanaimo and saw nothing but overt good cheer and intentions from the full spectrum of opinions that we all know this project has. Apparently there were some minor kefuffles in Hope and Victoria but not having been there I can’t give a perspective. Kinder Morgan seems to know they cannot just ram this project through as perhaps once was the case and have developed a strategy that is all about public relations at this stage.

When I got there quite a few people had already gathered awaiting entry. When the doors opened I was one of the first in and was asked if I wanted to sign in. I presented my card and asked if I could speak to the main PR person expecting someone from Vancouver or Calgary. I was surprised to find they actually have someone based in Victoria. This means they are taking this PR stuff very seriously.

Lots of opposition at the Nanimo info session

Looking around the room the essence of slick PR professionalism was everywhere. From the many members of the young fresh faced PR team to the few experienced company, port and response representatives. The comprehensive, very professional looking information signage covering almost every conceivable aspect of the project including the inevitable environmental and socioeconomic concerns of course and the general layout of the room which allowed for the one-on-one discussion method to be most effective.Having been a somewhat serious student of the martial arts for almost 30 years I recognize this strategy of drawing your opponent in.

However a large number of the folks who were there seemed to be highly informed about the project already and were not letting themselves be drawn in. In fact many stayed outside the room singing songs and handing out  information from a different perspective. There were all sorts of signs in opposition and many blue drops (a sign of solidarity for clean water).

I let myself be drawn in order to tell the main PR guy very clearly and firmly that Georgia Strait Alliance does not support this project or any that would increase the risk of a major spill in our sensitive waters or significantly contribute to climate change. The environmental, social and economic consequences are just not worth any risk! Prepared to extract myself from a conversation geared to convince me to the merits of the project if necessary, I was pleased but not overly surprised to be told that he would not try to dissuade us from our position (another tactic I’m familiar with).

What I was surprised at however was a cheerful, though perhaps unintended, admission that there was really no point in me trying to convince him of our position either. I understand some of these folks are not just about growth or short term gain and they actually believe this is a good project, but I guess I’d call that a a bit of a PR disaster.
I thought they wanted to hear from us. Well maybe they do but they certainly didn’t seem to want to actually listen.

In martial arts, a strategy following the drawing in, is a reversal of your opponent’s energy to use it against them. I’m curious if Kinder Morgan will try this next? And will it work if they cannot actually draw people in? Another option of course would be to actually listen to the community concerns, in fact be part of the community – not opponents at all, and be prepared to pull out of the project if it is not supported, rather than forge ahead regardless.

One thought on “Pipelines and Public Relations

  1. I too attended the Kinder Morgan Open House in Nanaimo. I discovered two very alarming facts there, both from the man staffing the table of the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), the company approved by the government to clean up spills along the coast. One: WCMRC treats a bitumen spill in the same way they treat a conventional oil spill. Two: Canada Shipping Act 2001 Planning

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