This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Robin Rorick, VP of Midstream Policy at API and active midstream conservationist, discussing how proper management of right-of-ways can help both the industry and the environment.
In this episode, you will learn about how right-of-way management and conservation can work together to minimize human impact, which intentionally creates a protected habitat that gives the right-of-way added benefits.
Right of Way Management: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Robin Rorick is the Vice President of Midstream Policy at the American Petroleum Institute (API), the largest trade association of roughly 600 companies, representing all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry. Currently, Robin is responsible for all energy infrastructure issues for API, including the gathering, processing, storage, and transportation (i.e. marine, pipeline, rail, and trucking) of oil and natural gas. In addition to working on all policy issues facing the segment of the industry, Robin has recently led the establishment of an environmental conservation program for midstream operators and is facilitating the development of a low carbon energy infrastructure system for the U.S. Connect with Robin on LinkedIn.
- API (American Petroleum Institute): Since its formation in 1919 as a standards-setting organization, API has developed more than 800 standards to enhance industry operations. Today, it is the global leader in convening subject matter experts to establish, maintain, and distribute consensus standards for the oil and natural gas industry.
- Check out API.org or email Robin at email@example.com for more information about right-of-way conservation programs.
- Learn more about API’s partnership with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever on Habitat Enhancement on Pipeline Rights of Way & Industry Facilities.
- Upstream is the operation stage in the oil and gas industry that involves exploration and production.
- Midstream is the processing, storing, transporting, and marketing of oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids.
- Downstream is the process involved in converting oil and gas into the finished product, including refining crude oil into gasoline, natural gas liquids, diesel, and a variety of other energy sources. The closer an oil and gas company is to the process of providing consumers with petroleum products, the further downstream the company is said to be.
- Pipeline Right-of-Way is a strip of land encompassing buried pipelines and other natural gas equipment allowing them to be permanently located on public and/or private land to provide natural gas service.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rule-making, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) refers to the sustainability movement in oil and gas to continue operating safely, in compliance, and in a responsible manner to do no harm while achieving business objectives.
- O&M (Operation & Maintenance) is a comprehensive approach to performing pipeline tasks related to the operation and maintenance of gas and liquid pipeline systems. A robust O&M program provides personnel with the knowledge and understanding of each situation to enable them to correctly assess the situation and take corrective action.
- IVM (Integrated Vegetation Management) is generally defined as the practice of promoting desirable, stable, low-growing plant communities that will resist invasion by tall growing tree species through the use of appropriate, environmentally-sound, and cost-effective control methods. These methods can include a combination of chemical, biological, cultural, mechanical, and/or manual treatments.
- Social License to Operate (SLO) refers to the ongoing acceptance of a company or industry’s standard business practices and operating procedures by its employees, stakeholders, and the general public.
Right of Way Management: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 236, sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, driving safety, environmental protection, and sustainability across the natural gas and oil industry through world class standards and safety programs. Since its formation as a standard setting organization in 1919, API has developed more than 800 standards to enhance industry operations worldwide. Find out more about API at API.org.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time. To show our appreciation, we give away a customized YETI Tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is David Gigliotti with the DDS Companies. Congratulations, David. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this prize, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week, Robin Rorick, VP of Midstream at API, joins us to talk about right-of-way management and its cross section within environmental conservation.
Robin, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Robin Rorick: Thanks. It’s great to be here with you.
Russel: Before we get into this, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got to, and what your role is there at API.
Robin: I’ll be happy to. Before I do that, let me thank you for the great work that you’re doing, Russel, in helping the industry and helping to communicate, and talk about the latest and greatest within the industry.
The work that you’re doing is critically important for us. It becomes critical, I think, as we look to the future and have these discussions. First, thanks to you for doing the work that you do.
Russel: Thanks, Robin. I appreciate that.
Robin: About me a little bit. I’ve been at API now for 25 years. I actually started in our communications group. Then bounced around. I’ve worked at this point in every segment of the industry for API. Then I spent a little time in upstream as well as downstream. I did some maritime work for a while.
