Pipeliners Podcast

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Pipeliners Podcast host Russel Treat welcomes back pipeline historian KC Yost to discuss an important industry membership group, The Pipeliners Association of Houston.

Listen for valuable insight on the formation of the group, the association’s mission of knowledge transfer to advance pipeline engineering and operating practices, the growth of the association’s scholarship offerings to support aspiring professionals, and more.

Whether you live and work in Houston or elsewhere in the U.S., discover how the information in this episode applies to your local region.

Pipeliners Association: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

Pipeliners Association: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 68, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, providers of POEMS, Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, compliance, and operations software for the pipeline control center. Find out more at EnerSysCorp.com.

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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. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode.

This week, our winner is Brianna Peak with Central Hudson Gas and Electric. Congratulations, Brianna, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around until the end of the episode.

This week, we welcome back KC Yost specifically to talk about the Pipeliners Association of Houston, its mission, and his experience and work with that group over a number of years. I think you’ll find this very interesting. KC, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.

KC Yost:  Hello, Russel. Thank you very much for having me back. It’s a pleasure.

Russel:  As always, and I’m glad that I’ve got you on. It’s something I’ve actually been wanting to do for a while, and that’s to talk about the Pipeliners Association, and in particular, the Pipeliners Association for Houston.

I know you have been involved with that group for quite some time. I thought you might start out by telling us a little bit about what is the Pipeliners Association, maybe a little bit about its mission and a little bit about how it got started?

KC:  Be happy to, Russel. By the way, I’m very pleased that my employer, Cronus Technology, encourages me and my associates to attend these meetings as many operating companies and contractors encourage their employees to make it out to these meetings. It’s quite exciting to know that the firms in our industry are supporting the organization.

Pipeliners Association of Houston actually started in 1953. I attended my first meeting in 1977 when the Houston Engineering and Scientific Society building was actually down off of Pierce Elevated, downtown Houston.

Hess has moved a couple of times since then, once to Greenway Plaza, and now, out to just west of Galleria, in front of the Enbridge building. That’s where we are. Pipeliners Association has followed Hess over the last 40 plus years, at least as far back as I can go.

Russel:  What’s the mission of the Pipeliners Association? What are you guys about?

KC:  It’s a very simple mission, Russel. The 1,500 member organization mission is to advance pipeline engineering and operating practices. Very, very simple, very straightforward. The key is focusing on knowledge transfer.

Russel:  What are some of the mechanisms you guys use for doing that?

KC:  There are a number of tasks that we perform to try and promote the mission. One is monthly meetings with speakers. At these meetings, we’ll talk about industry advancements, environmentally conscious installation methods.

I remember when everyone got excited that horizontal directional drilling, direct pipe came out, and different methods like that. When ROSEN came out with an ILI tool that can determine the pipe yield strength when you’ve lost your records, they’ve actually been able to validate and verify that they can do that.

The monthly meetings also talk about current events and forecasts. We have an annual industry projection meeting in January. Another example is the Corps of Engineers local colonel coming to make a presentation to talk about permits and permitting processes that are going to be imposed in the area for pipelines.

Russel:  I actually went to the annual meeting, not this January, but January a year ago. I found it fascinating. I knew there was a whole lot of pipeline projects that were coming down the pipeline, and were expected to break loose with the new administration at that time.

What I found really interesting is the conversation about some of the pipe sizes, the ability to actually procure that pipe, the capacity of the rolling mills, and the availability of the equipment to lay that pipe, and how that was going to affect how quickly those things could get built.

It was a lot more detailed than what I would have anticipated in terms of the logistics around what all this stuff takes.

KC:  We have some very good presenters who have excellent research teams that put all of this information together. Of course, many of the projects that you are talking about are natural gas lines. Of course, that information is available through FERC. There are other sources out there, the federal permits that are going to be required for the oil lines as well.

Doing that research and putting it all together allows those of us who live in our own little world here in Houston a chance to see what’s happening up in Appalachia, what’s happening up in the Bakken, what’s happening in the Rocky Mountains. It’s really a great presentation. I enjoy going to that one especially every year.

Russel:  I will say some of the other technical presentations I’ve been to, they’re quite good. A lot of times, they involve a lot of meat. They’re not just fluff. There’s a lot there.

KC:  We’ve had a requirement at the organization, for as far back as I can remember, that we welcome vendors to come in and talk about new technology, new developments, and all of that. We just ask that they not turn it into a sales call.

