The Pipeliners Podcast welcomes new guest Stuart Saulters, a policy advisor for API, to discuss what goes into the API policymaking process.
In this episode, you will learn about the three primary roles of API to develop standards and recommended practices for pipeline operations, working with policymakers to advocate for pipeline support, and educating the general public about the oil and gas industry.
You’ll even pick up a civics lesson on the role of the various government branches as it relates to regulating pipeline activity in America. Listen to this episode to gain unique insight into the regulatory process and how you can play an important role in addressing misconceptions.
API Policymaking Process: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Stuart Saulters is the Director of Government Affairs for American Public Gas Association (APGA). At the time of this episode, Stuart was a midstream policy advisor for API, focusing on pipeline safety. Find and connect with Stuart on LinkedIn.
- API (American Petroleum Institute) is the only national trade association representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, which supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs and nearly 8 percent of the U.S. economy. API’s more than 625 members include large integrated companies, as well as exploration and production, refining, marketing, pipeline, and marine businesses, and service and supply firms. They provide most of the nation’s energy and are backed by a growing grassroots movement of more than 40 million Americans.
- API introduced their “Power Past Impossible” advertising campaign during the 2017 Super Bowl. The goal of the campaign is to highlight how natural gas and oil provide value to Americans’ everyday lives.
- GIS (Global Information Services) is the API department that is responsible for certification, standards, training, events, publications, and safety programs for onshore, offshore, and refinery operations.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) ensures the safe transportation of energy and hazardous materials.
- The Pipeline Safety Trust (PST) is a public charity promoting pipeline safety through education and advocacy by increasing access to information, and by building partnerships with residents, safety advocates, government, and industry.
- Carl Weimer is the executive director of the PST.
- The San Bruno or PG&E Incident in September 2010 refers to a ruptured pipeline operated by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The rupture created a crater near San Bruno, California, caused an explosion after natural gas was released and ignited, and resulted in fires causing loss to life and property. [Read the full NTSB Accident Report.]
- The Marshall Incident refers to the Enbridge Incorporated Hazardous Liquid Rupture and Release incident, which occurred on July 25, 2010, in Marshall, Michigan. [Read the full NTSB Accident Report]
- The Macondo well is a large reservoir of natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was set up for deepwater exploration before exploding in April 2010.
API Policymaking Process: Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 41.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.
Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time. To show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Jason Staley with Plains All American Pipeline. Congratulations, Jason. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around ‘til the end of the episode.
This week, we have Stuart Saulters with the American Petroleum Institute coming back to join us and talk about policymaking and API’s role. With that, let’s welcome Stuart Saulters. Stuart, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Stuart Saulters: Happy to be back.
Russel: I asked you on to talk today about policymaking, and API’s role as policymakers. I think that’s probably something that maybe a lot of people who are at the worker level don’t really understand about our industry, is how all that works.
Broadly, through the industry, the people who are familiar with API are working with API standards, but policymaking is also a big part of what you guys do. Maybe you could start off by talking to us about what is policymaking? How does it work differently than standardsmaking?
Stuart: Happy to draw the distinction. I’ve been at API for almost about five years now, and so definitely understand some of the confusion that comes with it. Folks may remember that I used to work for Chevron prior to API.
One of my first roles was the tank engineer at the refinery, one of the Chevron refineries. I was very familiar with API 650, 653, and those standards, but didn’t really know what all we did from a policy standpoint until I actually started working on it. Hopefully, I can give a little bit of clarification here.
If you think about the organization, there’s two sides of the house, so to speak. One side is our Global Information Services. The acronym is GIS, which confuses everybody that’s a pipeliner, but that’s what they decided to do whenever they stood up the organization.
Within our Global Information Services department, that’s where the standards development work sits, as well as programs. Folks that are in the procurement or doing construction projects, you’re familiar with API 5L and the monogram. That all is housed in that GIS element of API.
I’m on the other side, which is the policy side. From a policy standpoint, we’re the ones that our members, the API members, our job is to support their efforts in a policy setting situation, so engaging with regulators — that’s the executive branch — and also engaging with the legislative branch.
