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Pipeline Leadership Conference Kicks Off in Denver

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The Pipeline Leadership Conference brought focus to overcoming industry challenges at the first annual event, Nov. 4-5, at the University of Denver in Colorado. The conference drew more than 75 attendees to the campus to discuss leadership and collaboration strategies to further develop oil and gas pipelines in North America.

Speakers on the first day discussed market forces, regulatory changes, engaging stakeholders and land management issues.

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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 market forces and challenges facing the oil and gas pipeline industry by Continuum Advisory Group principal Mark Bridgers. Low oil and gas prices are putting constraints on the industry, according to Bridgers, while concerns about an aging workforce are a question the industry must find an answer to refill the ranks as baby boomers near retirement age.

“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, keynote speaker Chuck Shafer, a vice president at NiSource Inc., 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.

Lauren Tipton, a regulatory compliance engineer at New Century Software and that company’s Integrity Plus program, discussed how companies better respond to federal and state regulatory changes. First and foremost is determining applicability, Tipton said. Companies must establish a “who, what, when, where and how” process in managing compliance. Documenting and internal communications are a key factor in improving such processes. Tipton further suggested that making pipelines piggable is perhaps the No. 1 regulatory issues facing the industry, adding that the top five challenges in complying to new and stringent regulations are: 1.) resources such as time and money, 2.) stakeholder buy-in, 3.) communication, 4.) knowledge and technology and 5.) implementation.

Bringing the Pipeline Leadership Conference into the modern age was David Messersmith, an extension educator at Penn State University’s Marcellus Education Team, who discussed engaging stakeholders via social media platforms. Pennsylvania has become a hotbed of oil and gas development since the Marcellus shale boom. Messersmith says the state is has built or is expected to build 3,200 miles of new pipeline from new shale well production. Even though Pennsylvania was the site of the first commercial well in the United States in 1850, the state hasn’t seen such intense energy development since then. The state population is no longer familiar with dealing with the industry, and Messersmith says social media is a vital tool for educating and engaging with the public and other groups interested in pipeline development. While the fact remains that pipelines are the safest method of transmitting oil and gas, a large number of stakeholders perceive them as risky. Messersmith provided a number of suggestions for those in the oil and gas industry to better engage with the public and other stakeholders via social media, such as providing clear and concise information and striving to be the most factual source of information about projects and initiatives.

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. Holland & Hart partner Evan Randall introduced the topic of acquiring easements and how pipeline operators should engage with the land owners about project rights of way. Cantafio Edington president and managing partner Ralph Cantafio discussed legal aspects of permitting and the challenges associated with differences between state regulations. In short, he said, “It’s complicated.” Patrick Fitzgerald, a lawyer and economist who leads the University of Denver’s land management certificate program, discussed how oil and gas prices impact the midstream sector. Finally, TransCanada’s Andrew Craig, land manager for the long delayed Keystone XL pipeline, talked about latest issues concerning the project, including a development that occurred early in the day, where the U.S. State Department denied TransCanada’s request to suspend permit review on the project. Attendees were especially interested in learning more about the project as the panel discussion following the individual presentations focused on these new developments.

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. The second day of presentations begins at 8:30 a.m. Mountain Time, Nov. 5. Receive updates on Twitter by following @NAOGP1 and the hashtag #PipeLeadConf.

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