That’s always worked out quite well. Every vendor that we’ve had, with just a couple of exceptions, has always adhered to that request. Normally, you walk out with a great deal of knowledge that you didn’t have before, when you walked in the door.

Russel:  What are the other things you do, other than the monthly meetings, in terms of knowledge transfer?

KC:  Professional development is one of our key drivers. I am not on the Board of Directors this year, but I was last year and had served a number of terms. Last year, we agreed with our Pipeline Young Professionals that we would help sponsor some partnerships with the University of Texas for orientation and continuing education packages.

The idea is let’s help fight that learning curve. Let’s have the older guys sit down and visit with different subject matter experts and collect information from them and be able to pass it on to the next generation. Then you’ve got guys like me that have a few PE licenses, that need to work on the continuing education and can always use a refresher course.

The idea is that we go in and we can go back through the basics of hydraulics, fluid flow, and all of those issues, get back up to speed, and use that for our continuing education for our professional engineer’s license. That’s pretty important.

Tying back into the PYP, or the Pipeline Young Professionals, professional mentorships. These young members of our organization — they’re all under 35 — got together and decided to form their own little group where they have meetings often and look at ways of promoting pipelining and the pipeline industry for their generation.

They’ve come to a number of us and asked us to be mentors to different individuals. I have two young men that I talk to on a fairly regular basis regarding their development in the industry, how I see the industry going, whether you should get an MBA or get your PE license, interesting questions like that.

Russel:  I think that’s awesome, KC. When a young person is really interested in their career and they’re asking those questions, somebody who’s looking back over several decades and reflecting on when they were making similar decisions… those are a big deal. You make a decision to get an MBA or a PE or advanced degree in engineering, all those things are good, but it’s better if it’s aligned with who you are, your interests, and what you want to pursue as a career.

KC:  Truly.

Russel:  There are different tracks in the pipelining world that you might decide to pursue.

KC:  Absolutely. After a couple of years, I’ve learned one of them will come and ask me a question. My first question right back to him is “What did your father say?” He has, for a number of years, been comparing my answers and his father’s answers.

Russel:  [laughs] You know what the Bible says, man. In numerous counsel comes wisdom.

KC:  [laughs]

Russel:  I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what it says.

KC:  Yes, absolutely.

Russel:  I know that the Pipeline Young Professionals did something with PRCI and the Technology Center here in Houston, where they were able to go out there and spend a day and learn. I know the old folks like myself were not invited, because I tried to go.

I’m trying to learn about pipeline integrity, and pigging, and all that stuff, which is really not where I’ve spent my career, and I was told I couldn’t go. It was just for the PYP.

KC:  [laughs] Understood. They will allow us to attend their mixers, but there’s a reason why it’s called the PYP and not POP, Pipeline Old Professionals.

Russel:  [laughs] Maybe we need to start the POPs group. That would be good.

KC:  [laughs] A lot of these kids are half my age, but they’re so extremely intelligent. I’m really encouraged by what I see the next generation doing, just taking what we’ve done and multiplying it tenfold.

Russel:  No doubt. There’s certainly a reason to have hope for the future, no doubt about that.

KC:  Absolutely.

Russel:  I have gone to the Pipeliners Association, off and on over the years. I’ve grown up more on the SCADA and measurement side of things, and I think the Pipeliners Association is more about the materials and construction sciences than measurement, per se.

I’m curious. What’s been your history? I know you’ve been involved with them a long time. How have you seen it change over the years, and what’s going on around the country as it relates to these pipeliners associations?

KC:  It’s quite an open-ended question.

[laughter]

Russel:  Yeah, it is.

KC:  I remember being awestruck, going to my first meeting in 1977. A great bunch of individuals, extremely knowledgeable pipeliners all getting together, and talking shop, and comparing notes, and seeing how things were developed.

Hard to believe that in ’77, the organization had already been around for 24 years, and now it’s another 42 years. It’s sustained very, very well. Back then, I believe we had a few hundred members, but it was more of a networking arrangement. Over the years, we’ve morphed into more of a knowledge transfer type organization.

With that being said, there have been a number of other pipeliners associations that have spawned throughout the United States. The Louisiana Pipeliners Association, for example, spun off of our group. A gentleman named Mark Roberts and his daughter Monique put that group together years and years ago, and they actually have a traveling dinner on a monthly basis.