We’ve got API members that are pipeline organizations in my situation here. They’re the ones that require us to or ask us to go and engage with different government entities to try to encourage policies that support what they’re trying to do.
Russel: As somebody who’s involved in policymaking, what does that actually look like? What’s your job on a day-to-day basis?
Stuart: Good question. I should have alluded to it just a few minutes ago. I think the pipeline space is very unique in that a lot of what are in regulations are standards. API standards are incorporated by reference, which means that essentially that is the regulation. There’s ASME that’s incorporated by reference, NACE standards that are incorporated by reference.
If you go to your code book and you flip in the front part of it, you’ll see all these different standards that are incorporated by reference or included. Those are essentially the regulation. My role as a policy advisor is a little more unique than other colleagues at API because of that intersection between the standards and the regulations.
I do spend a lot of time working with standards committees ensuring that the content in these documents is the best practice. Somebody said it, it’s the tide that lifts all boats, so to speak. We as operators have what the right content is, have valuable content in these standards. That’s what will be in regulation, or that’s what we want to show public stakeholders that we’re willing to pursue.
Like I said, a lot of that has more to do with a pipeline policy role than maybe it would at a refinery policy or an upstream type policy where you’re working on production standards or things like that. Generally speaking, my job as policy advisor is really engaging with the regulator in how they are developing policy. That’s the regulations.
If you’re a gas transmission operator or a gas pipeline operator, the Code of Federal Regulations, part 192. Then if you’re a liquids transmission operator, it’s part 195. It’s probably terms that are mostly familiar with your listeners there, Russel.
That’s what I spend my days do is trying to figure out what PHMSA, the pipeline regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is doing, either how they’re enforcing regulations or how they’re trying to change regulations. Basically, working with the API members and making sure what PHMSA’s doing is practical, is fit for purpose. We can use those terms.
Russel: I think that’s really a key thing, this idea of policymaking as a collaborative effort between the public, the government entities — that’s not just federal, that could also be state and local — a collaborative effort between the public people that government are there to represent and support. Government. And then industry, which is trying to operate.
It’s where those different needs and interests are being arbitrated. The industry issue as to we want to do what we can to be as safe as possible. But it’s got to be practical.
Stuart: We as industry, our goal is zero. We stand behind that. It’s just ensuring that there’s a practical element in the policy that helps to execute that.
Russel: I know that people that are in the pipelining business get this. I don’t know necessarily that people who are not in the business get it. One of the reasons that people that I know like the pipelining business is that you’re outdoors, you’re in the environment. You’re out in the wilderness often.
Most of the people I know really love, respect and want to take care of the environment and their local communities. This idea of safety and this idea of operating with excellence, the people that I meet, that’s what they want to do.
I won’t say this is valid or not, but sometimes what you’ll hear is that the regulations are burdensome, onerous, or they’re about paperwork, they’re not about actually doing things better.
I think part of the role in this policymaking and part of the beauty if you will of having API standards incorporated into policy is that it arbitrates that tension if you will between appropriate oversight and being able to do the job.
Stuart: Absolutely. Another thing, not only do you have that input into regulation — some people may not like this, mostly government people — it takes time to write a regulation, to go through the process. If you think about a change in administration and the way governments come and go, at least administrations come and go, then that just adds times.
Whereas the API standards and the other industry guidance that’s out there, it doesn’t necessarily have those variables or the components affecting it maybe like a regulation, or the regulatory process we’ll say does. It helps out. It’s not like the regulators aren’t a part of the standards conversations. I know, Russel, you’ve been involved or some of your folks have been involved in API standards in development.
PHMSA’s got a seat at the table. The Pipeline Safety Trust has a seat at the table just like operators do. Honestly, to have our standard accreditation as a standards development organization, we have to show that we’re doing our due diligence to invite these other stakeholders to these standards development meetings so that it’s not just a one-sided document.
There is a balance as the document is written. At the end of the day, it is a document that truly addresses each stakeholder’s opinion, if that makes sense.
