PHOTO: Pauline Word, center, at a CAC meeting
Across the globe, we work with communities to establish open dialogue so that we can create and maintain inclusive, honest and mutually beneficial relationships with our stakeholders — those individuals and groups who are impacted by our business. These relationships are viewed as tangible, valuable assets critical to our business success.
In Texas’s Eagle Ford, some of this engagement occurs through forums like the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). An important advisory group for both the community and ConocoPhillips, the CAC is comprised of local leaders from DeWitt, Karnes, Live Oak and Bee counties. The group meets quarterly to discuss hot topics and industry matters including ConocoPhillips operations, environmental concerns, safety practices, emergency preparedness, community involvement and any other issues that are deemed important.
“It’s an open discussion forum that is based upon trust, respect and collaboration,” said ConocoPhillips Stakeholder Relations Director Harmony Jurkash. “We believe the CAC provides us with the opportunity to get a feel for the community pulse and gives us an open line of communication.”
Pauline Word is a charter member of the CAC. As a fifth-generation resident of Live Oak County, Word has seen firsthand the impact the development of the Eagle Ford shale basin has had on families and communities.
“People were concerned at first – there was an influx of people, more traffic. There were a lot of questions about fracking; no one knew what it was. There were also challenges since there weren’t enough places for the new people to live. The community liked the inflow of money but didn’t really understand the industry. The committee gives people an opportunity to ask questions, voice opinions and give feedback,” said Word.
In 2020, the CAC consists of 14 community members and six ConocoPhillips employees. The initial requested term of service is two years and vacancies are filled via nominations from the membership. Members are not compensated for their participation in the CAC and the committee is an advisory group, not a decision-making body. In the last year, the CAC has discussed topics such as water quality, road safety and emergency response.
“It’s also a great vehicle for us to gauge the thoroughness and effectiveness of our stakeholder relations and philanthropic efforts. We want to ensure that we are truly listening to concerns raised by people in communities and that our charitable dollars are being effectively spent to have the best impact,” said Gulf Coast Business Unit Vice President Erec Isaacson.
The CAC also provides ConocoPhillips with a source of information and insight into public opinion. Participation by our Stakeholder Relations advisors ensures that committee members can easily provide feedback to the company regarding ways to improve and enhance communication with the community.
Mark Veit, who is an assistant vice president at Cuero National Bank, joined the CAC in February 2020. He is a ConocoPhillips land and royalty owner who learned about the committee at an Eagle Ford Leadership Roundtable meeting.
“Shale and the fracking process have led to an amazing transformation in communities. Mostly good, but not all. The CAC sets the scene for two-way conversation, whether I have an individual concern or one for the greater community, and to clear up misinformation,” Veit said. He said he has experienced challenges related to local resource production, including increased traffic on roads that may cause accidents and additional wear-and-tear. He’s also noticed more litter near roadways.
One way we addressed these concerns was by instituting a multiyear road safety program, “Slow Down Don’t Trash Our Town,” which has provided training to over 900 employees, contractors and community members to change negative behavior around speeding and littering.
The CAC has helped address some of these concerns, noted member Kathy Oehlke. A 42-year resident of the area, Oehlke is active in the Chamber of Commerce, her church and the local Rotary Club, in addition to the CAC. She is also an instrumental part of fundraising and development of the Escondido Creek Parkway, a 20-acre nature park under construction in Karnes County. The project, managed by the City of Kenedy and the San Antonio River Authority, is projected to have amenities including walking and hiking trails, a playground, pavilion, amphitheater, splash pad, sports complex and a skate park. ConocoPhillips is the playground and horned toad habitat sponsor.
“All of the schools and churches in our area have done major additions and/or renovations because of the increased revenue resulting from oil and gas. This parkway will be the icing on the cake for our community,” Oehlke said.
In addition to regular meetings, the CAC has traveled to Austin to meet with lawmakers and discuss the responsible production of natural gas and oil. They also visited the Port of Corpus Christi to learn about the importance of the area for the oil and gas industry. As the third largest port in the U.S. in total revenue tonnage, the port is instrumental in positioning the U.S. as the largest exporter of energy in the world.
“During my time on the committee, I’ve learned a lot about how important the oil and gas industry is to our daily lives — not just here in my community but across the globe,” Word said.
Another way that the ConocoPhillips team communicates with stakeholders in the Eagle Ford is through “Leadership Roundtables,” which are forums aimed at engaging and sharing information with appointed/elected officials in our operating counties. They help convey information about current operations and community projects and provide another way for our Stakeholder Relations Team to listen to the concerns and suggestions of area leaders. Since they began in 2015, each roundtable has included presentations from ConocoPhillips subject matter experts on topics chosen by the local county judge. In one roundtable, a local superintendent expressed his concerns about industry truck traffic in and around local school zones. We took action by developing the Drive Safe: STOP for School Buses program. This initiative included safety presentations to remind employees, contractors and industry partners to follow the rules of the road to help keep children safe. After receiving favorable feedback on the Eagle Ford Leadership Roundtable, we have expanded the practice to our operations in the Bakken to discuss our development plans with local government and civic leaders and to collaborate on key issues.
“All of these forums are priceless opportunities to interact with our stakeholders and to get feedback on how we can be the best community partner,” Jurkash said.