In this episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, host Russel Treat invites Mark LaCour back to the show to review their industry predictions from the previous year and make new pipeline industry predictions for 2024.
Listen to the episode now to hear the review of past predictions, and discussions on the future of the industry. This episode covers topics like AI in pipeline integrity, changing views on ESG in oil and gas, the importance of natural gas infrastructure, possible mergers, carbon capture viability, and the increasing acceptance of suing protesters disrupting pipelines. The episode concludes with a discussion about the challenges of attracting talent to the industry and the appeal of trade jobs for young individuals.
The discussion covers topics such as CO2 as a revenue stream, the impact of the current administration on permitting, pipeline construction in BRICS countries, physical security on infrastructure, LNG export from North America, pipeline infrastructure in Europe, retrofitting pipelines for methane issues, and more.
Listen for a comprehensive overview of the oil and gas landscape with insights from industry veterans.
Pipeline Industry Predictions Show Notes, Links and Insider Terms
- Mark LaCour is the Director of modalpoint, editor-in-chief of the Oil & Gas Global Network (OGGN), and co-host of the Oil & Gas This Week podcast. Connect with Mark on LinkedIn.
- modalpoint is the premier oil & gas sales enablement company. The main practice areas are market research and strategy, all solely focused on the global oil and gas industry, and all built upon what truly works and not classroom theory.
- BRIC is a term describing the foreign investment strategies grouping acronym that stands for Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
- Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state (liquefied), at about -260° Fahrenheit, for shipping and storage. The volume of natural gas in its liquid state is about 600 times smaller than its volume in its gaseous state in a natural gas pipeline.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rule-making, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- LPAC (Liquid Pipeline Advisory Committee) and GPAC (Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee) are statutorily mandated advisory committees that advise PHMSA on proposed gas pipeline and hazardous liquid pipeline safety standards, respectively, and their associated risk assessments. The committees consist of 15 members with membership evenly divided among Federal and State governments, the regulated industry, and the general public. The committees advise PHMSA on the technical feasibility, reasonableness, cost-effectiveness, and practicability of each proposed pipeline safety standard.
- Hydrogen Gas is a clean energy carrier that can be used to store, move, and deliver energy produced from other sources. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of domestic resources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, and renewable power like solar and wind. These qualities make it an attractive fuel option for transportation and electricity generation applications. It can be used in cars, in houses, for portable power, and in many more applications.
- Fossil fuels are made from decomposing plants and animals and are found in the Earth’s crust, containing carbon and hydrogen, which can be burned for energy. Coal, oil, and natural gas are examples of fossil fuels.
- CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) involves the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial processes, such as steel and cement production, or from the burning of fossil fuels in power generation. This carbon is then transported from where it was produced, via ship or in a pipeline, and stored deep underground in geological formations.
- IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) of 2022 is a landmark United States federal law which aims to curb inflation by containing $500 billion in new spending and tax breaks that aim to boost clean energy, reduce healthcare costs, and increase tax revenues.
- EOR (Enhanced oil recovery) also called tertiary recovery, is the extraction of crude oil from an oil field that cannot be extracted otherwise. EOR can extract 30% to 60% or more of a reservoir’s oil, compared to 20% to 40% using primary and secondary recovery.
- AI is Artificial Intelligence, the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems.
- ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) refers to the sustainability movement in oil and gas to continue operating safely, in compliance, and in a responsible manner to do no harm while achieving business objectives.
- R&D stands for research and development.
Pipeline Industry Predictions Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast” episode 317, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, providers of POEMS, the Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, compliance, and operations software for the pipeline control center to address control room management, SCADA, and audit readiness. Find out more about POEMS at EnerSysCorp.com.
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 the appreciation we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week our winner is Diana Felling with the Department of Transportation. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week, Mark LaCour with the Oil and Gas Global Network joins us to discuss his predictions and mine for 2024. Hey, Mark LaCour, welcome back to the Pipeliners podcast. Glad to have you.
Mark LaCour: Good to see you, Russell. We probably should do this more than once a year because I really enjoy conversations together. We’re in the same space. You’re one of my closest peers in the industry. We just have a good time. Glad to be back.