Russel: Makes sense to me. I guess in the feedback, we’ll find out whether it makes sense to the listeners or not. [laughter]
The other thing I wanted to talk a little bit about from a policymaking standpoint is you’re really interacting with two different branches of government, both the executive and the legislative. Maybe we can do a little bit of a civic lessons as applied to pipelining.
Talk to me a little bit, if you will, about those two branches and how your role with API in policy interacts with those two branches and how are their roles different.
Stuart: Good question. This is something I had to learn when I first started working with API. It’s been a lot of education for me in, like you said, civics and understanding how the Founding Fathers set up our government.
Day to day, I work more with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, PHMSA, which is a part of the Department of Transportation. It’s a sub-department in that larger department, which is an eminent, a level position that reports to the President. That’s because they have more day-to-day oversight in pipeline operation.
Their regulations obviously impact operators more because that’s what they have to comply with. That’s what they’re audited about and they engage with PHMSA. The API members ask me to engage more with PHMSA. Now every five years, there’s a pipeline reauthorization bill. Essentially, Congress authorizes PHMSA. When I say authorize, it gives them money.
There’s probably a little too much civics to get into here to say when the government shutdown happens, it’s not like PHMSA shuts down to a certain extent because there’s different ways that they get money from operators and things like that to help their budget continue.
They have to be authorized by Congress every five years to continue as an agency. It’s not necessarily like the Defense Department or other agencies that they have to have the money authorized from Congress to continue. Anyway, that’s just a little nuance.
In that reauthorization effort, that is where I work directly with the legislative branch, so that’s Congress. Within Congress, there’s obviously the Senate and House of Representatives. Then within each chamber, they have what they would call committees of jurisdiction. Those committees of jurisdiction are made up of senators in the Senate and representatives in the House.
They are really the policymakers. They’re the ones that really are writing the bill when it comes to pipeline reauthorization. I guess I should add too that not only is the pipeline reauthorization authorizing PHMSA with money, it also is an opportunity for Congress to tell PHMSA what they want them to do.
If you can imagine, Congress is obviously made up of people who have constituents. Their constituents weigh into these Congressmen and tell them, “Hey, you know, this is what I think PHMSA should do,” especially if there’s a pipeline in their district or whatever it may be. That is another element of what I do from a policy standpoint. Again, that’s more rare because it’s just every five years.
Russel: The other thing we talked about in our last episode, we were talking about safety management. We were talking about San Bruno and the Marshall incidents.
Part of the outcome was legislation that was called a congressional mandate that specifically told PHMSA to implement certain regulatory requirements and impose them on industry as an outcome of those incidents. In addition to the reauthorization, Congress can take action when it feels appropriate to provide direction to the agency.
Stuart: Absolutely. Obviously, it doesn’t have to happen every five years. If something unforeseen or, hopefully not, but if there is an incident that does occur, Congress can act outside of that window or scoot the window up.
Usually, something that has happened, transpired, within that five-year time period, especially if it’s in a certain person’s district or whatever, then they’ll be sure that this legislation, this bill, has direction to PHMSA to do something.
Russel: A couple of specific examples that the listeners might not be aware of that are interesting to me. One is the Control Room Management rule was published into law in early 2010. Then in the middle of 2010, we had San Bruno, Marshall, and Macondo. Immediately after that, there was a push from Congress to accelerate the implementation requirement of the Control Room Management rule.
That all happened within the confines of a year. The industry looked at it and said, “You know, it’s reasonable. We’ve had these incidents, and we’ve got these things in the pipeline. It’s reasonable to accelerate them.”
There was actually a little bit of negotiation if you will around the details of what could get accelerated and what couldn’t get accelerated given the practicality of implementing in those time frames. That was when I really started getting deeply involved in PHMSA, started going to the technical advisory committees.
I got to say that from my standpoint, when I was watching the wheels of government turn, it was really encouraging because all the right voices were there. To me, the decisions that were getting made and the way that was getting put into law, implemented by industry and doing what was in the best interest of the public, I looked at that.
I said, “You know, yeah, this can be kind of a messy process sometimes. But when you look at what’s going on, you actually have some, some confidence in our government.”
