Building for the Future

August 1st, 2015

petroshotPrintPMOC event seeks to deliver game changing information

By Rod Evans

The organizers of the Petrochemical & Maritime Outlook Conference, coming to the Pasadena Convention Center on August 27, adhere to the axiom that “information is power”

The conference, which also serves as the centerpiece of the 30th anniversary celebration of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, is designed to be an information sharing event, during which business owners, executives and consumers can receive invaluable information regarding the latest developments in the petrochemical and maritime industries that could influence and impact the local business community.

“Our guests and attendees are what make this such a great conference,” said conference chairman Roger Blackburn, an executive account manager with Infinity Construction Services of Clute. “The attendees are a who’s who of state and national government, business leaders in the petrochemical, transportation and marine industries, as well representatives of the Port of Houston Authority. This is where business leaders come to hear the news that builds the future of our businesses and economy.”

Blackburn says the conference, which runs from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is followed by the 30th anniversary reception for the Economic Alliance, is in its fifth year and features an impressive lineup of speakers and panel discussions. Last year’s event was attended by about 660 people and organizers are expecting a similar turnout this year. Topics include refining, transportation and logistics, workforce development and industry regulation and policies.

Following a breakfast network session that begins at 7 a.m., the conference gets underway with a congressional update at around 8:20 a.m. that features an introduction by Todd Monette, Lyondellbasell plant manager. Congressmen Gene Green (District 29) and Brian Babin (District 36) will provide updates on legislation impacting the petrochemical and maritime industries.

At 9:05 a.m., Port of Houston Commissioner Roy Mease will introduce Port of Houston Authority Executive Director Roger Guenther, who will provide information on developments in the shipping industry and ongoing projects taking place at the port. Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton takes the podium at 10 a.m. to discuss ever changing regulations and policies related to the oil and gas industries in Texas.

“More than any conference I’ve ever attended, this conference brings to those in attendance a solid foundation of what’s occurring in the Gulf Coast region,” Blackburn said. “We’re trying to offer information that is a game changer.”

The first panel discussion of the day, the “Petrochemical & Refining Panel,” includes representatives of some of the largest oil and gas refineries in the region and begins at 10:30 a.m. The panel includes: Mitch Krutilek, plant manager with ChevronPhillips, Chris Witte, senior vice president of BASF Freeport, Monty Heins, plant manager with Dow, and Barry Klein, general manager of the Shell Deer Park facility. The discussion will conclude with a question and answer session.

Following a lunch break, during which attendees are encouraged to take advantage of networking opportunities, the conference continues at 1 p.m. with the “Transportation and Logistics Panel” discussion. The panel participants include: Katoen Natie President Frank Vingerhoets, Beth Whited, vice president of marketing and sales for chemicals with Union Pacific, Matt Woodruff, director of public and government affairs with the Kirby Corporation and Mike Morris, presiding officer of the Houston Pilots Association.

Another networking break is scheduled for 1:50 p.m. before the “Workforce Development Panel” discussion begins at around 2:15. Panel participants include: Don Empfield with Zachry Industrial, S&B Engineering’s J.D. Slaughter and a representative from the Dream It Do It initiative.

“What I like about the conference we’ve put together is that we’re offering information that is the building block of the present and the future. If you are in business or a person that is a decision maker in your company, this is the place to be,” Blackburn said.

At 3 p.m., the conference continues with the “Industry Regulations and Policy Update” session, which will include Hector Rivero, president of the Texas Chemical Council; Rudy Underwood, vice president of state affairs with the American Chemical Council and Melissa Hockstad, vice president with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. The session concludes with an extensive Q&A session.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick delivers a concluding presentation at 4:15 that focuses on competitiveness in the downstream oil and gas industry, followed by closing remarks by Economic Alliance President and CEO Chad Burke.

Blackburn said all of the 39 booths available have been sold for the conference and will be staffed by a variety of companies and organizations related to the oil and gas, transportation, logistics and workforce industries.

Mentoring played a big role in the development of the conference curriculum and Blackburn says several companies and individuals have stepped up to help provide encouragement and inspiration to young people looking to begin careers in the petrochemical and shipping industries.

“We’ve been mentored in our careers, so we’re very big on mentoring,” Blackburn said. “I personally am sponsoring two tables for college students and people looking to get into this field. During the morning breakfast, we have set aside a place for students to meet one-on-one with our guest speakers and we hope this will help build momentum in their lives.”

The lobby of the convention center will be the location for the 30th anniversary of the Economic Alliance, beginning at 5 p.m. Blackburn said he’s proud to be a member of the Alliance.

“The Economic Alliance drives the economy in our area and we try to bring business to the area and to give everyone the help that we can to serve this area to help those looking to establish a business or build a manufacturing facility or plant in the region,” Blackburn said.

The conference features a long list of sponsors, including Bay Group Media, Lee College, the Port of Houston Authority, Infinity Group, ExxonMobil and CenterPoint Energy. For more information, including a full list of event sponsors and the conference schedule, visit or call 281-476-9176, ext. 4.