Russel: I got to tell you, Mark, before we get into the subject at hand, I want to let you know that I’ve had several people who are doing podcasts reach out to me and say, “Russell, you brought us on your podcast. We got excited about it. We went and started our own.”
What a lot of people probably don’t know is that before I started the Pipeliners podcast, I reached out to you and said I had this crazy idea. You were very supportive and gave me some good coaching and some good insight, so kudos. The listeners know Mark was certainly a mentor of mine in terms of this whole podcasting endeavor. You’re kind of the godfather of podcasting in Oil and Gas.
Mark: I am not the godfather of podcasting, although we did start the first one. I see every other oil, gas/energy podcaster as family. The market is still wide open for all of us. It’s just a good way to help educate the public.
Quite frankly, and I’ve seen the data, the American and European public are getting to the point now where they don’t trust their own news regardless of what political side they’re on. They’re trusting podcasts more and more.
I think all of us as podcasters have a responsibility to get good solid information out there so that the world knows the reality of stuff.
Russel: We need, to the best of our ability, get the truth out. What I mean by truth is, this is how things actually work. You make your decision about whether that’s good or bad. That’s not my thing. I want you to understand how it works.
Mark: Just the facts.
Russel: Yeah, exactly. Just facts. Like “Dragnet,” if you’re old enough to remember that. I’m dating ourselves.
Mark: Nobody knows who Dragnet is anymore.
Russel: Look, I’ve asked Mark to come on because being the guru of oil and gas podcasting, he’s also the guru of oil and gas projections or forecasting or what’s going to happen next year. I thought we would start and you and I could do a review of our predictions from last year. Then we’ll open it up, and we’ll make our predictions for 2024.
Mark: Let’s do it.
Russel: You want a scorecard of how you did there?
Mark: I don’t actually have my old predictions in front of me, but I suspect I didn’t get them all right. How did I do last year?
Russel: We’ll walk through them. The first prediction you had is that CO2 is going to be a new revenue stream.
Mark: Missed that one.
Not lying, that was wrong.
Russel: No further commentary required. The second was the current administration is going to continue to hamper permitting and growth.
Mark: Got that one right.
Russel: Yeah, in spades. Then the next was pipeline construction in BRICS.
Mark: Yeah, I missed that one.
Russel: You probably should define BRICS for the pipeline audience. They may not know what that is.
Mark: Brazil, India, and China. It’s a part of the world that has grown in need of energy and I thought the pipeline infrastructure they needed there was really pumping a lot of money and time into it last year, and they haven’t. They will, it just didn’t happen last year.
Russel: The other was an increased need for physical security on infrastructure.
Mark: I think I got that one right.
Russel: Yeah, no doubt. Enormous need for new pipeline infrastructure for LNG export from North America.
Mark: Got that one right, I would say.
Russel: Yeah, and certainly there’s been some things in the press this year about some LNG operations that were cutting back their deliveries just for lack of supply. Certainly, I think you’re going to see more activity, particularly coming from the Permian and going into the Gulf Coast.
Russel: I think we’re going to see a lot more activity there. The next was a huge need for pipeline infrastructure in Europe to regasify LNG.
Mark: I think I got that one right too.
Russel: Yeah. Then the last was a second tier of projects to retrofit pipelines to ensure they can reliably measure and mitigate any type of methane issues.
Mark: I’m going to call that one a draw. There’s been some work there, but not as much as I thought there was going to be.
Russel: There’s probably more than what you’re aware of. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but there is a big rulemaking making its way through PHMSA called leak detection and repair, which is all about methane leaks and identifying and mitigating particularly small methane leaks. It’s big deal.
As we record this, we’re less than a week away from the Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee meeting in DC, where PHMSA takes input about their rulemaking.
Mark: So you’re saying I got that one right, Russell?
Russel: Yes, absolutely, Mark.
Russel: You got that one right. Overall, you had seven predictions, you got five of them correct. That’s a 71 percent average.
Mark: That’s OK. I average about 73, and considering I tried to predict what’s going on in the entire industry, not just in midstream, I’ll take that as a win. How did you do?
Russel: I had five predictions. One of mine was increasing cyber and physical security attention. I would say yes.