Stuart: There’s definitely some sausage making if you want to call it that. I think that that technical advisory committee is a powerful voice. At least from an industry standpoint, it’s five senior leaders that are very knowledgeable. In API, we engage those gentlemen, it’s all men at this point.
We engage those guys and say, “Hey, what do you need? What material do you need to be sure you can have the right conversation?” We’ve talked about him before. Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust, he’s on that advisory committee. At least the liquids one, he is. Again, we want to have the frank conversation with Carl.
We want to be able to provide input for why we think this is the right way to go about certain regulations. If he has questions, then engage him honestly and have the debate if that’s what it is taking. No doubt, some people may argue, but I agree with you that when you look at the way PHMSA, at least their rulemaking process, I feel like they’re a great partner to work with.
They’re willing to have the conversation. Some organizations that I’ve seen that my colleagues work with, they may not have the same relationship that we have with our pipeline regulator.
Russel: I think that’s true. I want to shift a little bit the conversation at this point and talk a little bit more about what is API’s role more broadly. We’ve talked about standards, we’ve now talked about policymaking. More broadly, what would API’s role be?
Stuart: Good question. Like I said, API, we have members and they pay dues. We’re a trade association. One of the things they’ve not only challenge us to do is engage with the government, but also engage with the public. They ask and we try to help influence the public.
Influence isn’t really the right word. It’s more just trying to promote the safety aspects, the positive aspects of the oil and gas industry. We spend a lot of our effort trying to communicate, whether it’s commercials or advertisements on different outlets, social media, whatever it may be. There’s a positive message when it comes to oil and gas.
At this point, when it comes to natural gas, there’s a clean energy message that we’re trying to get out, we’re trying to promote, trying to spread the word about the positive aspects of oil and gas.
We spend a lot of time, a lot of energy, getting that message out, shaping that message, and trying to figure out what is the right aspects of what we do as members of the oil and gas industry to really help show the positive things that the industry does.
We talk about all the jobs that are created, we talk about the opportunities that folks that maybe don’t want to go to college can get a good position welding or doing whatever, at least on an interim basis, working on a pipeline. We try to help get those messages out and paint the industry in positive light because frankly, there are other voices out there, too. We want to be able to counter that.
Russel: One of the things that’s a compelling argument, if I were going to give any input to API about how to do that public advocacy, here’s what that would be. “Did you know you can’t make an electric car without oil and gas?” [laughter]
Everybody goes, “What? What? What do you mean by that?” The truth, you can’t make a cellphone without oil and gas because the plastics, the electronics, the underlying things you’re using to build this stuff is all coming out the oil and gas industry.
The oil and gas industry is not just about heating homes, putting fuel in the cars, and running power plants. It’s about manufacturing most of what’s in your home, many, many pieces of what’s in your home.
People don’t understand just how pervasive things made that are products that ultimately come from crude oil and natural gas. They just don’t get it. Another thing, I have to say this because I find it humorous, I would not advocate this as a message to the public, but, “Did you know that oil and gas are both organic?” [laughter]
We should move on. Anyways, I find that humorous. I don’t know if others will find that humorous. I guess we’ll find out after we put this episode out [laughs] whether people find that humorous or not.
Stuart: This may be one of your most controversial ones here.
Russel: I certainly didn’t mean for it to be that way. Maybe I should tell the sound guy to cut that part out. I’ll probably leave it in. Anyways, we can have a little humor. The other thing I want to talk about is we’re wrapping up. Tell me a little bit about the API Super Bowl commercial, because I just find that fascinating.
Stuart: I know. Good question. Thanks for bringing it up. It goes to that point is last year, we launched a campaign called Power Past Impossible, so PPI, because you had to have an acronym, Power Past Impossible.
If you go to powerpastimpossible.org, you see some of the fancy graphics in a lot of the communication materials that we’re using around this campaign. It goes to that, “Hey, cellphones, electric cars,” and whatever, but space shuttles, empowering third world countries and all these things, you need energy.
At this point, you need oil and gas to do that to achieve that stuff, to power past the impossible. That’s the genesis of this campaign and that was what the Super Bowl commercial was. That was one of our spots with Power Past Impossible.
