Posted by: cindystephenson | August 9, 2009

What would you advise EnCana – Part II


I blogged last fall about the EnCana bombings.

I opined that EnCana needed to do more to generate goodwill with the community of Tomslake, south of Dawson Creek B.C.

Noted expert in risk communication Peter Sandman wrote in a comment that I didn’t really address what he saw as a key issue in all cases of eco-terrorism: Should the company take any of the blame for attracting the terrorists’ ire and leaving the terrorists convinced that a nonviolent response would be useless?

Writes Peter:

Let me suggest an edgier strategy as well. I would advise EnCana to take some responsibility for these recent acts of eco-terrorism. Something like this: “We apologize to our Dawson Creek neighbors for provoking terrorism in their community. Obviously if we weren’t here, they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. And maybe if we had done a better job of building community relationships, they would find a less violent way to act out their concerns and convictions.”

The risk communication principle of the “seesaw” predicts that ambivalent people go to the side of their ambivalence that isn’t adequately expressed by others in their communication environment. I suspect many stakeholders are ambivalent about whether or not to blame EnCana for bringing terrorism to Dawson Creek. If EnCana were to start blaming itself a bit more, I would expect community people to get on the other side of the seesaw: “Those terrorists are not your fault! They’re way beyond the range of acceptable controversy! They should be caught and put in prison!”

–Peter Sandman

At the time of that post (Nov 5th) there had been three explosions.  There would be a fourth explosion in January and two more in July. The last one ruptured a pipeline.

Letter to EnCana

In July the perpetrator issued a second letter demanding that EnCana and its “terrorist pals” dismantle their plants, leave the area within five years, and use their excessive earnings to install green energy alternatives instead. There could be “no negotiation,” the bomber wrote, “FULL STOP!!”

To date, 250 police officers and special investigators have not been able to catch the bomber, and no one has responded to EnCana’s $500,000 cash reward. Last week EnCana doubled the cash reward to $1 million for information about the bombings.

Given these recent developments, it’s worth re-visiting Peter Sandman’s advice. Area residents know the industry has brought new wealth. Houses have tripled in value over the past decade, and there are lots of shiny new pickups. EnCana has worked to win them over.

Yet there have also been many comments in the media about the on-going tension and mistrust between EnCana and area residents. Not everyone likes the oil and gas industry. Some complain the oil and gas companies take too long to pay their bills; their trucks speed dangerously down local highways; their pickup trucks block driveways; and they fly in high priced lawyers to fight ranchers looking for small increases in land access fees. Many people – primarily property owners whose lands house the oil and gas wells – have publicly expressed sympathy for the bomber’s anger. And no one has come forward with information that would lead to the bomber’s arrest.

The reward money is not getting at the root of the problem, and an additional strategy is needed to help diffuse the issue. As Peter Sandman advises, EnCana needs to step up and take the blame and set up a better process for addressing issues.  He’s the first to acknowledge that accepting blame is profoundly counterintuitive – but he also stresses that it works.  He cites as evidence the case of Johnson and Johnson and the Tylenol poisonings.

Without that, residents may continue to allow the bomber to keep EnCana in check.

What do you think?

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