Not in My Back Yard: Easing Community Concerns About Bulk Propane Storage

Every now and then the news media generates frenzy over what is statistically a very rare event ‘ particularly if it looks good on camera and/or has significant drama. These events happen on occasion to upstream fuel production facilities, or even a local bulk fuel storage facility. The fallout from that coverage might not seem apparent at first, but when it comes time to build a new storage facility, expand an existing facility or add storage for a new fuel offering the local marketer can some pushback.

Bulk storage facilities are a crucial part of the business whether you are storing heating oil, motor fuels or propane. With some fuels there can be environmental concerns as well as safety. With propane, the environmental concerns are likely minimized but the safety concerns’valid or not’can come to the forefront. And, in some cases environmental or safety concerns are simply the talking points used by people who have aesthetic issues with such facilities, even though they are typically located in commercial and industrial areas.

How a marketer manages these concerns can mean the difference between success and failure. For marketers looking to build a new propane storage facility, expand an existing propane facility or add propane to an oil storage facility the Propane Education & Research Council has developed a range of materials that can use to allay concerns and show that the industry is interested in being a good neighbor in the community.

‘Safety is our top responsibility at PERC,” said Stewart Flatow, the organizations vice president, safety and training. ‘Several years ago, and maybe to an extent today, you could find some pushback on the development and expansion of bulk plants. This came from people of goodwill, who had reasonable concerns, though they were often driven by myths and sensational television coverage. We felt they needed to be treated as adults, and not just told ‘don’t worry about it.’ So, we developed materials that propane marketers could use to speak intelligently to local governments and community groups during the permitting process, or to address any concerns that had developed after the facility was built.”

Flatow noted that marketers should adopt the approach of being a good neighbor. Treat your neighbors with respect, and talk to them about the many safeguards that are in place, the third-party certifications that are involved, the specifications and training requirements and the codes and regulations. Show them the statistics that support the industry positions.

‘It’s also useful to point out that these plants bring jobs to the community, and that in many cases the people running and operating the plants are involved in the communities in ways that might not be apparent,” said Flatow. ‘For example, some of these people may already be serving with a local volunteer fire department. These plants provide the community with heat, hot water and help support commercial operations. Many people in the community depend upon these plants. They help bring tax revenues to the community.”

Along those lines, Flatow suggested that being a good neighbor does not end when the construction ends. ‘We recommend the folks operating propane plants reach out to local first responders from the start, and with any event that might occur regardless of how minor,” he said. ‘It doesn’t hurt to have an open house, to show the community that you are a good neighbor and emphasize all of the safeguards that go into these facilities and the quality of training possessed by the people that operate them. They want to know that you have things in place, such as evacuation plans, should the highly unlikely ever occur.”

Of special note among the PERC materials are a brochure and an editable PowerPoint presentation, for use educating government and community groups. They outline the facts that counteract the primary fears and myths that might be present.
Here are some highlights from the material:

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