In recent years as the natural gas business has changed, so have the associations that work and support the utility industry. But one focus has never changed: the commitment to safety, whether it is on-the-job or in the delivery of products to the end consumer.
Dallas-based Southern Gas Association (SGA) has long been involved in developing effective programs designed to improve the quality of natural gas pipeline operations, be it distribution or transmission. Today, as the shale revolution takes hold across the country, its ongoing role in helping to train current and future generations of natural gas managers and workers has never been greater. One such SGA entity is its highly regarded Gas Machinery Research Council (GMRC), an industry-leading group that specializes in compression-related issues.
The 2014 chairman of SGA is Gregory J. Rizzo, Group Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Spectra Energy Corp. In this interview, he outlines his priorities for the association, leading off, obviously, with safety.
P&GJ: What are your priorities as chairman of the Southern Gas Association?
Rizzo: The SGA’s theme this year is “Engage, Lead and Deliver: Energizing the Future of Natural Gas.”
As members, we engage one another to discuss issues, share and develop best practices and build trust to enhance our relationships. Natural gas is domestic, clean, and abundant and is driving a manufacturing renaissance in America. The natural gas industry is enhancing the economic strength and leading the recovery of North America’s economy and job market.
SGA member companies are committed to providing a positive environment to learn and develop leadership skills. A strong priority of mine this year is to ensure we have active leadership and training within the natural gas industry to continue to support North America’s energy independence.
Also, we must continue to deliver safe, reliable and cost-effective natural gas every day to fuel North America’s economic growth. Our industry’s performance during this extreme winter is a testament to how well we deliver.
Finally, safety is the number one priority across the natural gas industry. I am pleased to report that the SGA board just approved the formation of the SGA Pipeline Safety Council to advance pipeline safety across the transmission, midstream and distribution segments of our industry.
P&GJ: How has the role of the SGA changed in recent years, particularly with the onset of the shale revolution? What do you see as the role of SGA, one more focused on operations and engineering issues as opposed to public policy?
Rizzo: SGA is, and always has been, focused on operational and engineering issues across the natural gas industry. A shared vision in our industry is to deliver gas in a safe, reliable and affordable manner. Policy is shaped by other industry associations such as AGA, INGAA and producer groups, and SGA provides a forum for conversation and best practices.
As leaders in our industry, it is incumbent on us to engage in meaningful conversations about the shale revolution and be proactive in promoting how our economy has benefited from it. We need to get the message out about what shale is doing for North America; the benefits of natural gas are enormous. It’s spurred economic growth, employment opportunities and is moving us toward energy independence. We need to articulate these benefits – from the rooftops.
P&GJ: Has the SGA grown in terms of member companies, staff, and programs?
Rizzo: SGA has experienced steady growth over the past several years in terms of member companies and programs. As companies merge or consolidate, SGA members recruit their fellow employees by telling them about the benefits of the organization and the relationships they’ve had over the years. SGA programs continue to expand based on member needs. Recent new program topics include accelerated replacement and construction inspection programs. Our staff has remained relatively constant though we have added some new faces and enjoy working with more than 300 industry volunteers to create programs for our members.
P&GJ: SGA has held very successful GMRC conferences; why have these conferences been so well-received by the industry and is SGA involved in any research dealing with compression or other operational activities?
Rizzo: As our industry expands to meet growing energy needs, compression requirements for our members’ systems expand as well. The Gas Machinery Research Council (GMRC) provides quality training through an applied research program. GMRC is focusing on five research projects in 2014 and has already scheduled 11 training events for this year, including the popular Gas Machinery Conference.
The GMC features a wide range of short courses, technical papers and technology updates, all presented by some of the leading subject matter experts in the industry. The GMC also includes a vendor exhibit with over 130 companies showcasing the latest equipment, technology and services. The educational sessions and networking opportunities are valuable for design engineers, facility engineers, and technicians, with an emphasis on the operation, maintenance, and testing of gas compression machinery. Craig Linn of Williams Gas Pipeline chairs the GMRC board of directors.
P&GJ: What are some recent changes within the SGA that we should be aware of, perhaps in terms of new programs, and are there others in the works designed to help member companies?
Rizzo: I think SGA does two things particularly well. First, we offer a quality lineup of operational-focused webinars and other online training to educate the industry without our members needing to travel. The webinar series lined up for this spring will focus on regulatory updates, construction quality, management systems, and new technology. Second, SGA offers a customized solution to our members’ training needs. Many member companies use a combination of conferences and roundtable discussions, public and onsite workshops, along with some of the virtual training tools, to grow and develop their most important asset – their people.
P&GJ: What are some of the steps the SGA is taking to help companies ensure pipeline safety and that of their workers? Is this still the overriding issue, and as important as safety is, does it receive an inordinate amount of attention compared to other issues?