In 2015, API had been doing midstream work for a while, but it was scattered. Then our executive community and board recognized around 2014, 2015 that there is an incredible focus on midstream operations and how critical it is that API get a little bit more focused and engaged.
They created a midstream segment in 2015. I was asked to run that. I’m currently the vice president for our midstream policy work. That means that I just oversee all the policy work for everything that has to do with moving and storing oil, gas, and now, low-carbon energy.
Russel: Awesome. That’s very interesting. I asked you to come on to talk about right-of-way management and environmental conservation. I’m just going to ask the question right off the bat here. Right-of-way management and environmental conservation, how do those things even come together?
Robin: It’s a great question. If you look at the evolution of our industry over time and the evolution of how our industry presents itself over time, for the longest time, our license to operate was really dependent, largely, on our safety performance. It’s a pretty simple formula. We have incidents, we lose our social license to operate.
I think that still exists today, but that aperture has gotten a lot wider nowadays. Now, our social license to operate is still based on safety, but now we have to address all of these other issues like environmental performance, climate change, community engagement, and a whole host of other issues.
The conservation management component of right-of-way management is really just expanding industry’s commitment to manage its right-of-way in a manner that focuses on conservation, improves community engagement, and ultimately, allows a company to check off a lot of these boxes to maintain their social license to operate.
We believe, too, when we start to establish an entire narrative for the industry that demonstrates our commitment to community engagement and environmental performance.
Russel: How would you characterize the current approach to right-of-way management? This is something that we as an industry have been doing for a long time. I might just say this and ask you to comment on it. My understanding, and I’m certainly no expert in this domain, is that the approach is, typically, mow it, and make sure there’s no erosion. That’s it.
Robin: I think that’s right. There’s this stereotype that’s been set for both companies but mostly for the right-of-way owners that a well-maintained right-of-way looks like a golf course. It’s got a smooth patch of grass. That certainly falls into regulatory compliance.
PHMSA, as the federal regulator, dictates that companies have to maintain their right-of-ways, but they give quite a bit of latitude to how that’s being done. What we are essentially doing is still maintaining the right-of-way so that there’s regulatory compliance. Now, companies are able to manage their right-of-ways with a conservation habitat mindset.
The bad news is that we’re probably a little bit behind on the issue. The good news is that we have the opportunity and the benefit of looking at what’s already been done. The electric utilities have already done a lot of work in this space. We’re just expanding it into oil and gas pipelines.
Russel: That’s right. The interesting thing about electric utility right-of-ways is they’re more obvious because everything’s above ground. Ours tend to be less obvious because everything’s below ground.
The other question I want to ask you, Robin, is let’s talk a little bit about conservation, what it is, and that sort of thing. I’m a Boy Scout. I was a Boy Scout as a kid. I am still active in the Scouts as an adult. It’s one of the many things I do to just nurture my joy, if you will.
Of course, the Scouts are very much about the outdoors. It’s very much about conservation. Typically, when you think about conservation, you’re thinking about managing the outdoors so that human impact is minimized and other habitat is intentionally created.
That’s a little bit of an outside-the-box way of thinking for a pipeline operator when they think about their right-of-way. Would you agree with that comment? What do you find when you’re out there talking about this?
Robin: Russel, I would mostly agree with that comment. When I say mostly, I agree with all of the content that you’ve said. Every right-of-way manager that I’ve talked to, and I’ve talked to quite a bit, and every industry person, all the way from the executives all the way down, every one of them has considered themselves an environmental conservationist.
This is the truth, I’ve never met someone in our industry who has not thought that the environment was critically important and that conservation was critically important. All we’re doing is we’re tapping into people like you who have that love and that passion for the outdoors, and we’re applying it to right-of-way management. Oftentimes, the biggest obstacle that we have to overcome is this concept of this expectation that doing this either, A, takes up lots of time or, B, takes up lots of money or, C, both.
We believe, and again, taking the lead from a lot of other industries and companies out there, that companies can, in fact, manage their right-of-ways with a more habitat, environmental conscious manner at cost to what they’re doing now, and most of the time, at a lesser cost to what they’re doing now.
