The inaugural Pipeline Leadership Conference got off to a roaring success, Nov. 4-5, at the University of Denver in Colorado. The event brought focus to overcoming industry challenges through leadership and collaboration.
Also as part of the conference, North American Oil & Gas Pipelines and Continuum Advisory Group presented the first ever Pipeline Leadership Award in recognition of industry innovation and advances in construction, operation and maintenance of oil and gas pipeline systems.
The conference drew more than 75 attendees representing the top executives in the industry to the Denver campus to discuss strategies to further develop oil and gas pipelines in North America. The robust presentation program focused on market forces, regulatory changes, safety and integrity management, as well as engaging stakeholders and land management issues.
Day 1 of the Pipeline Leadership Conference kicked off with a welcome message from Benjamin Media CEO and publisher Bernie Krzys and Dr. Barb Jackson, director of the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at the university, followed by an overview of the North American oil and gas pipeline and distribution market and the challenges facing the industry from a staffing perspective by Continuum Advisory Group principal Mark Bridgers. Low oil and gas prices are putting constraints on the industry, according to Bridgers, while an aging workforce is a question the industry must find an answer to refill the ranks with younger professionals.
“Companies need to balance the expectations that those 30 years old and under have for a career with the expectations of those age 50 and up,” Bridgers said. “How we attract 14- and 15-year-olds to enter the industry is a whole other question.”
Following up on Bridgers’ message was keynote speaker Chuck Shafer, vice president of engineering and construction at NiSource Inc., who highlighted his company’s “people-engineering strategy” to help train and bring in new talent to the industry, as well as to expand its in-house engineering capabilities. NiSource has also engaged in a contractor management program to build long-term relationships between its top construction partners by establishing multiyear, flexible agreements. Shafer also highlighted key enablers of how pipeline operators have been able to streamline efforts to replace aging infrastructure with the help of state regulators.
Other first day speakers included Lauren Tipton, a regulatory compliance engineer at New Century Software and that company’s Integrity Plus program, who discussed how companies better respond to federal and state regulatory changes; and David Messersmith, an extension educator at Penn State University’s Marcellus Education Team, who discussed engaging stakeholders via social media platforms.
The Land Management and Acquisition Panel closed the first day’s program. Each speaker was given a chance to speak briefly before discussion was opened to the audience. Moderated by Krzys, the panel included Holland & Hart partner Evan Randall, Cantafio Edington president and managing partner Ralph Cantafio, University of Denver visiting faculty member Patrick Fitzgerald, who leads the University of Denver’s Energy Land Management Certificate program, and TransCanada’s Andrew Craig, land manager for the long delayed Keystone XL pipeline. The panel experienced strong discussion regarding the project as news had just broke earlier in the day that TransCanada’s request to suspend permit review was denied. (President Barack Obama rejected the company’s Presidential Permit application two days later on Nov. 6.)
The first day of the Pipeline Leadership Conference closed with a welcome reception awards banquet dinner, where the first annual Pipeline Leadership Award was presented to Shafer, whose distinguished leadership qualities in heading NiSource’s $900 million capital improvement program earned him the honor.
“We’re proud to present the inaugural Pipeline Leadership Award to Chuck Shafer who has led NiSource’s impressive accomplishments in the oil and gas pipeline industry,” said Bernie Krzys, publisher and CEO of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines.
Pipeline Leadership Award was created to honor leadership initiatives and advances in the construction, operation and maintenance of oil and gas pipelines, including innovations in the construction process, design, procurement, contract administration, management, labor relations, training and safety that improve the global pipeline industry.
“We had many nominations for the Pipeline Leadership Award, but one candidate stood above the rest,” said Mark Bridgers, principal, Continuum Advisory Group. “Chuck Shafer and his team at NiSource really represent the ideal we set out to honor with this award by driving transformation and innovation in the pipeline industry through people, process and practice.”
Day 2 of the Pipeline Leadership Conference featured three panels that received strong audience participation, the North American Pipeline Infrastructure and Falling Oil Prices Roundtable, the Pipeline Construction Productivity and Collaboration Panel and the Crisis Management Response and Stakeholder Engagement Panel.
The Falling Oil Prices discussion was moderated by Bridgers and included Bentek Energy senior analyst Jeff Moore, Black & Veatch consulting director Rick Porterand GE Oil & Gas midstream director Daniel Loero. A main topic of conversation was where the “price floor” will be and when the industry can expect prices to rise again. One major driver of new construction, the panelists said, was Mexico, where the government has opened up foreign investment in energy infrastructure. The panelists agreed that prices are still likely to fall more before going back up.
The Productivity panel was moderated by Mike Prior, senior strategic advisor at Michels Canada, and included Miller Pipeline vice president Scott Miller, Michels Pipeline Construction senior vice president Bob Osborn, John Deere product manager Mark Oliver and Midwestern Mfg. executive vice president Joe Beffer. The panelists focused on strategies to improve productivity by collaborating with stakeholders and building partnerships between owners and contractors and between equipment manufacturers. The panelists said that such changes within the industry are often met with skepticism.
“I don’t think there’s a single person in here that likes change,” Miller said. “We always here, ‘That’s how we’ve always done it.’ But it’s getting those people to realize it’s not always going to be that way.”
The Crisis Management panel was moderated by Brad Kramer, managing editor of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines, and included Tallgrass Energy damage prevention coordinator Jennifer Reams, OSHA Compliance Services safety advisor Paul Andersen and Arizona State University engineering professor Dr. Samuel Ariaratnam. Much of the discussion focused on the events following the 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California. Panelists agreed that companies need to be proactive in maintaining safety and engage stakeholders to improve training practices.
Other speakers included Blair Morgan, president of Innovatia Inc., who discussed process safety in oil and gas transportation using software and technology; and Jim Chiarello, director at Pathfinder LLC, who discussed project execution and maintaining regulatory compliance.
The Pipeline Leadership Conference is organized by North American Oil & Gas Pipelines and Benjamin Media Inc., in partnership with Continuum Advisory Group and in cooperation with the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. The conference is directed toward top executives involved with building and operating oil and gas pipelines throughout North America.