Guardian of Safety: Shawn Lyon Earns 2019 Pipeline Leadership Award

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Safety isn’t just a buzzword for Shawn Lyon. It’s a passion.

The president of Marathon Pipe Line LLC is widely considered a champion for safety management systems (SMS) in the pipeline industry and a proponent of building safety culture. He has been called Mr. SMS, and he advocates that pipeliners must serve as “guardians of public safety.”

Immediately following American Petroleum Institute’s publication of the Pipeline Safety Management Systems Recommended Practice (RP) 1173 in 2015, Lyon agreed to chair a liquid pipeline industry team focused on the new initiative, according to David Murk, API Pipeline Manager. Recognizing the transformative nature of RP 1173, Lyon led the industry’s aggressive implementation of Pipeline SMS until 2018.

Based on his leadership and advocacy on SMS and implementing API RP 1173, Lyon was asked to represent the liquids industry on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Pipeline Advisory Committee group focused on SMS, created in 2016.

Lyon’s leadership in the realm of SMS and safety culture is why he is the 2019 Pipeline Leadership Award recipient. This award was established in 2015 and is presented by Benjamin Media Inc., North American Oil & Gas Pipelines magazine and Continuum Capital. Lyon accepted the Pipeline Leadership Award at the Pipeline Leadership Conference, Nov. 6-7, in Houston.

As chair of the API team that was focused on implementing RP 1173, Lyon became a proponent of SMS and built collaborative support for improving safety industrywide. He recognized the need to secure commitment from all facets of the pipeline industry on implementing SMS, according to Murk, and proactively recommended the expansion of the team to include members of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), the American Gas Association (AGA) and the American Public Gas Association (APGA), as well as the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA).

“With this expanded membership, the team has brought in important perspectives,” Murk says, “which have helped shape the development of critical measurement tools and benefits to the majority of the oil and natural gas pipeline industry.”

Working with PHMSA has allowed Lyon to continue his collaborative efforts to bring transformational change in the realm of safety.

“With PHMSA, the industry, the public and regulators work together to improve safety,” Lyon says. “It’s one avenue for us to work together. It has been an honor to be part of that. When people come together for a common cause, when everything else feels so polarized, it’s inspirational.”

Lyon has served in a number of other leadership roles in the industry.

By appointment of the Secretary of Transportation, Lyon serves on the Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee, an advisory body to the U.S. Department of Transportation that evaluates proposed pipeline safety and environmental protection standards and informs policy initiatives.

Lyon also serves on the board of directors of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL), is vice chairman of API’s pipeline subcommittee steering group, serves on the API-AOPL pipeline safety excellence steering committee and is on the AOPL Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Policy Committee. Lastly, Lyon serves on the board of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) and as an owner representative for Marathon Petroleum’s interest in Capline, both of which are significant entities for U.S. crude oil infrastructure.

Previously, Lyon served on the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, by appointment of Gov. Rick Snyder, from 2017 to 2018.

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Shawn Lyon of Marathon Pipe Line LLC

Getting His Start

Lyon is in his 30th year at Marathon. In addition to president of Marathon Pipe Line (MPL), he is also vice president of operations for MPLX GP LLC, a master limited partnership formed by Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC) in 2012 to own, operate, develop and acquire pipelines and other midstream assets. Lyon first joined the company after graduating from Purdue in 1989 with a bachelor’s in construction engineering.
Throughout his career, Lyon has held numerous engineering management positions at Marathon before entering the leadership ranks in 2002. He was promoted to vice president of operations at MPL in 2011, prior to being named president in 2018.

Marathon Pipe Line and its affiliates have been expanding its pipeline network over the last eight years. In an August 2017 article, this magazine reported that the company operated approximately 6,000 miles of pipeline in 14 states. MPL has continued its expansion efforts and now operates 10,000 miles of pipeline in 25 states. In Lyon’s time as president of MPL, a big part of his role has been the integration of the Andeavor business assets that MPC acquired in 2018 for about $23 billion.

“I view Marathon Pipe Line’s place in the industry from two angles,” Lyon says. “First, as part of this great nation’s energy infrastructure, we have the opportunity to influence pipeline safety in the industry’s ‘drive to zero’ effort. We truly own that responsibility. Second, 99 percent of our assets cross other people’s property, and it’s our mission to maintain safe operations in the communities in which we operate. That’s why we consider ourselves guardians of public safety.”