I would say, in the last year, I spent a significant amount of additional time with all of our software orders reviewing cyber profiles and cyber requirements related to the implementation and deployment of our software, way more so than what we’ve seen in the past. I was just probably continuing.
Then I said there’s going to be a lot of LNG and related projects. I’d say I got that right. I said more projects, but less of them in the new cycle. What I meant by that is a fewer number of projects, but larger scale. I would say I got that right as well.
Russel: Then I said, we’re going to see some CO2 projects actually get done.
Russel: Yeah, fail. Then I said ESG and hydrogen are going to continue, but they’re going to slow down.
Mark: I’ll give you the win for that one.
Russel: Which was controversial. That was a controversial prediction when I made it. That gives me a score of 80 percent. I think two years running, I’m doing slightly better than Mr. LaCour.
Mark: Russel, the day I beat you in your own industry is the day that you need to start worrying about stuff. That’s great, man. 80 percent, that is fantastic. That puts you at rockstar status.
Russel: What I would say about that, if I had to change the CO2 prediction to lots of CO2 projects announced, I would have gotten that one right.
Mark: Then you’d have gotten that one, yeah.
Russel: Mine was, we’re actually going to see some getting done. If it’s OK, I’m going to start with my predictions for 2024, and then I’ll let you make yours.
Mark: Do it.
Russel: If that’s OK. My first prediction is that we’re going to see an increasing move back to fossil fuels and increasing velocity or getting projects done.
Mark: I would agree with that 100 percent. In fact, it’s in my prediction just worded a little bit differently.
Russel: I’m talking specifically, of course, about pipelines. I think we’re going to see more mergers, and we’re going to see the big continue to get bigger.
Mark: Dude, did you read my script somehow? Keep going. I agree with you on that one.
Russel: The other I said is that hydrogen is going to continue. We’re actually going to see it build velocity.
Mark: I’m going to disagree with you on that one. We’ll see.
Mark: A couple of things. Existing infrastructure just is not prepared to handle the hydrogen, especially some of the older steel pipe where it makes it brittle. I’ve yet to see large companies agree on exactly what is the type of hydrogen they want to bring to market.
I see the benefits. I’m actually very bullish on hydrogen. I just don’t think, from a business point of view, we’re there yet. We’ll see.
Russel: I agree with your assessment overall, but when you start talking about hydrogen blending, when you blend hydrogen into a natural gas system, particularly at levels of 15 percent of volume or less, it mitigates all the embrittlement.
There’s a number of utilities that are already well underway to actually do some projects and deployments. I think you’re going to see it building speed. I don’t think you’re going to see a huge lift, but you’re going to see some things happening.
Mark: I actually hope you’re right, but from the predictions point of view, I’m going to disagree with you on this one.
Russel: OK, good. That gives the listeners a little room to wiggle and manipulate, make their own decisions. The other thing I said is there’s going to be a lot of focus on leak detection for small leaks.
Mark: Yes. I think we’re going…
Russel: We’re transitioning out of a period of time worried about rupture and quick response. Now, we have to find all the little stuff and put together a plan for cleaning it up. That’s a good thing. There’s a lot of work to be done about how we’re going to do it, and do it efficiently, and effectively, and all of that.
Then, here’s my last prediction. CO₂ is going to stall.
Mark: I’m going to disagree with you on that one as well.
Let me go back to the small methane leak. I agree with you. It’s good for the business. It’s good for the industry. It’s good for the environment.
Quite frankly, we’re at the point now, from a maturity point of view, that from an infrastructure perspective, let’s quit throwing dollars, or pennies actually, in the air. Let’s capture that methane and make a couple of pennies off of it. Finally, we’re able to do that. That’s a really good thing.
Back to the CO₂ thing. No, I’m going to disagree with you on that one. I think it’s coming, but we’ll see.
Russel: Let’s talk about this a little bit, because I have some pretty strong opinions about this. I’ve been working in and around the CO₂ business off and on for pretty much all my career. Probably, I’m a little closer to it than most because of some of the things we’ve done in our past.
CO₂, other than enhanced oil recovery, is a completely propped up market. It’s completely structured by government rule and regulation.