Russel: That makes a lot of sense to me. Anybody who’s in the outdoors and involved in conservation, one of the big things you look at is using native species of grasses, trees, and shrubberies versus things that may already be in place but are not native species.
My experience about this is mostly in Texas, but a lot of the grasses we have are non-native grasses. They require more water. They require more care. Whereas if you can move to native grasses, they require a lot less attention.
Robin: That’s right. Actually, oftentimes, what we’re finding, a couple of things. We’re finding that companies, when they’re replanting, they’re just planting grass that will grow because nobody likes to see just a brown strip of land. Makes total sense. Then just the constant mowing. Oftentimes, that encourages the growth of invasive species and non-native plants when, in fact, you want to get those out and you want to grow the native species.
There are huge opportunities here where by growing the native species, instead of just grasses which have fairly shallow root systems, you’re able to grow native species that have deeper root systems that don’t impact the pipe in any way. With deeper root systems, you’re able to prevent erosion. You’re able to take up more carbon dioxide so they actually act as better sinks for carbon dioxide.
You’re able to support local animals, whether it’s bugs all the way up to whether they’re predators or larger species like deer or turkey. It’s not just about the bunnies and butterflies, I say, as much as that’s an important aspect. There are all of these extra benefits that come along with it.
If done the right way, companies have an incredible opportunity to get involved with their communities, move away from these transactional relationships, and demonstrate a long-term relationship and long-term commitment to maintain the environment so that you develop relationships with hunters if you have hunters in your area, with schools who may be interested in environmental science programs, with local garden clubs if that’s what you want to do. Or if you don’t want to do that, then you just have an opportunity to develop a really good narrative for your company about how you’re actually committed to environmental protection, and show it through tangible action.
Russel: Do you have any experience with any particular projects that come top of mind for you about where this has been done really well?
Robin: We’re actually working with a company down in South Louisiana. That’s the other great thing about this program. We’re trying to establish a program that provides consistency. It allows easy access to information and a process that’s repeatable but, at the same time, is completely flexible so that companies can do as much or as little as they want.
Down in South Louisiana, we’re working with a company to plant native species as opposed to just growing grasses, because they have huge erosion problems down in South Louisiana, as I’m sure you and everybody else is aware that listens to your podcast.
By growing these native species, you get these deeper root systems that it’s able to hold the soil a lot better and much better erosion control. That’s really the focus of their efforts down in South Louisiana.
Working with another company up in Pennsylvania whose pipeline runs right through the habitat of an endangered species of hawk. They’re taking a five-mile section of their right-of-way that runs this endangered species of the hawk. This particular species of hawk is interesting. The females eat on rodents. The males eat on birds that are flying in the air. They’re able to design their right-of-way in a manner that supports a habitat that lets the females have access to rodents and then supports the birding population so that the males can have access to it.
Now, what we’ve done is you’ve taken a right-of-way that supports an endangered species habitat. Now, your right-of-way is providing incredible benefits. Even those people who oppose the right-of-way are going to think twice about actually talking about removing the pipeline and not having the right-of-way there.
Russel: That’s really interesting. I’m sure that people listening to this are going to go, well, for me, the wheels turn in my head a little bit. What’s the opportunity and the possibility here? The hawk project to me is more interesting than the grasses project in Louisiana. I just think because it’s a little bit more complex.
What I have to do to nurture those hawks is I have to nurture what they need for nesting, what they need for eating, and with the males and the females eating different things. I’ve got to nurture ground critters. I’ve got to nurture other kinds of birds. We’ve got to do the things that those other animals find attractive. That, to me, would be a pretty cool area.
Is that closed off to humans? Are there any hiking trails or any of that stuff in that environment? How did that work out?
Robin: Part of it is closed off because it’s on some state lands or there’s just not easy access. For that particular project, it’s pretty fascinating because there’s another component of that right-of-way that runs right past a jogging trail or walk path, towpath type thing.
