December 2019, Vol. 246, No. 12

LDC Report

APGA Chairman Intends to Re-Engage Membership

Special to Pipeline & Gas Journal


Samuel Davis, Jr., the new chairman of the American Public Gas Association (APGA), was appointed general manager and CEO of Lake Apopka Natural Gas District in Winter Garden, Fla., in 2008.

He began his career in the natural gas industry with Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company in Houston, Texas, before going to work for United Gas Pipeline Company, Gulf Interstate Engineering Company and Bechtel Corporation.

The Ocoee, Fla., resident is married and active on numerous community service and professional boards in Florida and served two terms as advisory member on the Federal Department of Transportation Pipeline Safety Standards Committee.

In this interview, Davis discusses the challenges and goals faced by the APGA in the coming year. He also talks about strategies for effectively explaining the benefits of natural gas to the public and shares his thoughts on electrification.


P&GJ: What led you to a career in natural gas?

Davis: I grew up in Southeastern Louisiana where oilfield production companies and pipeline construction work were prevalent. People I knew had jobs working on oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and appeared to be doing well in their employment. 

As a young boy, my curiosity grew, and I wanted to know more about the industry. During my years in college, I studied mechanical engineering and had the opportunity to intern three consecutive summers with an oil refinery company in Texas. There I learned a little more about the industry. Upon graduation, I was offered a job with Transcontinental Pipeline Company as a junior pipeline engineer, and the rest is history.

P&GJ: Tell us a little about the Lake Apopka Natural Gas District’s system.

Davis: Lake Apopka Natural Gas District (District) is a municipally owned natural gas distribution system that was established by the Florida State Legislature in 1959, to provide natural gas services to Orange and Lake counties in the State of Florida. 

Its service territory covers 620 square miles and currently serves 25,000 customers which represents residential, commercial, transportation and interruptible customer classes. The district has five city gate stations, a pipeline infrastructure of 887 miles of main (326 miles of coated steel; 561 miles of polyethylene), with an annual natural gas throughput of 2,073,116 dekatherms.

P&GJ: What are your top priorities for the coming year?

Davis: I will seek to involve all members of APGA, as our critical goal of educating Americans on the value of the direct use of natural gas is directly tied to the engagement of the membership.

I believe members should be more involved with the association, which will help them see the valuable services APGA provides municipal natural gas systems. To continue to provide these beneficial services, however, member involvement is essential, especially in conveying the important message of the direct use of natural gas to friends, family and neighbors in their operating areas.

Consequently, I will be working to get more of our members engaged in all our activities, the aim being to move the association forward and promote the message of natural gas as the safe, affordable and reliable energy Americans need. To that end, my theme for my chairmanship is “The Re-engagement of Membership.” 

P&GJ: What are some of the challenges to natural gas that you are focused on?

Davis: Despite the many benefits the direct-use of natural gas provides, such as energy efficiency and affordability, we continue to see an increasing number of attacks at the legislative and regulatory level. These assaults have occurred mostly at the federal level in the past, but we are currently seeing an increasing amount of challenges at the state and local levels. 

Opponents are pushing deep decarbonization and electrification policies, as well as contesting natural gas production and infrastructure construction. Specifically, one of APGA member challenges is educating consumers to ensure that they are aware of the benefits that natural gas appliances provide to their home, their community, and the environment. 

P&GJ: Can you discuss some of the opposition to natural gas you are seeing at the state and local levels?

Davis: Over the last several years, we have seen increased attacks on natural gas in all phases of the supply chain, production, transmission and direct-use. Significantly impacting APGA members are the extreme environmentalists working with some in the electricity industry to push natural gas appliances out of the marketplace. 

The opponents to natural gas are well-organized and well-funded. Recognizing the opportunity, they have increased their efforts at the state and local level. To show the extremes, some policies go so far as banning hydraulic fracturing within the city boundaries despite the fact that there are no natural gas reserves underneath. 

The main objective is positioning policymakers against natural gas in favor of an all-electric society. APGA members believe America’s energy goals should include balanced solutions with environmentally friendly natural gas that is affordable and reliable. 

P&GJ: What is your view of the push some have made toward electrification?

Davis: Berkeley, Calif., was the first to adopt a ban on natural gas in new building construction, and other locales are considering similar policies, possibly going further. This is an “all-eggs in one basket” approach to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and there is no accounting for consumer affordability. Before taking action, local governments and the people they represent should consider all the facts. 