Mark: Now we have to figure out what slice of time we’re talking about. Currently, in the last couple of years, I would say, yes, with the Inflation Reduction Act. I don’t know what the market was like before that. CO₂ is used commercially for a lot of things, beverages…
Russel: My first job out of the military was as a CO₂ cryogenics applications engineer.
Mark: Was it profitable then, before the environmentalists got involved?
Russel: Oh yeah.
Mark: OK, so at one point it was profitable. Lately, there’s a lot of subsidy money that’s being thrown at it, which makes it not profitable. 100 percent agree on that.
I think there’s a market there for it and that market is being supported by some rather large companies that typically don’t make long term mistakes, like ExxonMobil. Now, we’re talking about enhanced oil recovery, which you and I off the mic talked about.
We may want to explain to your audience who, if they’re predominantly a pipeline audience, may not understand what we’re talking about in the fact that, basically, if you take a reservoir, all conventional reservoirs, as they go through a life cycle, slowly deplete. It gets to the point where it’s not economical to get the hydrocarbons out of the ground.
There’s several ways that you can spin that around and change it. One of which is enhanced oil recovery. One of the enhanced oil recovery methods is CO₂ injection. Basically, you’re just adding energy to the oil so it’s less viscous, so it doesn’t stick to the rock as well. It makes it cheaper to get back out of the ground. That’s not new. CO₂ EOR has been around for a very long time.
Russel: Since the ’60s.
Mark: It works really well. If you’re one of the people who believe that we need to pull CO₂ out of our atmosphere, which I’m not, but you also lock that CO₂ to that rock, so you get that benefit as well.
One of the things that’s going on now is several large companies, ExxonMobil, Oxy, Booth, are looking at direct air capture, which makes no financial sense now because it’s less than 400 parts per million. That’s a lot of work to get something that’s 0.4 percent of our atmosphere out of the air.
In certain things, like the production of whiskey, ethanol, and beer, those CO₂ plumes are very concentrated. It’s very economical to pull that CO₂ out. You can store that CO₂, move it. Traditionally, oil and gas operators that wanted to use CO₂ injection would buy that CO₂ from somebody.
As funny as it is, now our tax dollars are paying for this CO₂ to be captured and stored. Instead of having to buy it as a product, they’re basically going to get it for free. Actually, they’ll get it for free at a profit and still be able to use it for enhanced oil recovery.
That market is solid. I think ExxonMobil sees it. I think other companies see it. We talked a little bit about the acquisition of Denbury. I’ve known Denbury for a very long time. They figured it out before anybody. They just couldn’t quite pull it off. I think this…
Russel: They didn’t have deep enough pockets to fully realize their vision.
Russel: That’s the thing with Denbury. Everything you’re saying is correct, but I’ll add a little color to this. Historically, all the EOR recovery was done by piping CO₂ from natural formations of CO₂. CO₂ exists underground in geologic structures, just like oil and gas, and other things.
There’s a big formation in Cortez, New Mexico — I guess Cortez, Colorado – area, that is owned by Kinder Morgan. There’s a big one in Jackson Dome outside of Jackson, Mississippi, owned by Denbury. They built pipeline networks to take that CO₂ into older oil fields.
CO₂ used for other applications like pH control, and cryogenic freezing, and that sort of thing was historically captured off of a waste stream around some kind of petrochemical plant or coal burning electric plant or so forth. That market was all constrained because all that product would be trucked to the point of use.
The problem is that nobody has ever scaled up the capture. There’s been some demonstration projects, but relatively small. Nobody’s done anything around direct air capture of CO₂ at scale.
Mark: Yeah, agree.
Russel: It’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs from just a real hardcore financial analysis standpoint.
My premise is that, one, CO₂ is fundamentally uneconomic at scale. If you look at all the CO₂ produced as waste versus what we could use for EOR and other applications, it’s a hundred to one, a thousand to one. I don’t know the exact numbers, but way big. Big enough to completely disrupt the market. That’s one fundamental problem I see.
The other fundamental problem I see is everybody’s scared of CO₂. Nobody will permit it. You can’t get a project at scale permitted.
Mark: Those are all very valid points. I didn’t think about the people being scared of it.