It provides an incredible opportunity for this company to put out signs that talk about environmental conservation, talk about the endangered species, and talk about the role that that company is playing in supporting and, in fact, growing that endangered species. This is providing it a great opportunity. Again, when you listen to it, you see all of these benefits. I’m guessing that a number of your listeners will probably say, “Well, we don’t have the expertise to do any of that work. How do we figure it out? How do we start?”
Russel: That’s where I wanted to go next in the conversation, is ask the question for somebody who is managing right-of-way and wants to have an understanding about how you do one of these programs, where do you start?
Robin: That’s exactly why we’re taking a program versus a project approach, because what this company is doing is, essentially, they’re coming to work with API. We’ve created a partnership with a conservation organization called Pheasants Forever. They’re headquartered up in the Midwest.
Despite what you would hear from their name as far as Pheasants Forever, they’ve got a subsidiary called Quail Forever. They have over 200 wildlife biologists that are scattered throughout the country. They specifically focus on habitat management, not just for pheasants and quail, but for any type of species. They have wildlife biologists. In this case, this company is going to partner with Pheasants Forever, who has essentially got the wildlife biologist that’s going to come in, work with the company, and figure out what their needs are. Then they have experts that understand this Harrier hawk species, the endangered species, and they’re going to develop a plan.
When they develop the plan to manage their right-of-way, it’s not a one and done. It’s not a “Here’s the plan, you take it, company. Now, you pay us the money and you do it.” They’re going to work with the company to massage that plan and get it to a point where the company’s comfortable with the cost, comfortable with the deliverables, comfortable with the timelines. When everybody’s good, then they’re going to implement. Again, I believe, Russel, we can do this in a way that makes it easy for the company to participate, and doesn’t increase time noticeably. Or if it does increase time, there’s a return on that investment of time. It can be done either at cost or at less cost.
I can guarantee you that there’s going to be a return on that investment that’s going to be sustained. It’s not going to be a one and done. The company is not going to give a bunch of money and then rehabilitate something and then they’re done. There’s going to be a constant commitment for this company. It’s actually going to reduce work from the company because we’re moving from a straight mowing concept to this concept of integrated vegetation management.
Russel: Interesting. I guess the moral of this is find a partner that’s a conservation group and work with them. API’s already set up a, “Here’s a template for how to do that and here’s a place to go.”
Robin: That’s exactly right. We’re doing it in such a way too, where if you had a pipeline and you came to me and said, “Robin, we’re happy to work with you, but we’ve got a great relationship with the local conservation organization.”
I would say, let’s pull them into the program and make sure that they have a critical role if they’re not out front. The program is flexible enough to allow that to happen.
Russel: I would think that would be a critical aspect. What that allows you to do is it allows you to build relationships outside of just operating the pipeline. It allows you to build relationships with the community and with the stakeholders that have an interest in those right-of-ways, and how they’re maintained, and all that stuff.
That, being a collaborative thing with the community, I could see where that’d be hugely beneficial for all kinds of reasons.
Robin: You may find this hard to believe, but oftentimes, the oil and gas industry does not have a whole lot of credibility associated with its name. I say that tongue in cheek. It’s a shame because I believe, as I’m sure all your listeners do, if they really were to understand this industry, there would be a great deal of credibility.
Perception’s reality. What this enables you to do is it enables you to establish a relationship. It’s not a company making its own assessment, designing its own plan. It is, but they’re working with an outside firm, or conservation organization, that has expertise in this.
There’s value in that relationship. From there, it actually makes engagement with state agencies easier, local agencies, other groups, and federal…
Russel: When you start talking about stakeholder engagement and public awareness, and getting people educated about pipelines, and what all those rules and processes are about. We’ve got right-of-ways in my neighborhood. They’re just open green spaces behind fences that generally provide no benefit to the neighborhood. They’re just space, right?
Being able to do something with that, that’s useful and beneficial, and the neighborhood association is participating in, turning that into hiking trails or biking trails, or a habitat, or whatever, I could see where just the process of doing that could be extremely helpful in terms of your whole stakeholder engagement program.
Robin: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s why I said before, it’s not just about the bunnies and the butterflies, though, that’s a critical component. If this is done right, you’re engaging with the community to figure out what is that the community really needs, what makes sense.