They’ll have a dinner in Homer, and then another one in Baton Rouge, and another one in Lafayette. They’ll have a golf tournament, just like us. They’ll have a fishing tournament, and they’ll put money together for scholarships.

I know that they’ve worked very hard to build that group. I’ve attended a few meetings there, and there’ll be a hundred people there, and good turnout, and frankly, very, very good food.

[laughter]

Russel:  You would expect that, right?

KC:  Truly. Absolutely. The Tulsa Pipeliners Association has been around for a long, long time as well, a lot longer than Louisiana’s, probably almost as long as the Houston Pipeliners. They have a nice, as I recall, luncheon meeting. At least when I made a presentation there years ago, it was a luncheon meeting. They have a nice group of people that get together there.

San Antonio is relatively new, but the San Antonio Pipeliners will meet out at the NuStar offices for lunch, and they just had their pipeliners golf tournament on Friday, I believe.

Denver has the Rocky Mountain Pipeliners Association, Pittsburgh has a Pipeliners Association for Appalachia. I look forward to going to a meeting up there sometime.

I’ve been to the Atlanta and made a presentation to the pipeliners association there. It was a luncheon meeting, over in Buckhead, as I recall. May have moved since then, but great group of people there.

The newest pipeliners association I’m aware of that was formed by my friend Mark Campbell is out in the Permian. Matter of fact, I don’t think it’s six months old yet. Good to see Mark and the guys getting together out there with all of the development out in West Texas.

Russel:  Yeah, there’s a lot going on out in the Permian right now.

KC:  Truly.

Russel:  The thing that’s been getting all the press is the shale development, but people are maybe not as aware of how much is going on in midstream and in pipelining, related to all that. There’s a huge need for takeaway capacity. There’s a lot of product that’s stranded or bottlenecked, and a lot of people trying to figure out how to get that out.

KC:  Yes, there are a number of proposals out for natural gas, as well as oil pipelines going from West Texas over to the Gulf Coast. Absolutely. All of these organizations, I think, are pretty autonomous, except for probably a handful of members that actually are members of two, three, or four of these organizations.

I think at some point in time, leadership will probably talk about getting together and having some kind of umbrella organization, to help promote pipeliners associations in other locations like the Bakken and where other midstream activity is taking place, to try and help and promote pipelining in that area.

The mission, frankly, is the same for all of us. Again, it comes down to engineering and operating practices, and advancing the proper techniques.

Russel:  There’s no doubt about that. It’s not unlike what we’re trying to do here with the Pipeliners Podcast. I think it’s just another opportunity to learn. One of the questions I wanted to ask you, KC, because in the last six months, I’ve gone to several of the Pipeliners Association of Houston meetings, and it is a big group of people.

I have no idea how many people show up at a meeting, but it’s easily hundreds. In a smaller group, it’s a little easier to stick your hand out and meet some people, and I find Pipeliners Association of Houston to be a little intimidating, actually.

What advice would you give to somebody who was coming for the first time and wanted to get the most out of the meeting?

KC:  Come in, register, and then start walking around with you name tag on, and shake hands and introduce yourself. That’s how you start. You won’t have a single person at the pipeliners not shake your hand, or not take the time to visit with you, or ask you who you’re with, or that type of thing.

Don’t immediately get out the business card. Have a conversation for a little while, and if it seems to be going well, then pass out the business card.

Understand, this whole industry is about relationships, and it’s important for you to build on those relationships. You may not get the guy’s business card at the first meeting, but you’ll recognize his face at the second one. It’s easy to walk over, shake his or her hand, and say, “Didn’t give you a business card last time. Here it is, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and have a nice, short conversation, a single mingle if you will.

Be the social butterfly, float from spot to spot and visit with different people. I had it easy. I had someone take me to the Pipeliners Association. I had someone introduce me around, which made life very, very easy for me. If the individual has someone that can do that for them, then great. If not, by all means, follow my advice. Just go and start shaking hands and introducing yourself.

Russel:  When I’m in groups where I don’t know people, I use the three question rule, meaning if I can get through three questions, I can probably hold a conversation.

Generally, that’s “What’s your name? Who you with? What do you do?” Maybe, “What’s the interesting thing you’re dealing with these days in terms of technology,” or something like that, something a little more open-ended.