Perception drives markets. You look at the fact that you and I right now are most probably not using electricity made from nuclear. The reason we’re not is a perception that was spawned by Greenpeace in the ’70s. Right now, our electricity probably should be coming from nuclear, but perception changed that market completely.
You’re right. People don’t understand. It’s really sad. People now, when they hear CO₂, think it’s toxic, that it’s not natural, that there’s something wrong with it. I can see people, I can see landowners, especially, going, “I don’t want that toxic CO₂ pipeline in my backyard.”
Russel: There’s one major pipeline incident involving a CO2 pipeline that caused the community to get evacuated and caused a lot of problems for a lot of the people. While it’s not toxic, it is an asphyxiant. It displaces oxygen. In high enough concentrations, it can be deadly. It’s not deadly because it poisons you, it’s deadly because it basically suffocates you.
Mark: Let’s not have an organic chemistry conversation here because I can keep going on and on about heavy gasses.
Russel: Hey, I’m with the Pipeliners podcast, we love technical.
Mark: Actually, I do too. It’s really funny, I hated organic chemistry in college. In fact, I still can’t believe I passed the class. I took it three times and dropped it three times. Russel, I now know way more about organic chemistry now that I got into the oil and gas industry and I enjoy it to understand how the molecules work and how everything functions.
Russel: Funny how that works, right?
Mark: It really is.
Russel: Later in your career, it’s like there’s some time delay between when the information goes in and when it gets integrated into your thinking.
Mark: Dude, I wish I had a time machine to go back and take those organic chemistry class tests that I had to take to pass college at USL because I would ace it now.
Russel: Yeah. Maybe.
Russel: I don’t want to go back and do that again. Although I had the same experience with calculus. I was on the math team in high school, and then struggled with calculus in college, and then finally got an A in it the third time I took it. Then, I ended up three hours short of a math degree. It’s funny how that plays out.
Anyways, coming back to the whole conversation about CO2, my premise is, there’s not enough political support to get it done. That’s fundamentally my belief.
Russel: That’s why I fall where I fall.
Mark: There’s tons of political support today. I just don’t think that the political support will be there in the future, so I agree with you on that.
Russel: The support exists in DC and with the big guys, it doesn’t exist with the landowners that are going to have a pipeline in the backyard.
Mark: Actually, that’s in my predictions as well. I swear, you got a crystal ball somewhere.
Russel: Maybe that means we know something about what’s going on in the market. What are some other things we should talk about that maybe don’t lend themselves to a prediction, but it’s like, something’s going to happen here but the magic eight ball future is unclear.
Mark: You want to talk about what else I think is going to happen outside of my predictions, or you want me to jump into my predictions?
Russel: Go ahead and jump into your predictions, yeah.
Mark: Then we can talk about other stuff that’s going on. Number one. I think you’re actually going to see AI driven solutions for pipeline integrity start becoming more mainstream. AI has been around for a while. The solutions that I’ve seen on the market up until recently worked really well in the lab in vitro, but not really well in the field.
I’m thinking I’m starting to see some tools out there that do a really good job of predicting failures. I think you can start seeing that become more mainstream.
Russel: Yeah, I think that I would agree with that. That’s a very good catch. It also is, it’s going to be driven because the tools are getting better. They’re capturing more deep data. They’re identifying more features, particularly more features requiring evaluation.
We don’t have enough humans to do the work. It’s going to have automation applied to it.
Mark: Yeah. The thing that worries me about that, although there’s no solution, is that for years, a lot of this stuff was based upon experience. I’ve seen guys that have been on a pipeline for 25 years plus, that could listen to it and know what the hell was going on.
Unfortunately, those guys are retiring and the new people that are coming into our industry are bright and they’re young, but they’re not going to build that base of knowledge because they’re going to have these AI tools that’s going to help them actually be very proficient at what they do.
My fear, Russell, is what happens when the AI tool breaks and you have to still figure stuff out? Have you been in a restaurant recently when they can’t use the cash registers? The cashiers can’t add, they can’t do math. I’m a little worried about that, but I think those AI tools are coming regardless.
Russel: Yeah, I would agree with you. There’s an excellent Heinlein short story I could recommend to you on this very subject.