A Passion for Safety

SMS is just one part of building a culture of safety, what Lyon calls “the X-factor” in ensuring company success and a crucial element in the pipeline industry’s mission to uphold the public trust of operating safely and reliably.

“If you’re in the pipeline industry, you need to maintain a healthy amount of chronic unease,” Lyon says. “We have a great responsibility to the public, and SMS is the way to ensure we guard their safety collectively.”

Working collectively is a critical component of implementing SMS and continuously improving safety culture.

“We work in an industry where we are viewed as one entity,” Lyon says. “High tide raises all boats, and low tide grounds all boats. We must work together.”

In addition to his work with groups like API and AOPL, Lyon has also been involved with the Pipeline Safety Trust, an independent watchdog organization that was formed in the wake of the Olympic Pipeline explosion that killed three boys in Bellingham, Washington, on June 10, 1999.

“We’re blessed to have a collaborative and successful partnership with the Pipeline Safety Trust,” Lyon says. “I know that through their efforts pipeline safety has been improved.”

The tragedy at Bellingham has become an integral part of Marathon’s safety culture. Lyon says that the death of the three victims — Liam Wood, 18, and Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas, both 10 — was a watershed moment for the pipeline industry. Lyon has gotten to know Wood’s stepfather, Bruce Brabec, a board member of the Pipeline Safety Trust since its founding. Lyon believes that relationship has helped MPL be a better and safer operator.

A few months before the 20th anniversary of the Bellingham incident earlier this year, Lyon received a letter from Brabec that he felt was so powerful that he got Brabec’s permission to share the message industrywide. That message was how a culture of safety would have prevented the Bellingham explosion and saved the life of Wood.

“His words were so impactful,” Lyon says. “His letter inspires me to keep doing the right thing.”

Brabec responded to an email request to comment on Lyon receiving the Pipeline Leadership Award. He described how they met.

“I met Shawn years ago at one of our annual conferences,” Brabec wrote. “I was taken in by his enthusiasm and earnestness about improving pipeline safety, particularly his interest in continuous quality improvement and safety culture.”

Brabec wrote that it was “no surprise” to him that Lyon was receiving the award. He noted how Lyon’s forceful enthusiasm is contagious in his advocacy for safety. Brabec also praised Lyon for being a good listener and humble about his accomplishments.

“Change often needs champions, and SMS and safety culture are big changes for the industry,” Brabec wrote. “Shawn has been a champion of continuous quality improvement, SMS and safety culture not just for Marathon, but also across the industry. He is not content being a champion; he wants to draw others in to be champions too.”

Brabec concluded his response with his thoughts on how Lyon will approach receiving the award.

“I don’t know if Shawn came up with this phrase about safety management systems,” Brabec concluded, “but he is certainly connected to it: ‘It’s a journey not a destination.’ That’s how I think he will view this award, ‘It’s just a part of the journey and not a destination.’”

Building Safety Culture

To Lyon, safety culture is the “secret ingredient” that drives a company — and the pipeline industry — on the journey of continuous improvement. He believes that safety culture has to be organically developed and include everyone in the organization to be successful. Each person must understand their role.

“You have to show culture in action,” Lyon says. “You want people to say, ‘I want to do that.’ It’s inspiring when you see folks living our culture 24/7 for the sake of being guardians of public safety. It’s humbling to watch.”

Lyon believes the pipeline industry is bound by a common mission.

“What binds us all together is we are guardians of public safety,” Lyon says. “That’s a higher calling for all of us.”

In that mission, Lyon says that the industry must learn from its failures.

“One of MPL’s cultural tenants is to be a premier learner,” Lyon says. “To do that, you have to embrace failure and commit to never forgetting. Not just in your lifetime, but forever.”

Those failures are what Lyon calls “premier learning opportunities.” Because the pipeline industry is viewed as a single entity, it’s critical that companies share their failures and lessons learned as means to improvement.

“Even if an incident didn’t happen to MPL, we make sure we know that it could happen to us,” Lyon says. “We have to work collaboratively within our industry for the benefit of pipeline safety.”

Although the industry has shown progress in its journey toward improving pipeline safety, Lyon emphasizes that there is still more work to be done. He says the industry must continue to “think big” to find new solutions to address safety, and it must “stay humble.”

“We have a responsibility to protect the public,” Lyon says. “There are huge consequences if we don’t. We have to be safe today, tomorrow and in the future. There are families that are counting on us.”

