... Pipeline Leadership Conference Highlights Low-Carbon Future

Pipeline Leadership Conference Highlights Low-Carbon Future

Pipeline Leadership Award 2021

More than 120 industry professionals attended the 2021 Pipeline Leadership Conference, Nov. 17-18, at the Embassy Suites — The Woodlands/Hughes Landing, in Houston, Texas. The event highlighted the role of “Pipelines and Distribution Systems in a Low-Carbon Future.”

Highlights of the conference were an in-depth look at what the “Energy Transition” means to the pipeline industry, the research surrounding hydrogen gas and potential policy decisions that could impact those in attendance and their businesses.

Returning to an in-person format after being presented virtually last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Seventh Annual Pipeline Leadership Conference presented a series of panel discussions related to the energy pipeline market, strategies for lowering carbon, socially responsible energy production and transportation, the introduction of renewables into pipeline infrastructure, policy and regulatory updates and more.

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The conference kicked off on Nov. 17 with a welcome message from Jim Hughes, officer of the Pipeliners Association of Houston and director of pipeline services for Hunt, Guillot & Associates, and Barb Varanauski, vice president of gas engineering at CenterPoint.

Charles McConnell, executive director of Carbon Management and Energy Sustainability at the University of Houston, warmed up the crowd with his keynote address, titled “The Energy Transition — Perceptions, Realities and What Matters.”

Pipeline Leadership Conference 2021 Keynote Speaker

McConnell argued that the mission of the energy transition is to reduce emissions. However, to achieve those goals, he said there are three factors that need to be considered equally: supply, affordability and environmental responsibility.

With hydrogen gas and carbon capture, usage and storage gaining traction in the market, McConnell added that pipelines will be necessary to bring such projects to fruition.

“There’s no substitute for pipelines for hydrogen and carbon capture,” he said.

The “Executive Perspectives and Market Overview” panel discussion continued to explore the impact of the energy transition on the pipeline industry. Led by moderator Mark Bridgers, principal of Continuum Capital, who provided a market overview that looked at what he called a “three gas solution,” comprised of natural gas, carbon dioxide and hydrogen, to lower energy emissions.

Bridgers explained that volatility in energy commodities prices will be used against the industry as an argument to move away from fossil fuels. He also noted that construction commodity prices, such as steel, were leading to some challenges in the market, while he projected rising investment in methane leak detection.

Panelists McConnell, Todd Denton, president of Phillips 66 Pipeline, and John Wilson, senior vice president of business development at EN Engineering, explored the notion of this new era of energy pipeline development as a new beginning for the industry.

The next panel discussion, “Moving on from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” addressed how the pipeline industry addressed the crisis while continuing to achieve high safety performance standards. American Petroleum Institute (API) pipelines managers Dave Murk moderated the discussion with panelists Michael Istre, project manager at The INGAA Foundation, and Meredith Wilson, vice president of operational compliance and risk management for Buckeye Partners.

The panelists said that the pandemic forced their companies to reevaluate their crisis management and business continuity plans, to prevent service disruptions and maintain safety.

The final presentation of the day was the “Socially Responsible Energy Production and Transportation” panel discussion, led by moderator Matt Todd, director of The Environmental Partnership at API, with speakers Stuart Saulters, director of government affairs for the American Public Gas Association (APGA), and Trey Shaffer, senior partner at ERM.

The panelists discussed strategies for the pipeline industry to reduce emissions, while improving environmental stewardship and overcoming opposition forces to continue supplying the critical energy needed to fuel the economy.

Pipeline Leadership Conference 2021 panel

Following the first day of speakers was the presentation of the annual Pipeline Leadership Award. This year’s winner was Denton of Phillips 66 Pipeline. He was featured on the cover of the September/October 2021 issue of North American Energy Pipelines. Murk introduced Denton and lauded his commitment to safety at Phillips 66 and throughout the pipeline industry.

Day 2 of the Pipeline Leadership Conference kicked off with a highly anticipated panel discussion on the introduction of hydrogen gas into the energy grid.

“The Hydrogen Revolution: Repositioning the Pipeline and Gas Distribution Industry for a Low-Carbon Future” panel was led by moderator Cliff Johnson, president of the Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), and featured speakers Brian Weeks, senior director of business development at the Gas Technology Institute (GTI), John Wilson of EN Engineering, Yuri Freedman, senior director of business development at Southern California Gas Col. (SoCalGas), and Nick Medina, public and stakeholder engagement manager at ExxonMobil Pipeline Co.

Johnson explained that policy was dictating technology development in the industry, not the other way around. He also provided a primer on the “rainbow of hydrogen” and its myriad sources. When it comes to energy pipelines, green and blue hydrogen are the two that impact the pipeline industry most. Green hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced through water and electrolytes, while blue hydrogen is sourced through carbon sources, such as natural gas.

The panelists explained that the key challenge to introducing hydrogen into pipelines is hydrogen embrittlement in steel pipes. However, researchers believe that hydrogen provides the best solution to lowering emissions, while maintaining the integrity of the energy grid.

The discussion also looked opportunities for pipeline contractors with increased development of projects related to renewable natural gas (RNG), specifically biogas sourced from animals, wastewater and landfills, as well as carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS).

The conference concluded with the “Policy Changes in a New Era of Pipeline Development” panel discussion, led by moderator Tony Straquadine, executive director of The INGAA Foundation, and featuring Saulters, Eben Wyman, president of Wyman Associates, and Sonal Patni, director of operations and engineering at the American Gas Association (AGA), who participated virtually.

Panelists discussed regulations such as the PIPES Act, as well as the $555 billion infrastructure bill (aka the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) and the Build Back Better campaign.

“Our members are excited about the infrastructure bill,” Saulters said, “but they’re worried about Build Back Better, especially the methane penalty.”

The 2022 Pipeline Leadership Conference will return to the Embassy Suites — The Woodlands/Hughes Landing, in Houston, Texas, on Nov. 15-16. Visit plconference.com for updates.

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