With a background from Danish academia and her childhood in Greenland, Maersk Oil’s Environmental and Social Advisor for Greenland, Anne Merrild Hansen, has unique insight and understanding of what impact an oil adventure in Greenland could have on its society.
When oil companies enter new regions, the potential of the subsurface is often the central discussion topic reported. But this is not the only aspect companies investigate at new locations.
The local communities and society are also taken into account. Associate professor at Aalborg University, Anne Merrild Hansen has been working part-time for Maersk Oil during the last two years, giving advices on environmental and social questions.
“The formal approval from the governments and authorities are only one aspect of a country entry. Companies also have to examine the culture, community and people, to get know what impacts its potential future business might have. This can be positive opportunities or negative impacts, but no matter what, companies need a ‘social license to operate’,” says Merrild Hansen.
“Anne brings a very significant amount of knowledge to our organisation. Maersk Oil has not yet decided whether to drill in the Baffin Bay. Still it is very important to understand the country we work in and how our activities impact the surroundings. With Anne’s insight we have a better foundation to plan Maersk Oil’s operation in the best way, to benefit the Greenlandic society the most. This goes for corporate social responsibility related activities and for our core business, which has influence on the society,” says Carsten Sønderskov, Managing Director for Maersk Oil in Greenland.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE FROM THE INSIDE
Three main drivers are identified as important for developing a region; the inhabitants, authorities and businesses. Academia often focuses on the first two, while the business knowledge lags behind.
“Some researchers only see the industries as the ‘bad guy’, trying to get money out of a region. I believe it is much more nuanced. Of course, a business has to see the potential and an opportunity to make a profit, otherwise it would not enter a region. But very many companies also have a clear CSR strategy and want to support developments for the regions in which they operate,” she says.
“Instead of just sitting at university, working on theories and interviewing people from the outside, I wanted to see it in practice. I think that people with my background can help connect the business with good intentions so effort can be spent in the best possible way and for the most benefit,” she says.
CSR IN THE FRONT LINE
Greenlandic regulations require that companies conduct a Social Impact Assessment before undertaking exploration drilling activities. With Merrild Hansen as project manager, Maersk Oil has been leading the cross-company effort to assess potential social impact and that has been an experience worth learning from.
Five oil and gas companies operating offshore of northwest Greenland, Maersk Oil Kalaallit Nunaat A/S, NunaOil A/S, Cairn Energy PLC, ConocoPhillips and Shell Greenland A/S, agreed to undertake a collaborative social baseline study. The inter-company collaboration is the first of its kind in Greenland and was received with great enthusiasm by the Greenlandic authorities.
Anne Merrild Hansen explains: “By collaborating closely, the companies sought to keep engagement high, while avoiding the stakeholder fatigue that could have resulted, had all the companies repeated the same activities and questions.”
The aim of collaborating widely was to build a strong understanding of how to manage potential negative impacts on one side and identify opportunities or potential positive impacts on the other. To create a sound baseline, community engagement and stakeholder involvement is necessary. The managers of the companies discussed their common need and decided to set up an advisory panel to make recommendations on how best to proceed.
“I think it has been critical that everyone feels ownership. We have managed to create a group of equals, in which a rich and informed conversation can unfold. To get to that point, it has been important that leading the work has meant taking responsibility for involving the other companies, rather than doing everything on your own,” says Merrild Hansen.
The work group strongly emphasised representation from all places that could be impacted by operations. In local newspapers, they called for local experts within social science and public health, and got many valuable responses. The local experts have been giving input and feedback to the draft report.
The group also used storytelling methods traditionally employed by anthropologists. For example, they handed out cameras for schools and created portrait projects to learn about what is important to local communities. They learned that kaffemik, traditional Greenlandic local coffee gatherings, are absolutely key to the exchange of information and positions. Therefore, if oil companies were to learn about the concerns of local communities, kaffemik was the place to go.
Local stakeholders have expressed satisfaction with the cross-company engagement, and the common public engagement is therefore considered a success. In the long term, the potential success will only be visible when or if operations commence. However, the setup and interaction between the companies during the Social Baseline Study has created a platform for debating these issues in the future.