Rizzo: Developing a safety culture of lessons learned and continuous improvement is the highest priority in our industry. Our operating committees are very focused on this issue. In 2012, the Operating Section Managing Committees hosted a half-day session with the Honorable Christopher Hart, vice chairman, NTSB; Allen Mayberry, deputy associate administrator, PHMSA; and David Prewitt, former CEO of Rotorcraft and managing director of safety for FedEx Worldwide Aviation Operations, to speak on safety culture.
The session was videotaped and widely viewed by our members. In 2013, the committee built on this with a session on safety program implementation. Panelists included individuals from the nuclear power industry; Gary Close, director of site services at Pacific Gas and Electric Company; the petrochemical industry; Jerry Forest, global process safety manager at Celanese; and the airline industry, including Timothy Logan, senior director, safety risk management at Southwest Airlines.
This year, the committee will build off of the presentations from previous years and will focus on safety culture innovations in the gas industry. These are not only words; we are taking action with the formation of this new Pipeline Safety Council.
P&GJ: Have you noticed a sizeable jump in the attention that companies and workers are paying to safety-related issues?
Rizzo: Our goal is always zero incidents. Safety is an area where we are relentlessly striving. Our industry is always looking at new ideas for continuous improvement in personal and operational safety. Safety is ingrained in our behaviors and owned by each individual as part of a strong corporate value and culture.
P&GJ: What are some of the biggest challenges facing SGA members, and how is the association trying to help them cope with those issues? Cybersecurity, integrity management, aging workforce, dealing with new sources of natural gas supplies and markets?
Rizzo: All of these issues are important to our members. Cybersecurity has been on the conference agenda each quarter for the past two years. Others are handling the real time monitoring and legislative agenda related to cybersecurity, and we are focused on practical solutions to managing the risk of cyber attacks.
To help our members comply with both transmission integrity management and distribution integrity management, our membership formed a joint industry project to collaborate and build a compliance framework document. More than a third of the natural gas distributed in the U.S. is distributed by a company using the Northeast Gas Association or Southern Gas Association compliance document. With this many companies participating nationwide, our members saved resources by leveraging the knowledge needed to operate their systems safely and effectively.
Finally, the gas supply story today is good news for both our industry and our country. We have an abundance of gas supply, a manufacturing renaissance, and we are now looking at exporting gas from the U.S. At one point five years ago, we were saying we would need to import our gas supply – now we have a surplus. What a wonderful time to be in this industry.
P&GJ: Has SGA been working more closing with other associations such as AGA and INGAA on any pertinent topics?
Rizzo: Yes, we are very proud of our relationships with other regional and national trade associations. In January this year, SGA partnered with AGA to sponsor a nationwide drill. AGA organized the event and SGA executed it by simulating a scenario similar to Hurricane Katrina. Once the damage was assessed and the request for aid was distributed, over 50 companies reported they were able to provide supplies and personnel. We are partnering for the third year with INGAA on a web series that will include presentations and discussion on construction quality, regulatory compliance, and technology implementation.
P&GJ: From an executive’s perspective, what can the industry do to better to advance the use of natural gas?
Rizzo: Engage. Lead. Deliver. We need to engage more with the public to promote the abundance of opportunities in power generation, and the manufacturing renaissance that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs. Our industry is leading the economic recovery in North America and we need to participate in that conversation to inform the public and share our successes.
P&GJ: At the end of your term, how will you be able to determine whether it was a successful year?
Rizzo: Were we able to engage, lead and deliver? Did we share and promote the benefits of natural gas while maintaining our core values of safety and reliability? We are successful if we can positively answer these questions.
In 2014, our industry is off to a great start. We have just concluded a record cold winter season in many parts of our members’ service territories and our industry has performed exceptionally well. Considering both the extreme cold weather events and the duration of the winter, this has been quite an accomplishment.
Going forward, if we continue to engage in the energy conversation and share our message of the “gift of gas,” invest in people to develop leadership skills to support North America’s energy growth, and deliver on our commitment by developing best practices in continuous improvement in operations and safety, 2014 will be a very successful year.
P&GJ: For several years, SGA’s CTN broadcasts provided a unique service to the industry. What is its status?
Rizzo: CTN is now the SGA Network. The network’s basic program will produce and deliver 20 virtual events focused on professional and leadership development. Another 30 programs will be produced including retail marketing best practices, the INGAA partnership outlined above, and several distribution topics like mutual assistance and emergency management best practices.
SGA is currently building a new learning management system, SGA Campus, where members will be able to access not only the recorded virtual event, but also additional resources relevant to that topic. And they’ll be able to connect with peers through our Connect@SGA online community.
P&GJ: On a personal note, how did you get into the energy business and what brought you to Spectra Energy?
Rizzo: Upon graduation from the University of Georgia, I moved to Houston to work for a major oil and natural gas producer during the time of wellhead price deregulation. A year later, I accepted a position at Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company, one of Spectra Energy’s predecessors. During this time, I have witnessed numerous transformations within our industry, but none are as far-reaching as the shale gas revolution we are experiencing today. The U.S. now has an abundance of natural gas that is opening up numerous opportunities for our industry all along the value chain. I think most people would agree that the future of natural gas has never been brighter.