Mark: Next thing is I think ESG impact to pipeline investors is failing. I actually think the term ESG in the oil and gas industry is slowly becoming negative. We actually have an ESG podcast that we’re going to rename to some type of sustainability.
Because I think the capital being directed by ESG failed a lot of investment companies. They didn’t get the returns that their non ESG focused peers did. I just think it’s going to go away.
Russel: Couldn’t agree more.
Mark: Yeah. Next thing is I think natural gas infrastructure, which is pipeline, will accelerate for the next couple of decades because the promise of renewable replacing hydrocarbons has failed, bottom line.
People need modern, reliable, abundant, inexpensive energy to function in today’s world and the rest of the world that’s living in these rural aggregating societies, want Western standards. Natural gas is the fuel that’s going to make that happen. I’m sorry. Love renewables. They have their place. They didn’t live up to their promises.
Russel: Again, I agree with you. What I would say is we’re going to continue to see renewables mature and evolve, and technologies improve. For us to be able to do anything approaching electrification of transportation, we’re going to have to have a thousand fold improvement in battery technology, and we’re not there.
Mark: We’re pretty far away from there. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because I could spend a lot of time. I’ve done a lot of research for my predictions for the industry as a whole.
Anyway, my next one is I think you can see an increase in mergers and acquisitions in the US, which you called as well.
Mark: You’re going to have less smaller players and more big players. Here’s where we could disagree. I think carbon capture and storage will finally become truly commercial, and it’s going to have a need for its own set of infrastructure, which is pipelines. We’ll see next year when you and I get back on the show which one of us called that one right.
Mark: The reason I see that is I see the money that’s put behind it.
Like I said, I love ExxonMobil to death. I hate doing business with them. I think they’re the best oil and gas project management engineering company on the planet and they usually don’t make mistakes. If you’re watching what they’re doing, I think there’s a commercial need for it outside of enhanced oil recovery. We’ll see.
Russel: ExxonMobil is the kind of company that can afford to spend a billion dollars on an R&D project.
Mark: Yes, and wait 20 years to see if they made the right decision or not. That’s the big thing.
Russel: That’s right.
Mark: Exxon doesn’t look at stuff per quarter, so it’s stuff a lot of people miss. Yeah.
Russel: No, they’re looking at it per quarter century.
Mark: Quarter century. You’re right.
Here’s one that’s going to be funny, ironically funny. I expect to see internal conflicts around CO₂ pipelines within the ethanol industry. The ethanol industry in the US. Now, I’m not talking about the ethanol you and I drink. That industry is just fine.
The ethanol industry, as far as renewable fuels, has always failed. There’s a reason for it, in that, trying to make ethanol in the US requires an extra step where we have to malt the corn, which requires more energy and water. Whereas in Brazil, they can just take the sugar from the sugar cane and ferment it directly, so we have an extra step in that process.
The farmers that are getting the subsidies to grow the corn are in the middle of the country, think Iowa. The people that buy the E85 vehicles that can run high ethanol blends are on the East and West Coast, totally disconnected from reality.
Just because you buy an E85 vehicle, if you can’t put E85 fuel in, it does nothing. The only E85 fuel you can find is in the middle of the country, more or less.
What’s happening is the farmers that are being subsidized to grow corn for ethanol production, there’s going to be fights around CO₂. The only way that the environmentalists will be OK with ethanol production is if they do something with that CO₂, because they release massive amounts of concentrated CO₂ in the process of fermenting the corn.
Internally, I think you’re going to see fights around CO₂ pipelines. I don’t want to see people lose business. I don’t want to see farmers get hurt. In the grand scheme of things, this is the first nail in the coffin of ethanol as a renewable fuel standard, as being forced down the refinery’s throats here in the US, is they’re going to fight internally.
Russel: My fundamental premise is the government, through regulation and law, can prop an industry up for a period of time, but they can’t create an industry and they can’t sustain it.
If that industry doesn’t, at some point in its lifecycle, cross over into real profitability, independent of any rules or regulations, then it’s not going to make it. You’re calling that out on ethanol and I’m calling that out on CO₂.
Mark: Yeah, OK. Then my final one, which I’m secretly happy for. It’s going to become more socially acceptable for pipeline companies to sue protesters that interfere with their projects.