Lyon believes that continuing to communicate within the pipeline industry and engaging the public about pipelines, whether for or against, is critical for success.

“We have to talk to the people who are against us, engage and talk,” Lyon says. “It’s not about running to our corners, it’s about running to the middle.”

Lyon describes himself as “a leader in progress.” He insists he hasn’t achieved anything yet and that he’s learning every day. But he knows success requires collaboration.

“If you are in the pipeline industry, you have a responsibility to the greater industry to be a partner in making a difference,” Lyon says. “No one company knows all the answers. We have to be focused on helping each other.”


WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT SHAWN LYON

Willie Chiang | President, Plains All American Pipeline

How would you describe his leadership style?

Shawn is a very approachable and open leader, great communicator and balances his intense drive with humility, challenging himself and those around him to continuously improve.

Do you have an example of a time when he displayed strong leadership?

I interact primarily with Shawn in our API midstream leadership activities. He has been a key driver in our industry’s Safety Management Systems (SMS) development and has helped drive progress in defining what it is and incorporating it into the midstream industry’s DNA. We now affectionately refer to him as Mr. SMS! Shawn is always willing to step up and champion operating excellence, whether it is through his weekly Monday morning communication videos he prepares for his work force, or volunteering to meet with colleagues, regulators or elected officials.

John Swearingen | Executive Vice President – Logistics & Storage, MPLX GP LLC

How would you describe his leadership style?

I have had the pleasure of working with Shawn for over 10 years, and he is a strong yet incredibly humble, personable and collaborative leader. Always looking to challenge and develop his people, he has a great strategic vision both for Marathon Pipe Line and the pipeline industry, and works tirelessly to do the right thing by all.

Do you have an example of a time when he displayed strong leadership?

Shawn has been the driving force behind developing and implementing Marathon Pipe Line’s “Earning Your Trust” landowner engagement initiative. Recognized as an industry best practice, this initiative takes the relationship with our 20,000+ landowners to an entirely new level of partnering and truly working together to protect the public and the communities where we operate. It has been tremendously gratifying to see Shawn’s vision and tireless efforts come to fruition in order to take safe pipeline operations to the next level.

Carl Weimer | Executive Director, Pipeline Safety Trust

How would you describe his leadership style?

He leads by example and enthusiasm. His belief in the power of Safety Management Systems (SMS) was very strong, and he jumped into that realm to demonstrate personally how it could work within Marathon, but also for the entire industry. His enthusiasm and knowledge for SMS was contagious. Initially I was pretty skeptical that SMS was just another industry public relations safety catch phrase, but Shawn’s enthusiasm and continuing examples of how SMS could transform the industry brought me along. His leadership in bringing his entire leadership team to Bellingham to walk along Whatcom Creek where the pipeline tragedy occurred here 20 years ago, and hear the story of how that pipeline failure impacted this community, was a clear example of how he was personally trying to ensure a strong safety culture at Marathon.

Do you have an example of a time when he displayed strong leadership?

Shawn and I have talked many times about the public’s concern that they often lack a good way to engage with the pipeline industry. While many within the industry have viewed public engagement as a battle to be won, Shawn has shown great leadership in searching for a better path to public engagement through real mutual respect, listening, and trying to address concerns.

Todd Denton | President, Phillips 66 Pipeline LLC

How would you describe his leadership style?

Shawn is collaborative, inclusive, and engaging. He is able to bring people with diverse views and opinions and drive a team towards a unified goal and direction. He is also good at challenging industry and others on continuous improvement. We know that as good as we are today, we can be better and Shawn is a leader in our industry in striving for that reality.

Do you have an example of a time when he displayed strong leadership?

When the Pipeline Safety Management System first rolled out to the industry as a Recommended Practice, Shawn was tapped to lead the implementation effort. There were many executives and companies within our industry that were either not engaged, interested, or fully on board with adopting the PSMS as a guideline and best practice within their companies. Shawn was able to put together a plan for implementation that got the vast majority of industry to buy in. He did it through workshops, conferences, leadership meetings, and even one on one meetings if that was what it took to make it happen. He displayed the passion necessary to bring it to the level that it is today in front of and with CEO’s, COO’s, and other Pipeline Industry executives. His efforts will pay off for years to come in making our industry better.

Bradley Kramer is managing editor of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines. Contact him at bkramer@benjaminmedia.com.

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