Sundre Petroleum Operator's Group marks 20 years
When the Sundre Petroleum Operator’s Group (SPOG) started up in 1992 it was an exclusively industry-based organization, without community membership and with no plans to get the public at large on board.
But that all quickly changes after landowners and other Sundre-area residents came forward and asked to be involved – and the community members have played a key part in moving SPOG forward ever since, says Alice Murray.
The community affairs coordinator for Central Alberta for Shell Canada, Murray has been involved with SPOG since its inception 20 years ago.
“The community has very much formed the direction of SPOG,” said Murray, who is the current secretary on the SPOG board and a serving director with Synergy Alberta. “The community people have really directed the creation and development of SPOG over the years.”
SPOG is a registered society made up of oil and gas companies with operations in the Sundre area. It has associate members representing the various communities in and around Sundre, as well as representatives from government agencies and others.
A so-called synergy group, SPOG says it promotes awareness of oil and gas industry issues in the region through workshops, open houses, newsletters, company-public dialogue and other ways.
Murray explained that the community members have been instrumental in shaping SPOG’s direction, starting with an early call for a region-wide 1-800 number in the early 1990s.
“At that time we were writing the emergency response plan for the Shell (Caroline Gas Complex) plant and part of our licence that we got from the ERCB said he had to have a committee of community people help us write the plan,” she said.
“Those community people suggested that there needed to be a 1-800 number in the area that all the companies would participate in, a number that community people could call whenever they suspected there was an emergency and then all the companies could go out and check that it wasn’t them.
“From that the companies working together on the 1-800 number saw that there were other ways to cooperate and do things.”
Five years after SPOG started, the decision was made to have public representatives join the organization – and again it was community members who spearheaded that move.
“We had a communication meeting with the community where (James River area resident) Dave Brown suggested that community members be invited to become part of SPOG. It was a brilliant idea,” she said.
Today Brown is the first-ever non-industry member to be chairman of SPOG.
Since public members first joined SPOG, the organization has conducted more than a dozen Neighbour’s Day open houses, where residents can visit with company representatives, ask questions, and gather information about plans and projects.
As well, SPOG has hosted countless meetings between landowners and companies, all aimed at finding solutions and answers, she said.
“Before you had SPOG and other synergy groups, you could either accept what was happening or you could fight what was happening,” she said. “This gives an avenue where you can work together to create something better. From a personal point of view I say this works so well. It is a better way to work, to sit down and talk respectfully and come up with solutions.”
The SPOG 1-800 hotline has handled more than 1,700 calls over the years, including 1,300 odour complaints, most recently during the June 2012 Plains Midstream oil spill.
As well, immediately after the spill, SPOG was able to use its state-of-the-art geo-mapping computer program to identify companies in the area of the spill and, in turn, sending company representatives to investigate.
Tracy McCrimmon, SPOG executive director, echoes Murray’s comments, saying over the years that SPOG has developed a very good system for dealing with issues facing companies and the community, whether it’s facilitating meetings, getting responses to complaints and concerns, and informing residents of mishaps.
“We know there are tough issues and we are here to work with the tough issues, but in a manner where people can be heard and things can be worked through to find a win-win for everyone,” said McCrimmon.
“It is about creating solutions instead of just venting, and we get that people have to vent, but it’s not just about the venting and then walking out the door. We have a process that works and it’s tried and true.”
SPOG operates several subcommittees, including community affairs and mutual aid working groups that see a variety of stakeholders working together on issues and concerns, she said.
SPOG’s success over the years has not been restricted to the organization’s Sundre boundaries – in fact SPOG has become a model for other synergy groups across Alberta, Murray explained.
“Once we saw how well it worked here, other communities around the province started calling us and we went to other communities to talk about getting people from the community at the table and having respectful conversations and solving problems,” said Murray.
“Other groups started to spring up around the province and from that Synergy Alberta was created. Today there are 30 synergy groups in the province modelled after SPOG.”
There are plans to recognize the volunteers who have worked with SPOG over the years at 2012 Neighbour’s Day on September 14.
As well, Synergy Alberta will also be recognizing SPOG this year.
Although SPOG is now moving into its third decade, officials are not looking back too much – the work of living up to the SPOG vision of building “long-term relationships based on mutual trust, honesty and respect by way of sharing pertinent information to resolve issues for the benefit of all stakeholders” is ongoing, said Murray.
“You can never take a victory lap because issues keep coming up, but we are very well organized to deal with the issues,” she said. “We know that it works when you get people in the room, identify the issues, and talk about details, and then come up with solutions that work for everyone.”