Now, the ability to sue the protesters, at a childish level, it’s like, “OK, we’re going to get you back,” but from a business point of view, now you have insurance companies involved, now you have lawyers involved, legalese, you have courts involved.
The courts are starting to see that anytime activists interfere with a project that threatens people’s lives or the commercial viability of the project, the project owner has the rights and the abilities to go to court and sue. You can see this starting to happen, which is going to tamp down on a lot of these environmental protesters.
Let me be very clear here. I 100% believe and support your right to protest, when you do it legally. When you start chaining yourself to equipment, when you start blowing stuff up and shooting at things, when you start threatening people, that’s not protest. That’s not a legal protest. That’s being a terrorist.
Now the project owner’s going to be able to sue the protesters, and it’s going to clamp down a lot on these extreme environmentalists involved in our pipeline projects. I’m happy to see it happen.
Russel: I hope that’s right. I hope that’s right. There’s certainly some things happening in the courts in that direction already. There’s already been some decisions, I would say, that certainly allude to the conclusion you’re making. I think that’s a good thing.
Mark: It is a good thing. Shell just sued Greenpeace for climbing on one of their rigs in the North Sea last year, and the courts held it up. Greenpeace tried to settle out of court, and Shell said, “No.” We need more of that.
Once again, I support your ability to protest, your rights to protest, whatever country you’re in, as long as you’re doing it legally.
Russel: When you start messing with critical infrastructure, that’s not OK. That’s not OK.
Mark: When you break into a pipeline compression terminal and start randomly turning valves, you should go to jail. You have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t know how many people you’re threatening, how big of a negative impact you could make to the environment, much less, destroying infrastructure that you didn’t pay for.
I don’t want to go too far down this route because, once again, I could spend all day talking about this. For the first time, it’s going to be acceptable for the owners of the projects to sue the environmental extremists.
Russel: Yeah, absolutely. You make some really good points. You’re certainly raising some things that I hadn’t thought about. I think you’re right on point, Mark, as always.
I do want to come back to the question I was asking before. Whenever you sit down, you make predictions. It’s digital, it’s not an analog. You’re, “This is going to happen or this isn’t going to happen.” There’s often other things that are in the move that you’re wondering about.
One of the big things I’m wondering about is what’s going to be happening in the industry, what the future state is going to look like in three to five years as we start to work through some of these transitions? In particular, where are the people going to come from to do the work five years from now?
Mark: Russel, if you and I can figure that out, or any of your listeners, we’re a millionaire. That talent constraint has always been part of our industry. Don’t think that we’ve always had an abundance of talent.
The problem is now that a lot of our world’s young people think our industry is destroying the planet, so they don’t want to come work here, not understanding there’s good, high paying jobs. I’m watching different organizations address this in the US.
I think part of that is showing prosperity and the type of jobs, especially if you don’t want to go to college. If a young person doesn’t want to go to college here in the US and they want to go to trade school or even work as an apprentice, and learn pipe fitting, or welding, machining, you could make really, really good money. Russel, it’s attractive.
I know you’re stuck in a hole somewhere, welding metal together, you’re hot and sweaty, and you’re dirty, but when your shift is over, you just go home. Unlike you and I, who are worried about invoices, and employees, and answering calls, and all that sort of stuff. To be able to have an end to your workday, to me, is appealing.
These people, especially if you specialize in something, it’s not uncommon for a good welder that specializes in different types of welding to make $180,000, $200,000, $220,000 a year. That’s good money, and there’s a lack of talent for that.
Russel: There’s certainly some hardship and lifestyle issues to make that kind of money with the trades like that, because it does require a lot of work out of a pickup truck 50 miles from anywhere.
Mark: Yep. You’re away from home, that’s a bit of a struggle.
Russel: You’re away from home, but when you’re not working, you’re not working. There’s some real value to that.
Mark: There’s a couple of other things I’ve seen some trends going on. One is you and I, as workers in this industry, never talk to each other or our peers about mental health. That’s not what we do. We just suck it up. If you’re having a bad day, you suck it up, buttercup, and you go to work and get stuff done.
However, I’m starting to see a trend where more and more men, especially in the industry, are open to talk about mental health. In fact, we’re actually launching an oil and gas mental health podcast because of this trend. That’s a very positive thing for the industry.