If you get through a handful of questions, you can get a conversation going. Then, you begin to build a relationship. I think your point’s well made that this is still a relationship business. People do business with people they trust and know. The challenge is, you’ve got to make an investment of time and effort to become trusted and known.

KC:  I promise you that if you come alone and you start going around and shaking hands and introducing yourself, you will not have a single person refuse your handshake or refuse to have a short conversation with you. That doesn’t happen in our organization, young or old. [laughs]

Russel:  That’s certainly been my experience. That’s certainly been my experience.

KC:  Good. I’m glad to hear that.

Russel:  It’s interesting for me, KC, because like yourself, you go to a Pipeliners meeting and you know everybody. You probably know more people than you don’t know. I certainly have meetings I go to that’s like that.

When I go to the Pipeliners, it tends to be more I’m the new guy. It actually is helpful for me because it causes me to get out of my shell a little bit, go stick my hand out, and say, “Hi. I’m Russel. Who are you?”

KC:  If you do that four consecutive meetings, you’re no longer the new guy.

Russel:  [laughs] That’s right. That’s a good point. Very good point.

KC:  Sit with people at a table that you don’t know the people. Sit down and visit. There’s always great conversation at the table.

Russel:  I think that’s great advice. Find some people you don’t know. If you go with somebody you do know, sit down for dinner with somebody you don’t know. I think that’s great advice.

I want to also talk about the scholarship program because I don’t think people have any idea about, for one, the Pipeliners Association of Houston and its scholarship program, much less what’s available at all these other pipeline associations.

KC:  I remember late ’70s, early ’80s, when a gentleman named Mr. Bruce Shrake would put together our pipeliners golf tournaments. It’d be two, three dozen of us going out to the old Tennwood, I think it’s called, the Oaks of Tennwood now, out off of Hegar Road in Hockley.

Russel:  Out by the old Tenneco control center.

KC:  Exactly. It was Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s old golf course, back when companies had golf courses.

Russel:  [laughs] You don’t find that anymore.

KC:  No, you sure don’t. We’d go out there. We’d drink a lot of beer. We’d play a round of golf and put money together. We would raise $500. We’d get very excited about that and give it to someone’s child for a scholarship.

Fast forward to when I was president of the organization in 2000 and 2001. I couldn’t believe it. 2001 was the first year that we actually raised over $100,000 to pass out for scholarships. I believe we passed them out to 50 college students. We were very, very excited about that.

Last year, the year before, and the year before that, they passed out well over $700,000 each year…

Russel:  Wow.

KC:  …to over 100 kids. It’s an amazing growth spurt these guys have gone through. I’m very excited about it.

Russel:  That’s enough to give a kid a full ride through college.

KC:  It’s amazing. Now, of course you have to apply each year for the scholarship. The organization does a wonderful job with this. It’s set up so that you’re actually adjudicating the sponsor as much as you are the student, that is the sponsor has to have been a member of the organization for two years, had to attend at least four meetings the prior calendar year.

The more volunteer work that an individual had done, if they’d gone through the organization chairs, if they’d been a chairman for a committee, if they had been on the board of directors, they get more points for the evaluation sheet. The student, of course, we’re looking at GPA and that type of thing and character in the evaluation.

But it’s not limited to engineers, and I was scholarship chairman for a number or years back in 2002 or 2006, I believe, and we were passing out scholarships to children that were going to become doctors, lawyers, one was studying music. Actually we’ve had a number that were studying music that have come through and received scholarship.

We’ve had children fly in from the U.K. for interviews. One of the requirements is that you participate in a face-to-face interview with the scholarship committee the Saturday before Easter each year. We’ve had kids from the U.K., in particular, fly in to spend Easter with the grammy and gramps and go interview for the Pipeliners scholarships.

One of my biggest challenges back — I think it was about 2004 — was learning how to convert dollars to pound sterling, because Oxford would not take U.S. dollars in a scholarship fund.

Russel:  Fascinating.

KC:  Yeah. It’s really something. They, being the committee has done a wonderful job in making sure that the kids who are eligible and the sponsors who are eligible really have a fair shot at some cash. When you look at the committees around the golf tournaments…

We have two golf tournaments a year. The next one is April 1st, and I promise you there’ll be 500 people out of Kingwood or Deerwood to play golf. They have two sporting clay events, a huge fishing tournament down at Port Aransas that’s called the Fishout.