You bring up a great example. If you engage with the community and they say, “We love what you’re doing with nature. We would love to have a way to get access to it and engage with,” then great, then maybe there’s an opportunity to put in a walking path or running path, or biking trail through there.
Maybe there’s an opportunity to partner with a school, and then engage with the school and talk about environmental conservation. If you live in an area that’s got a lot of hunters, maybe there’s an opportunity to work with the hunters and say, “We’re going to grow a species of plants that supports deer and turkey in your area so that we’re making that population grow and helping you with the hunting.”
One of the biggest obstacles is thinking a little bit outside of the box to think about how this can be done, right?
Russel: Yeah. I could certainly see that. That goes to one of the other questions I wanted to ask: what’s the challenge for operators to put these kinds of programs together?
Robin: Of significant challenge. I think one, and the most obvious one is just this is a culture change for a lot of companies and a lot of people. We see it often that there are folks within the industry who have been doing a great job managing right-of-way. They’ve been doing it the same way for 10, 20, even 30 years. We’re asking people to change, to consider doing things a little bit differently. Change can be really challenging at times, especially getting alignment within the companies.
What we’re seeing is that at the executive level, there’s a lot of support for these programs because a lot of these executives are focused on issues, in addition to safety, like maintaining their company and the industry’s reputation.
There’s this big focus these days on the ESG (environment and social governance) reporting, and trying to find ways where you can improve your ESG reporting requirements. That’s a very different objective than a right-of-way manager whose task is to maintain a right-of-way, staying sure that they’re within compliance of the regulations, and do it at minimal cost as possible.
Getting alignment there can be a bit challenging. Then, as I mentioned before, making sure that you have access to the resources, not just the dollars, but also the expertise and the knowledge, and how you do that. We believe that taking this programmatic approach helps check that box a little bit, or it checks that box for you because you’re able to get access to those resources. As I said, and as I keep beating the drum on this one, we believe that you can do this in a way that is at cost to what is being spent now, if not even less.
I’ll also say that in some cases, taking an environmental approach may be just doing an assessment and mowing your right-of-way outside of the breeding season for birds. You’re not going in and mowing when there are a bunch of ground-nesting birds, and just mowing outside of a three- or four-month stretch. Even there, you’re taking a conservation approach in the most simplest form. You could go as far as managing an endangered species.
Russel: I wasn’t even thinking about something as simple as just looking at your current O&M programs and how do you do them to minimize impact on the environment.
We tend to think about right-of-way as what am I trying to do with the right-of-way. I’m trying to keep it clear, trying to make sure nobody’s on it that shouldn’t be on it in a way they shouldn’t be on it. I’m trying to make sure it’s available for when I need to do inspections and all those kinds of things. That’s about as far as we typically go.
Those tend to be our governing concerns. The idea of making one of those governing concerns to “Well, I want to also do this in a way that’s beneficial to the environment and to the community that is around it.” I could see where somebody could make that just blow up in their head as a lot more than what it necessarily might be.
Robin: When you think about it, a lot of right-of-way managers these days spend a lot of their time and more and more time finding ways to engage with the local communities. I speak to a lot of groups and I often ask them, “How many miles of pipeline do you think we have in this country?” It’s fascinating. I would encourage you and your listeners to do the same thing as they’re at a party or something and just start asking people, “How many miles of oil and gas pipeline do you think we have in this country?”
The answers that you get are amazing. It’s 5,000 miles, 10,000 miles. Every now and then, you’ll get someone who thinks they’ll be funny and they’ll say, “Oh, we have 50,000 miles of pipeline in this country.” When you actually tell people, “Well, believe it or not, we’ve got 500,000 miles of transmission pipeline in this country, 300,000 of which is natural gas, 200,000 is liquid, and then when you add in gathering and distribution, that number goes up to 2.8 million miles of pipeline,” people are just floored.
What that does is it tells me two things. One is that our industry has done a fantastic job of not only building an incredible pipeline infrastructure system in this country, but we maintain them in an incredibly safe manner because people don’t even know that they’re there. Oftentimes, they’re running through their backyards.
