President and CEO of the American Gas Association (AGA), Dave McCurdy recently addressed a group of energy investors, executives and enthusiasts about where natural gas is heading from a 5,000-foot-view. In his view, safety is their number one priority for 2015.
“What drives us and our priorities is safety first and foremost in the mission of natural gas and utilities,” McCurdy said. “Safety is priority one in natural gas’ mission and utilities distribution sector and transmission as well.”
McCurdy believes natural gas has played a significant role in rebuilding the nation’s economy as well as contributions to the technology and automotive industry over the past 20 years. His observation has lead him to one conclusion.
“I can tell you the leadership in this industry is without fear,” McCurdy said. “They are by far in the lead and continue to work hard to improve quality of life in this country. And they are innovators and entrepreneurs and risk takers, but they are concerned about safety.”
McCurdy said ultimately they are the face of natural gas and the communities they serve and there is a responsibility attached with being leaders in energy.
“So we work with best practices. We work with the regulatory front, legislative front, we delve out standards,” McCurdy said. “ But most importantly for us, is educating and having credible data. It has to be reliable and it has to be honest.”
As an expert spokesperson for the American energy industry, McCurdy is consistently listed as one of the most influential association executives and top policy advocates in Washington, D.C. Commanding respect on both sides of the political aisle. In addition, McCurdy is often cited for his strategic leadership and his ability to find consensus in the public policy arenas.
McCurdy joined the American Gas Association (AGA) as president and CEO in February of 2011. Founded in 1918, AGA represents more than 200 local energy utility companies that deliver natural gas throughout the nation. According to McCurdy, there are more than 71 million residential, commercial and industrial natural gas customers in the United States, of which 92 percent comes from AGA members. McCurdy joined AGA after serving for four years as president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance).
One of the challenges in the education process is the moment when facts are removed and ideology or religion is introduced, according to McCurdy.
“If you’re talking ideology or religion, we aren’t going to be able to agree with you,” McCurdy said. “But if we can have a fact based discussion and collect real data, than we can make progress.”
McCurdy said one of the strategies for natural gas in 2015 is to work with those who want to work with them. He believes this will be the best way to have third party validation in order to assist with education the masses.
“We need credible third party validators. We have to work with those who want to help us communicate,” McCurdy said. “Perception is a big part of oil and gas and you have to work with third parties. I believe that is very important.”
McCurdy cited the word “fracking” and how it has a negative connotation attached to it as one of the realities of oil and gas’s public relations. He believes these public relations battles are manageable if a fact-based discussion can surface, rather than focusing on appearances or emotions.
Shifting the safety gears to pipelines, McCurdy references their improvements since the 1980’s.
“Since 1980, 90-percent fewer incidents with pipelines in over 600,000 miles ,” McCurdy said. “So if you remember anything, and this ol’ country boy from Oklahoma will tell you this – How many miles of paved roads are there in America? 2.6 million miles of paved roads. There are 2.4 million miles of natural gas pipeline.”
McCurdy continued adding more context to their focus on future safety.
“We add 30,000 more miles of new pipe per year of plastic pipe. So that’s the scope and the scale of the infrastructure,” McCurdy said.
Working in industry and sitting a numerous roundtable discussions with federal regulators, McCurdy has been able to develop an opinion on how Congress operates knowing the majority of the pipelines are regulated at a state level.
“About 2.1 million miles of the 2.4 is regulated by local state commissions and utilities. And it has been hard for the Federal government, who wants to play in all his, to figure that out. They actually do not have jurisdiction on a lot of this.” McCurdy said. “Congress is really dysfunctional. Highly dysfunctional. And since it is dysfunctional you really are not getting a lot done. There are things that need to be addressed and looked at because it was written before the shale revolution.”
He continued saying gridlock and poor communication has resulting in the inability for Congress to work out basic things like a simple budget.
“They can’t even get their basic work done and because of that we don’t have a real national energy policy. We haven’t had one for over 40 years,” McCurdy said. “We’ve had seven presidents talk about it but haven’t been able to accomplish it. And it is actually getting close to 50 years.”
McCurdy believes safety, education and getting Congress on board with a sound energy policy is the foundational layer in natural gas’s future. Hurdles aside, McCurdy still sees the United States as the global energy leader and is validated across the planet.
“And I do speak around the world with International gas Union in other countries and they look at us with just pure envy. They don’t have the infrastructure to build on. We have this investment and look how much we spend every single year in the multi-billions of dollars,” McCurdy said. “And they have to start from scratch or they’re trying to catch up. That’s what gives Americans the competitive advantage others don’t have.”