We really tried to highlight, “Hey, we don’t have the comforts that you have as Americans, and you’re not able to help foster that growth around the world if we don’t have oil and gas.” We just want to highlight that. Obviously, we don’t want to discount the other forms of energy.
If you look at our members, the API members, there’s investment in all types of energy. Our CEO, our leadership at API, has always been of the all of the above approach. Like we talked about it earlier, you have to be practical in how you approach energy and say, “What’s achievable now,” and let’s focus on that, but let’s not forget about what the future looks like.
We can focus on that too, but still, understand that oil and gas has a role. At this point in time, it has a really important role [laughs] in assuring that we have the comforts that we all enjoy. That’s probably more than you want to know about Super Bowl commercial, but that’s it.
Russel: [laughs] I think that’s right on point. I’ve been a little bit flippant earlier. There is a reality to all of these, and it is that oil and gas is and will continue to be, for the foreseeable future, a critical element of a modern lifestyle. That goes way beyond what people, the public, if you will, think about oil and gases, “That’s how I fuel my car. That’s how I heat my home.”
It’s much, much more than that. I don’t think you could even build a power generating windmill without oil and gas providing the materials or the fuel to mold the steel to put the windmill up. It is and will continue to be, but that doesn’t discount the need to look at other alternatives of energy that are cleaner or provide better economics.
Ultimately, abundant inexpensive energy is a important piece of prosperity. Anyways, I can get on myself boxed about that whole conversation. That’s probably not appropriate. I do think it’s important that we, as an industry, try to appropriately educate.
Probably, the most effective education is that that occurs over dinner, around the kitchen table, or at a bar with your buddies and say, “Let me tell you, this is the way it actually is.” That’s always helpful.
Stuart: I don’t know if we’re going to wrap up. I want to put in two plugs for that point you made right there. There’s two different initiatives we have on API. One is called Energy Citizens and the other is Energy Nation. Energy Citizens is an initiative that is really trying to give people the material that they need to educate themselves to have those conversations.
It’s an election year this year, energy is always on the politician’s brain, and it’s one of their stump speeches. As we think about what you should engage your politicians or your folks running for Congress, that Energy Citizens, it has the material you need as somebody outside of the oil field. That’s the target audience for that.
Say, “Hey, here’s some information. Read it. Form your own opinion and take it to the politicians or take it to your neighbors and say, ‘Hey have you thought about this?’ or ‘Have you considered this?'” That’s one initiative we have.
The other is Energy Nation. That’s targeted for folks that are in the oil field. That’s the one that’s saying, “I’m an oil field worker and I need to educate my neighbor who works somewhere else.” It’s trying to give them the material they need because they breathe this stuff day in, day out.
They know how it all works, but how do you step back into that energy information, the positive energy aspects of oil and gas, go talk to your neighbor and say, “Hey, have you thought about this, or have you considered this and that” type of thing.
Russel: Let’s do it. I want to try and do my typical thing where I try to really get this down to three takeaways from this conversation about policymaking. I’ll attempt that and then you can tell me whether or not you think I got it right.
First off, it’s important to understand that there’s three roles for the API in its mission. One of those is development of standards and recommended practices for industry. Another of those is working with policymakers to advocate for that which is practical. Lastly, to educate the public about the industry and all the benefits that it provides and the diligence that it uses in conducting its business. You think I got it pretty good?
Stuart: I think you hit the nail in the head. There’s job opportunities if you’re looking for a new career. You go to API.org.
Russel: [laughs] Yeah, maybe. Look, Stuart. It’s been a pleasure. I certainly look forward to having you back again at some point in the future as there’s relevant news or things that we have to talk about. This has been great. I’ve certainly learned a lot. I very appreciate you joining the conversation.
Stuart: Thanks for having me, Russel. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed having that conversation and hopefully exposing your listeners to a little bit of another side of the business that some of them may not be as familiar about.
Russel: Thank you for being a guest.
Stuart: I’m happy to come back whenever.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast on our conversation with Stuart Saulters. Just a reminder before you go. You should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: If you have ideas questions or topics that you would be interested in, please let us know in the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords