Building trust: Social license to operate in the oil and gas industry

Building trust: Social license to operate in the oil and gas industry

Jhon Wajai, representative of COICA, sits down with Soledad Mills, our VP of Stakeholder Engagement, at the SPE conference.

The oil and gas industry faces a serious deficit of public trust. A recent study by the Reputation Institute asked 55,000 consumers to rank the world’s 100 most reputable companies among multinational businesses with a global presence; not a single oil or gas company made the list.

How oil and gas companies can build trust and maintain their social license to operate was a key topic at the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) International Conference on Health, Safety, and the Environment in Long Beach, California, this month. For more than 20 years, the annual gathering has been the premier health, safety and environment conference for the oil and gas exploration and production sector. This year’s theme, “The Journey Continues,” focused on how the industry has changed and the need for further change moving forward.

Equitable Origin’s CEO Stephen Newton was part of a panel at a conference plenary session entitled “What Needs to be Done to Maintain/Retain our License to Operate?” The panel, moderated by Jennifer Schneider from the Colorado School of Mines, looked at how the industry can improve public perception of its performance. Other panelists included Michael Engell-Jensen, of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, Allan Lerberg Jorgensen, of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, and Miriam Potter, of the French environmental NGO Robin des Bois.

Major themes of the session included communication, transparency, community relations and human rights. Panelists emphasized that a social license to operate is not something you can just take; rather it is something you have to earn, by creating value, protecting people and the environment, and respecting human rights. Panelists agreed that the only way the oil and gas industry is going to gain the public’s trust is to improve its performance, and to demonstrate this improved performance through increased transparency.

In his presentation, Newton reiterated the “overarching need to build trust” between the public and oil and gas companies, not just to improve perception, but because it directly impacts their ability to operate. He said a key way to build that trust is through credible third-party certification systems, such as the EO100™ Standard, which was designed with and for the oil and gas industry and with the participation of a wide range of stakeholders.