Market Rebound

July 1st, 2015

Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton

Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton

August conference features look at expanding opportunities in energy industry

By Rod Evans

The evidence has been impossible to ignore. From widespread layoffs to the dramatic drop in oil prices, it’s obvious that the past several months have not been exactly robust for the energy industry in Texas, but Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton says a deeper look at the market, specifically in Texas, reveals reasons for optimism for the remainder of the year.

Sitton, a Friendswood resident who was elected head of the statewide regulatory agency in 2014, believes that despite the recent downturn in the industry, the state of the energy sector in Texas remains strong and he believes a bounce back is in the offing.

“Over the last eight years or so, the oil and gas industry in the state has more than doubled and we’ve seen oil and gas production in the state triple,” Sitton said. “Natural gas production has doubled and we are seeing a fundamental shift in the economic landscape around the oil and gas industry due to what’s happening in Texas production.”

When the Pasadena Convention Center hosts the Petrochemical & Maritime Outlook Conference on Aug. 27, Sitton, along with Port of Houston Authority Executive Director Roger Guenther, will be one of the featured speakers. The conference will include discussion of a wide range of topics, including updates on congressional activity, petrochemical plant production, industrial workforce expansion, transportation and logistics. In his address, Sitton says he plans to discuss how advances in the technology of energy exploration and product acquisition are helping to make Texas a global energy leader again.

“During the late 1990s and early 2000s, advances made in the accuracy and capabilities of directional drilling, coupled with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have opened up reserves that were previously thought to not be economically developable,” Sitton said. “Now, we have double and triple the oil capacity out of those reserves. But the other thing that has driven this increase is global demand. When you look around the world, from 2008 through 2015, we’ve seen oil demand and usage grow from 85 million barrels per day to 92 million per day. We’ve seen an increase in demand at the same time that Texas has been opening up new reserves, so Texas is filling the gap and becoming a bigger supplier to the rest of the nation.”

Sitton says the Houston Ship Channel and the Port of Houston are playing huge roles in strengthening the energy sector, particularly in supporting the production of natural gas and the numerous ancillary products and services that are derived from this “feed stock” resource. He says the increased production of natural gas, made possible in large part due to the increased use of the controversial fracking technique, is driving renewed investment in manufacturing of plastics such as polyurethane and polyethylene at facilities located along the Ship Channel. Because American manufacturers are now selling these products oversees in ever increasing amounts, the ability to get those products into the marketplace via the Ship Channel is helping the state of Texas and the U.S. as a whole become a provider on a global scale.

But with the average price of a barrel of crude oil trading at around $59 as of mid-June, the effects of the downturn in the energy industry are still being felt.

“The fairly substantial downturn in prices is certainly having an impact on the industry,” Sitton says, “but most of the layoffs we’ve seen have been in service companies. Most of the operators have been able to weather the storm and maintain their headcounts and operational capabilities and assets even while a lot of their capital allocations and investments have been scaled back for this year due to cash flow. Our production is still holding strong even with half the drilling rigs running that were running a year ago. But we have seen some growth over the last couple of quarters and I think we’ll see a leveling out as operators get more efficient and will be looking to drill only the most profitable wells.”

Sitton says while hydraulic fracturing is a technology that dates back to the 1940s, technological advances that have made the practice—consisting of injecting fluids into rock formations hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface in order to extract oil or natural gas reserves at increased levels—more efficient have helped to make it a more widely used technique. That increase in prevalence has also brought concerns about the environmental safety and impact of the procedure, but Sitton and other supporters of fracking maintain that it is safe for both the environment and residents in areas where it is being utilized.

“It’s been proven to be a safe technique. Even the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) of all agencies, released a statement recently that said based on their research there is virtually no evidence of contamination of water sources caused by fracturing. There have been a number of studies done that say fracking has nothing to do with the number of earthquakes recorded,” Sitton said. “Because of the quick growth of the use of fracturing over the past 10 years, it’s bringing the activity closer to home for a lot of people and they are asking questions.”

When Sitton delivers his address at the upcoming conference—of which Bay Group Media is a presenting sponsor—he plans to discuss the role the Ship Channel complex has played in helping to reverse trends of the past 30 to 40 years that have seen the U.S. buying more of its energy from sources abroad and manufacturing operations move to other countries.

“Over the last decade, we’ve been talking about the U.S. re-taking a leadership position by developing more of our energy and products to the point where now we’re talking about the U.S. becoming a global provider,” he said. “If we’re going to compete on a global scale to sell our products, you have to have shipping capabilities, and investing in infrastructure across the board, including roadways, ports and airports, is a fundamental piece of that equation,” Sitton said.

In addition to addresses by Sitton and Guenther, the conference is scheduled to include appearances by U.S. Reps. Gene Green and Dr. Brian Babin, as well as by representatives of Chevron Phillips Chemicals, Dow, BASF and many others. The Economic Alliance Houston Port Region is serving as the coordinating agency for the conference. For more information, visit

Bay Area Houston Magazine