With those events they raise all of this money. It’s just phenomenal, and they still have enough money to set aside, as I was talking about earlier, to talk about that to professional development in partnering with UT for the orientation and continuing education packages. It’s a phenomenal organization when it comes to raising money.

Just for an interesting note, if you will, on the scholarship funds, no one in Southeast Texas passes out more money for scholarships each year than the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. In second place comes the Houston Pipeliners Association.

Russel:  That’s something to be quite proud of.

KC:  We are, we are. I’m proud to be associated with the organization, absolutely.

Russel:  I know that with some of the organizations I’ve been involved with, when you start doing this kind of work and you get your help, and kids get through school and helping their parents pay for it, that’s about as good as life can get right there, to be honest with you.

KC:  Right, right, and we’ve had husbands come in with wives applying for scholarships going back to school. The kids have grown, and now she would like to go back to school.

We’ve had unusual situations, if you will. Stepsons, stepdaughters, grandsons, granddaughters, it’s really amazing. Husbands with wives and wives with husbands applying for scholarships.

Russel:  If I might ask, KC. You talk about sponsorships and students, so I guess the sponsors are the people who nominate the students for the scholarships?

KC:  A Pipeliner Association member must be the sponsor, yes.

Russel:  Can you sponsor other than family is the question I wanted to ask.

KC:  No, the limit is immediate family. That’s been expanded over time to include grandchildren, as I’d made mention. Nieces, nephews will be included, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, but relatively close relatives. [laughs]

Russel:  My wife and I, we don’t have kids, but we have nieces and nephews, and they’re young, so I graduated straight to pseudo grandparent. Anyways, that’s why I was asking the question. I have a personal interest in the answer. [laughs]

KC:  Perfect. That’s a perfect application. My niece, who got a mechanical engineering degree from Cal Poly, actually received a pipeliners scholarship.

Russel:  Awesome.

KC:  Absolutely. Have you seen the tuition that they charge here in California?

Russel:  I don’t think I want to know.

KC:  [laughs]

Russel:  I’m aware of what they charge you for a state college here in Texas, and that’s enough. I don’t want to know anything beyond that. [laughs]

KC:  Understood.

Russel:  Look, KC, we will certainly link up some information about the Pipeliners Association in the website. I’d like for you, if you would, to just wrap this conversation up in just a few sentences. What would you like people to know that we haven’t already talked about, about the Pipeliners Association?

KC:  First, right off the bat, you mentioned it. The website is houstonpipeliners.net. All of the information that you might need is on the website. As far as attending the meetings, understand you do not have to be a member in order to attend a meeting. Come try it out.

I believe the meals are $45. I’ve not met a single company that hasn’t allowed you to put that on expense account. If you’re in the energy industry, come and visit. Let the people that you’re seeing as you check in, let them know that you’re new and want to know your way around, and I’m sure they’ll help you with that.

I just want to encourage more and more people in the Houston metropolitan area to come to the Houston Pipeliners Association, and encourage those people that live in South Louisiana, or in Tulsa, or San Antonio, or Denver, or in the Pittsburgh area, or Atlanta, or out in West Texas, to support the local pipeliners association organizations there.

Again, pipeline is in fact the safest mode of transportation for hydrocarbons known. Not truck, not rail. It’s pipelines. We want to make sure the pipelines stay safe, and with a very simple mission of making sure that we’re advancing pipeline engineering and operating practices properly.

It’s a key. If you support the organization, the organization will support the industry, and I think we’ll all benefit from that.

Russel:  If I might, I haven’t done this in a while, but I think I want to do the three key takeaways here. Number one is, come and learn. Number two is, make some friends and have some fun supporting the industry, and learning. Number three is, it’s a great way to help put your kids through school. [laughs] That seems to be really three good takeaways, to me.

KC:  I think you’ve boiled it down nicely. Thank you very much.

Russel:  KC, thanks for joining us, and I look forward to having you back. We’ve got to talk some more old-timer pipeline history again.

KC:  I’d enjoy that very much, Russel. Thanks for letting me talk about an organization that’s near and dear to my heart, though. I appreciate that very much.

Russel:  So glad to have you on.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, and our conversation with KC Yost.

Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win, to enter yourself in the drawing.

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Russel:  If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let us know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com, or reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Thanks for listening, I’ll talk to you next week.

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Transcription by CastingWords

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