Unfortunately, I know a lot of people that have issues. Now, in the old days, we called it burnout. It really wasn’t a burnout. It was somebody was having an emotional, mental issue that they struggled to take care of by themselves, and because it was taboo to talk about it, they never got help.
Just like when you lose an alternator in your car or you need a hip replacement, believe it or not, you could just fix stuff and it goes back to normal. Me personally, I’ve had mental health issues that I’ve gone to experts for and gotten around them and learned to be aware of where my shortcomings are.
You can see more holistic and more encouraging treatment of our employees, and I think that’s going to help us retain talent. It’s not going to necessarily help us recruit new talent, but it’s going to help us retain talent where normally we would have lost these men and women.
Russel: That’s an interesting observation. Again, it’s one of these things I have a philosophy about. I’ve never shared this history on the podcast, but in my youth, there was a lot going on in my family, particularly around my mother and her mental illness before my parents divorced. That had a lot of ramifications for me, for a lot of years.
I got help when I was younger, but later in life it came up again, and that help didn’t look more like leadership training than it looked like going to the psychologist and getting help. I basically said, “Well, they’re both psychology. One is somebody’s broke and you’re trying to get them unbroke, and the other is somebody’s doing well and you’re trying to help them get better.”
It’s the same basic idea. It’s working on how you relate to the emotional experience of living life and getting through it. For us and what we do when we work in high risk, highly remote, high stress kind of jobs, it can be a big deal.
That’s an interesting observation. I think one of the things we certainly have to do to be viable long term for the next generation and generations to come is we’ve got to be a desirable place to work.
Mark: Yep. Now, here’s my final one. I’m starting to see anti-oil and gas protesters have their own protesters. The Just Stop Oil team/group, which is predominantly in the UK, is a bunch of young people that are financed by some very wealthy people. I can spend hours going into that. I’ve done a lot of research.
Now you have a separate group, and if you don’t know who they are, these are the ones that are gluing themselves to priceless works of art, gluing themselves to concrete. Very much physical activists, on the edge of breaking the law. Sometimes they do break the law.
Now, there’s a group in the UK that’s called Just Stop Pissing People Off. It’s a group of young people that are sick of the Just Stop Oil people. They go to protest the Just Stop Oil people. I think that’s the beginning of a lot of this nonsense around the hydrocarbon industry from people that don’t understand basic science. I think it’s starting to go away.
What I thought was going to happen is eventually the science people would understand the science and that would help it go away. That’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is people are getting mad because their day is being interrupted, and that anger is causing them to protest. That gets the anti-oil and gas protesters, which I think is actually a good balancing thing.
The funny thing is, if you watch some of the videos, the Just Stop Oil people are all united, and they’re all wearing orange vests. They pull up someplace in London, and they start marching down the streets, very slow.
They’re stopping traffic, and people are pissed, and they don’t care, until the Just Stop Pissing People Off show up, who then start physically grabbing them, pulling them off the streets. Now all of a sudden, it’s real, it’s the physical altercation, but the Just Stop Oil people don’t know how to fight back, and so they’re at a disadvantage.
I don’t want anybody to get hurt, but I’m not going to lie. I like the fact there’s an anti-oil and gas protesters for the anti-oil and gas protesters.
Mark: I would like to see that trend continue, people.
Russel: Certainly, there’s more effective ways to have an argument in the public square. One of the things I do think, and I think this is true, is that the pendulum is, if it’s not starting to swing back in the other direction, it’s at least slowing the rate at which it was swinging away.
People are interested in how things actually work? What does this actually mean for me? I think we’ll see more of that.
Mark: I’m hoping we do. By the way, if you want to support the Just Stop Pissing People Off, join their Twitter group. They’re trying to do the right thing. They’re still young, but I really liked what they’re doing.
Russel: Listen, Mark, as always, it’s such a great pleasure to have you, always enjoy talking to you. I hope the listeners get some benefit out of this. We’ll check in again in another 12 months and see how we did.
Mark: Can’t wait. Thank you for having me on, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, and our conversation with Mark. Just a reminder, before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win and enter yourself in the drawing.
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Transcription by CastingWords