Local impacts and concerns, not global ones, drive most resistance to large infrastructure projects, new research finds—with lessons for clean as well as fossil energy development.
The University of Ottawa and the Canada West Foundation, funded by major fossil stakeholders including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Alberta Energy, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, and the Canadian Gas Association, examined more than half a dozen case studies of local opposition to energy developments, from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia to a wind farm in Quebec.
“Climate change bore hardly at all on local community attitudes in any of the cases,” wrote lead author Michael Cleland, a former CWF executive in residence and CEO of the Canadian Gas Association.
Based on “public opinion research and interviews with project opponents, proponents, and local authorities,” CP writes “the report found a ‘far more important’ list of concerns: safety; the need or rationale for the project; economics; local environmental impacts such as water contamination; poor consultation and communication; and local involvement in decision-making.”
Government attempts “to develop seamless one-stop shopping” for companies promoting energy developments, “simplifying the system and making it more expeditious,” have often backfired, the research found, merely increasing public skepticism about the legitimacy of decisions.
The study also corrected the impression promoted by many in the fossil sector that citizens are “ill-informed” about projects they oppose. “Energy literacy is not the issue,” but rather “the absence of trustworthy, timely, and impartial information” from project proponents. Alleged benefits such as jobs and resource revenue don’t necessarily outweigh other “deeply held values, such as a pristine environment, clean air, or anti-capitalist sentiment.”
Cleland noted that those concerns are not unique to fossil energy developments. “Cleanenergy infrastructure such as tidal power, wind farms, and hydroelectricity “may be as controversial as hydrocarbon energy at the local community level.”