Gas workers trained to be ‘Good Neighbors’
Citizen Telegram Editor
Pulling a gun on someone is usually not what most people do when arguments arise. But it happened to Hans Parkinson a few years ago, when natural gas development in Garfield County was booming and conflicts with landowners often occurred.
While no one was hurt in the incident, Parkinson, who has owned Big H Water Services in Rifle for close to 10 years, wanted to help his water truck drivers avoid any such possibility. And since gas development has slowed considerably since 2008, he agreed to be the first industry contractor to have his 25 employees become certified “Good Neighbors” through the Community Counts program.
“It’s just a good program,” Parkinson said during a brief “windshield” tour of gas facilities south of Rifle on Monday, Jan. 20. “You call the number and they do a great job of resolving problems. And it’s so slow now, it’s easy to run [workers] off if they make mistakes.”
The slowdown in gas activity is a good time to train workers through the program, said Community Counts part-time Executive Director Sher Long, who led the Thursday, Jan. 19, training. Long was a community relations manager for Encana between 2004 and 2012, and uses her experiences mediating disputes to help show workers how to avoid confrontations.
“As a general rule, the industry is not well trusted by those outside the industry,” Long told Parkinson and his employees. “We want to bridge that gap and build respect. The only way to do that is person-to-person, face-to-face.”
That process requires “an army of goodwill ambassadors,” she added.
“You are in the field every day and you can help as one of those ambassadors,” Long said.
Long said it’s important industry workers know how to get along with those they come in contact with, because “The industry has never experienced such public scrutiny as it does now,” she told the Big H workers.
“[Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking] has become a global issue,” Long added. “You have towns on the Front Range trying to legislate the industry out, so it’s important to get the message out now that we can work with communities. And right now, when things are slower, we have the time to get things in place.”
One common practice Long said truck drivers need to be informed about is when and where to use their “jake” brakes.
“Local governments cannot outlaw jake brakes,” she stated. “But that’s one complaint we’ve had quite a bit. Residents think drivers tend to overuse their jake brakes. So we relay those concerns to the contractors and the calls go away. But four or five months later, when the drivers rotate, they go back up again.”
Speeding, careless driving, gates left open on private property and rig lights that keep people awake at night are other common complaints, Long said.
Complaints also jump when a new company comes to the area, she added. Monument Transportation was one of those companies, Long said, but once company officials learned of the speeding complaints, the calls “changed to appreciation.”
Long also recounted how some 100 ranchers grew angry at how the industry was operating when activity was high. After convincing Encana executives to visit and talk to the ranchers, a potential lawsuit was averted.
Long said workers should never take a defensive stance when confronted by an upset resident.
“I guarantee that if you hold your cool, you will hold the power in the situation,” she added. “What you usually find that’s behind the anger is fear and once you get past that, you will make a lot of progress.”
The “Good Neighbors” pledge reads, in part, “As natural gas and oil producers, we further pledge to work in a respectful, collaborative manner with public officials, agencies, businesses and citizens, and to be responsive to the communities impacted by our operations.”
“If you’re still working in the Piceance Basin at this slow time, that means you are the cream of the crop,” Long told the workers. “You are ethical workers, so when someone from outside the area comes in, you can tell them ‘this is how we do things around here.’”
Along with Big H, Long said four other water haulers — A&W Water Services, Brady Trucking, H&K Trucking and Rain For Rent — had agreed to have their employees take the training this year.
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Jonathan Godes will serve another term as the mayor of Glenwood Springs.