The other thing that it tells me, too, though, is that people don’t know that we’re there. We’ve done a great job of building these pipelines under the radar. Not intentionally, that’s just the way the process has been.
These days, as everyone knows with social media, especially if you got a couple of teenagers like I do, you can’t do anything without everyone knowing about it, whether it’s certainly installing a pipeline, but even a repair job gets everybody’s attention. This is really a way for a company to demonstrate its putting its best foot forward and maintaining a commitment to the community environment.
Russel: To me, this is an interesting part of the conversation. I’ve got some family up in the Portland, Oregon area. I was visiting them and they asked me, “Russel, what do you do?” I’m talking about what I do with pipelines, software, control rooms, and all that. They go, “Oh.” I said, “Do you guys have pipelines up here?” They go, “Oh, no, no, we don’t have any pipelines.”
They have all kinds of pipelines. They got pipelines all up and down the whole Columbia River Basin. There’s multiple liquid terminals. You’ve got major natural gas infrastructure up there. They have pipelines all over the place, but nobody knows because, by and large, they’re out of sight, out of mind. The only way they know about them is somebody’s doing work or if something happens.
Robin: That’s right.
Russel: It’s fascinating.
Robin: Oftentimes, the first experience that folks have with a pipeline company is when there is an incident. That’s not the best time to start your relationship with the landowner, right-of-way, or even a regulator for that matter.
Russel: No. That’s certainly true. We’ve talked a little bit about cost. Can you tell us any more and elaborate what the life cycle cost of this approach looks like in the general terms?
Robin: Generally speaking, when we’re talking about right-of-way management, and we talked about “conservation,” and I’ve gotten air quotes around that term conservation, the acknowledged best method is to use this process called integrated vegetation management, IVM. What that is is it’s using herbicides to manage your right-of-way.
Let me just stop there because oftentimes, people, both within our industry and outside of our industry, automatically say, “Herbicides? They’re terrible for the environment.” We have to correct people and say, “Herbicides are not pesticides.” People tend to think DDT and all that sort of stuff. Herbicides are used all over the world to manage crops and manage vegetation.
There are a number of companies out there that can help create herbicides for specific purposes. What you’re doing is you’re assessing your right-of-way, creating an herbicide, almost like a cocktail or a specific designed herbicide that will go in and keep away certain species. It will kill invasive species, keep away invasive species, keep down and prevent woody plants from growing because you can’t have any trees growing in a right-of-way. It will enable the native species and the “desirable” species to grow.
When you apply herbicides, typically, when you apply them the first time is by a broadcast application so you’re hitting the whole right-of-way. After that, you’re reducing the amount of herbicides. Every year, you’re reducing the amount of herbicides. Your goal, within a couple of years, two to three years, you’re just sending someone through with a backpack who’s coming in and spot treating individual plants that you don’t want to grow, because your goal ultimately is to have nothing but native species growing.
You’re dialing back, if not stopping, your herbicide use because then your native species are outcompeting all of the invasives and the undesirables at that point. Maintenance at that point for the operator is just coming in once every year, once every couple years with that backpack applicator just to hit undesirable species. That’s why I say often, just about in all cases, we’re able to do this at a reduced cost.
Russel: That makes a huge amount of sense to me. I’ve often wondered if I could come up with a way to put native grasses on my lawn.
Robin: I’m sure there’s something there, too.
Russel: There’s probably somebody that’s doing that already in certain places. I don’t know if that works where I’m at.
What are the primary benefits of this? We’ve talked a lot about different things.
One thing we probably ought to underscore is social license to operate. Why don’t you give me a definition of, if you would, a social license to operate and then talk about how this helps strengthen that license?
Robin: In its simplest term, the social license to operate is really how well the organization, the company, or even for that matter, the industry is seen by the local communities, whether or not there’s this permission. It doesn’t have to be a formal permission, but there’s acceptance for the company to be operating in a particular area.
The social license to operate now, the industry is under incredible scrutiny. Right, wrong, or whatever. It is what it is. The industry is under incredible scrutiny to show up in these communities in a way that demonstrates that, one, if we are saying that we’re engaging with the communities, doing so in a way where it’s not transactional.