Natural gas use in homes is three times as efficient as electricity, represents the lowest cost option, and its use in residential and commercial applications is among the smallest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, consumers prefer natural gas for heating their homes and cooking meals for their families. 

Policymakers forcing consumers to abandon natural gas and electrify their homes will lead to increased consumer costs without significantly reducing emissions and take away choice. How is that fair, especially for families struggling to pay rent and put food on the table, or seniors on fixed incomes?

Families across the country depend on reliable natural gas. Widespread, policy-driven electrification will lead to increases in peak electric demand, from a grid that is already challenged to meet current load. Significant upgrades to electric infrastructure would be needed if forced electrification is pursued. As a recent example, homes with natural gas appliances in northern California still have the ability to cook food and take warm showers, despite the utility cutting power due to concerns about electricity lines causing wildfires from high winds. 

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change concerns are important. That’s why our industry is continually innovating to be even more efficient and sustainable. But a clean energy future is only possible with a balanced approach that doesn’t sacrifice consumer choice and affordability. Natural gas must be a part of the solution.

P&GJ: How are you communicating your messages to the public?

Davis: APGA has several large-scale communications initiatives underway. A couple of years ago at our Strategic Planning session, membership made it very clear that communication was a priority and we needed to invest more resources in communicating our message to various audiences. One initiative we have been working on since then is our Natural Gas Genius campaign. This campaign is geared to consumers looking to buy or renovate a home. 

We spent over a year conducting consumer research, audits and in a development stage. As a result, on March 14 (Genius Day), our Natural Gas Genius campaign launched. It is mainly a digital campaign with social media accounts, social media advertising and a website. It also includes marketing assets that members can use in their local markets. 

Our other large effort has been an increased effort with media relations. We are amping up our presence on social media and trying to engage more with traditional media. This initiative is related to advocacy efforts and the target audience is media. 

P&GJ: What are the plans on the operational issues?

Davis: APGA’s operations activities are focused in three primary areas: regulatory advocacy, creating best practice sharing venues, and developing tools to assist members in meet regulatory requirements and recommendations. The tragic incident that occurred in Merrimack Valley, Mass., in September of 2018 has resulted in the natural gas distribution industry to pause and look for more opportunities to enhance pipeline safety. 

APGA is incorporating lessons learned from this event into virtually all of its efforts. From presentations at conferences on change management to virtual roundtables on preventing over-pressurization events, APGA’s members are committed to enhancing pipeline safety. 

P&GJ: Turning to pipeline safety, where is APGA focusing?

Davis: APGA members are in a constant state of continuous improvement. The American Petroleum Institute (API) Recommended Practice (RP) 1173: Pipeline Safety Management Systems is rooted in continuous improvement and provides an excellent roadmap for a wholistic pipeline safety management program. 

APGA has developed a planning, or gap analysis, tool that enables APGA members and all small operators to compare their existing programs and initiatives to those recommended by API RP 1173. APGA is also exploring additional resources that can be deployed to their full membership that will assist members of all sizes in realizing the benefits of safety management systems and how it can be embedded in their daily activities. 

Additionally, the APGA System Operational Achievement Recognition Program (SOAR) is a best practice sharing program developed by APGA to both recognize member systems that achieve operational excellence and help participants identify potential areas of improvement. 

The elements of Pipeline Safety Management Systems are implanted throughout the APGA SOAR Program to further encourage adoption. The program also includes virtual roundtables on specific operational issues where leading practices are identified and shared with all participants, regardless of their SOAR recognition level.

P&GJ: Are you particularly interested in any new or pending regulatory requirements? How is APGA helping to prepare its members?

Davis: Since early 2019, Congress has been working to reauthorize the Pipeline Safety Act, which mandates minimum safety standards for pipelines and other facilities. This reauthorization has been focused on two primary objectives: encouraging the completion of existing mandates and introducing new mandates in response to the incident in Merrimack Valley. 

The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation at Merrimack Valley concluded three primary contributing factors for the incident: a lack of change management for critical activities, inappropriate operational procedures given the tasks being performed, and inadequate protection of assets against over-pressurization. 

APGA supports Congressional mandates that are fundamentally aligned with these three concerns, but maintains that any new regulatory requirement must be scalable and feasible for all natural gas distribution operators. APGA is encouraged to see that many of the proposals are reasonable and focused on enhancing safety – not just piling on new requirements. 

APGA’s members are not waiting on new regulations or congressional mandates to make changes to their operations though. The contributing factors to Merrimack Valley are constant discussion points at APGA conferences, webinars, virtual roundtables and committee meetings.   

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