7 survival tips for resource leaders braving a ‘perfect storm’

Citizens need natural resource products as much today as they ever have. But the challenges to resource projects keep getting more complex.

It seems we are headed for a “perfect storm” of conflict on natural resource issues this fall. One seasoned commentator has serious concerns about what’s ahead and believes it's not so much a question of individual projects that are contentious: our very culture is shifting:

I’ve noted before that a Big Divide is cleaving British Columbians into two distinct and opposite camps: those who support the development of natural resources, and those who do not.

That Big Divide is becoming more entrenched and more noticeable. It will be permanently etched into our political and geographical landscape in the coming years, and it will not be an easy gulf to bridge.

You can check out Keith Baldrey's column here. 

Though these issues face British Columbia, which is the main focus of Resource Works, their impact is everywhere today. Some activists are boldly claiming that the west coast of North America is now sealed off to the export of energy products because of a permanent “thin green line” of opposition. There is even a strategy on how to up the ante across Cascadia.

In this climate, what hope is there for those who believe in jobs and economic growth, innovation, and the responsible use of resources? 

Here are some ideas for informing your leadership thinking during the coming storm season. 

  1. Build coalitions to tell our story better: By uniting under shared banners, we can broadcast to the world that there is broad consensus for the responsible resource development agenda. Many groups choose combative tactics to challenge resource development, yet even these groups know that when they come up against a strong coalition, it is time to scale down the rhetoric and enter collaborative dialogue for the common good. So let’s work on cross-sectoral alliances and partnerships. They are a low-cost, available means of showing strength in numbers. (If you think that resource opposers are not doing this too, think again: this recent job opening shows how one well-known activist group is hiring strategically to build coalitions. It's that important. Groups like Resource Works that are doing innovative work in storytelling, coalition-building and social media are increasingly an essential part of the picture.

  2. Be persuasive: The story of shale gas and what it has meant for the U.S. economy is brilliantly told in this paper from Harvard Business School and The Boston Consulting Group. It is jam-packed with information and effectively conveyed ideas. I have found it to be a great resource, particularly since the Canadian economy is also being transformed by low-cost, abundant energy (the chart here is from p. 17). August_17_2015.jpg A coalition approach to telling this story from a  Canadian perspective would be a worthwhile project. And why not take this approach to pipelines, mining and mineral exploration, forestry, oil and gas, and the commodity transportation sector? Takeaway: We need better and more research from a range of credible sources if there is to be any hope of making our case effectively.

  3. Show the links between resources and opportunity: Did you know that in British Columbia, a remarkable 70% of manufacturing sector GDP is resource-based? So said BC Statistics in a recent report. (Download here; see p. 12.) When resource industries are hurting, whether by the vagaries of commodity prices or by opposition to projects, the consequences ripple through the economy and create job losses and threaten investment. More citizens need to be aware that saying “No” may feel like a simple choice, but it is one that carries serious consequences.

  4. Drive a fact-based discussion about energy transition: At a time when it seems like everyone is an expert about how carbon emissions can be lowered, here is a refreshing, fact-based discussion of the energy transition issue that more people should know about. Thanks to Jock Finlayson of the Business Council of British Columbia for his sobering and informative analysis. 

  5. Stand up to misinformation: Just as important as genuine data is the need to challenge misinformation. When groups or individuals distort the truth, they should be called out. Check out this example of principled pushback against a flagrant misinformation campaign, in this case involving maritime transport of LNG. Another example is the blog of chemist Blair King, who brings his authentic personal voice and scientific authority to a range of technical issues involving resources. We need more of this. This look at safe oil transportation also provides a factual basis for analyzing an issue of ongoing public relevance. The recent Energy and Mines Ministers Conference brought to light some updated sources that have been collected together here.

  6. Learn from past experiences: We recently shared these lessons from the Great Bear Rainforest experience, a case where government, environmentalists and industry worked for decades to create compromise solutions. Talk about patience. It has taken until 2015 but now the final pieces are falling into place for GBR, a landmark achievement that preserves land area equivalent to 7,800 Stanley Parks. 
  7. Build supporters' confidence or risk losing them: A recent poll in British Columbia suggested that on the issue of fracking, even traditional bedrock resource supporters have been swayed by the information war being waged against hydraulic fracturing. The fact is that steady improvement is the story of natural-gas extraction technology and practice, yet its opponents never talk about innovation. Industries in the natural-gas value chain need to accomplish more with the innovation story. (Recently, during a tour of GE’s innovation centre in Calgary, I was blown away by the work being done to take water out the fracking process.) Bottom line: conditional supporters – those who acknowledge the need for responsible resource development but need to understand issues on a case-by-case basis – are looking for confirmation that their basic faith in responsible practice is well placed.

The public needs to see acknowledgement rather than dismissal of their fears. The “what’s in it for the future generations” question requires satisfactory answers. Addressing concern about lack of community control in decision making will help to connect economic and social agendas. 

There was a time when these issues were left to companies and governments with specific interests at stake. That time is behind us. Nowadays, it's all about politics and culture.

The broad benefits that flow to society as a whole from responsible resource development are in jeopardy. Collaboration and coordination are the leadership traits to be thinking about as we tackle complex problems that transcend technology and commerce.

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