What do I mean by that? Think about this. You have a neighbor on either side of you. One neighbor, you only talk to them when you have to talk to them. If your kids knock a ball on their yard, then you talk to them. The other neighbor, you’re getting together with them on a regular basis and chat with them at the fence. Then you do something dumb in your yard. I’m guessing the neighbor that you only talk to when you have to is going to be a much tougher relationship to get over than the neighbor that you have a long-term relationship with and a regular relationship with.
What is important and critical for companies in our industry when they’re maintaining right-of-ways is to have those non-transactional but long-term relationships with their communities. This is a way for them to do that. It’s a way for them to say, “Look, we are here. We are part of your community. We care about the environment. We’re with you all the way. Our pipeline is expected to be here for decades and we expect to be a partner with you for decades. Here’s a way for us to do this.”
There’s a company I know that had a right-of-way and they were having an incredible problem with one of their landowners who just couldn’t stand the fact that there was a right-of-way outside of his backyard. The pipeline company was going through and applying, as I was talking about, some herbicides to the right-of-way to maintain invasive species.
At one point, the landowner said, “Wow, what are you guys doing?” Came at them somewhat in an antagonistic fashion. They told him, “We’re over here trying to get rid of all these invasive species.” He said, “You know, I got the same problem in my yard.” The company said, “Well when we send our guys through, we’ll just have them stop by your yard and hit those invasive species.” It was a vine. “We’ll have them hit that that’s in your yard, too, because if it’s in your yard, it’s going to come in our right-of-way.”
The guy said, “OK, fine.” They went through. When they were doing their normal application, they hit the little bit of land that he had there and took care of his invasive species, and the guy was much more supportive going forward. It’s a great example of just how that engagement can work in your favor.
Russel: An effective right-of-way management is really a partnership with the people that are adjacent to it.
Russel: If done well, that’s what it is. Anytime you have those relationships, I’ve always said the best security system in the world is nosy neighbors.
If you’re worried about stuff happening on your right-of-way that shouldn’t happen on your right-of-way, it’s certainly handy to have relationships with the homeowners where they feel like they can pick up the phone and call you if they see something they don’t like.
Robin: That’s exactly right. The other fascinating thing, too, here is we rolled this program out about two, three weeks ago, but we’ve been doing a lot of work in this space for the better part of this year.
We started rolling this program out to the state agencies and even to some legislators up in the Midwest, because there’s a great deal of interest in pipelines in the Midwest, both in a good way and in a bad way, from these public sector folks. We rolled this conservation program concept out to them. I thought they’d be interested in it. What has been fascinating to me, Russel, is that they have jumped all over this. We’ve had multiple states come up to us and say that they want us to come engage with them. They’ve been very aggressive about coming to us and saying we need to engage with them. They would love to have projects that they could point to, and that they’ve even got some money that they would be willing to toss not necessarily to companies, but to other third-party organizations to encourage their participation.
It was interesting because as I picked at that a little bit, I found out that these public sector folks often times are getting caught between their communities of which they represent, between those that support the industry and those that oppose the industry.
As you all are well aware, everything is so polarizing these days. Nobody’s going to oppose conservation. They very much want a story that brings people together on pipelines. They view this as a way to do that.
Russel: That’s fascinating. How do people find more information about this program?
Robin: They can certainly go to our website, API.org. They’re welcome to reach out to me and drop me an email about it. I’d be happy to chat with them about it.
Russel: Certainly, just for the listeners, we’ll put all that into the show notes on the episode page on the Pipeline Podcast Network website. If you want to look that up, please go to the episode and look it up.
Robin, thanks. This has been really interesting. I find this fascinating. I feel I need to find a project I can do locally.
Robin: Give me a call. We’ll help you out. [laughs] Thanks for the time, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, our conversation with Robin. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI Tumbler. Simply visit pipelinepodcastnetwork.com/win and enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: Finally, if you have ideas, questions, or topics that you’d be interested in hearing about, please let me know either on the Contact Us page at pipelinepodcastnetwork.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords