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It’s obvious to companies how important it is to involve residents in a project that impacts their community, but how to do it effectively isn’t always as clear

Natural gas is a buried treasure with new underground discoveries leading to the rise of boom towns across North America; and the companies that invest in it are reaping the rewards of growth and revenue. But these rewards haven’t come without growing pains, and energy companies today are learning from these examples on how best to engage communities.

These companies realize the value in bringing locals into the fold when starting projects in a small community. They see the importance of not only hearing and addressing the concerns the residents have about a project, but also finding ways of communicating the benefits of the investment, whether that’s employment opportunities or a boost in the community’s economy.

B.C. has an estimated natural gas supply of 2,933 trillion cubic feet—enough to support domestic and export markets for the next 150 years—and the northern community of Kitimat is a strategic location for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal. As a result, Kitimat is a hotbed of economic activity and a case study in community engagement.

Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth shares three best practices for community engagement that energy companies should adopt when investing in small communities.

Engage early and often
“Acquiring social licence is a critical piece of a project’s puzzle,” says Germuth. He emphasizes the importance of starting engagement efforts very early in a project’s development. “We have seen that companies that engage early and provide the public with information and an opportunity to be heard receive the most positive feedback.”

Address local concerns
While large-scale industrial projects bolster local economies with new jobs and capital investments, the impact they have on a community can be significant, says Germuth. He notes that the cost of rental housing in Kitimat is at an all-time high, and that air and water quality are common concerns among residents. Defining and addressing local concerns is crucial, and holding open houses, distributing questionnaires and establishing community advisory groups can be effective ways of doing so. “LNG proponents, often experienced in large-scale projects built in small, rural communities, are being proactive as they consider the impact their projects may have in Kitimat,” he adds.

Invest in the community
It’s also key to invest directly in the community itself. Germuth points out that the increase in activity and influx of people can strain local services and infrastructure long before the municipality benefits from taxation on the project. Gestures such as funding new medical equipment for the local hospital or establishing scholarships for students can go a long way toward procuring good will.