Ohio Gas Association finding ways to help the distribution and transportation side of the natural gas industry.
Then Jimmy Stewart stepped into his role as president of the Ohio Gas Association (OGA) 4 1/2 years ago, he had a unique perspective of the gas and oil industry.
Stewart was finishing eight years in the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate. During his time as a politician, Stewart was particularly interested in energy-related issues. Stewart’s tenure in the state Legislature has proved beneficial with his job at OGA.
“I served with a number of key legislators, so those relationships are helpful, and just having a good understanding of how the process works is helpful as well,” Stewart says. “My experience in the Legislature gave me some experience as to not only the natural gas industry but other industries that we have to work with, whether it’s the production side, whether it’s the industrial energy users.”
OGA, based in Columbus, is a trade organization that focuses on the distribution and transportation side of the natural gas industry — the gas utilities as well as the owners and operators of the large gas transmission lines.
“We basically move the gas,” Stewart says. “Our members for the most part, although there is some overlap, are not producers.”
The association has three primary functions: to monitor and report on legislative, regulatory and compliance activities. OGA works closely with the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP), which represents the production side in the state.
“Regulation is changing in Ohio due to the vast amount of oil and gas resources that are being explored here in our state,” says Vanessa Hamilton, who is the vice chair of OGA and vice president of business development at Utility Pipeline Ltd (UPL). “The OGA is a very technical-based organization and we’ve made it a point to become more engaged with the political side of things, and I think that has really benefitted our member companies, especially smaller companies like UPL.”
MEMBERSHIP IS BENEFICIAL
OGA is composed of corporate, affiliate and associate members. There are over 40 corporate members that range from local distribution companies to several transmission lines, as well as over 100 affiliate members, including contractors, engineers, consultants, law firms and accounting firms, notes Stewart.
“We have a lot of networking between our companies for the affiliate members,” Stewart says. “All the gas utilities in Ohio are members of ours and it’s a great opportunity for folks who are trying to get or increase business by offering a product and/or service to the gas utilities, the transportation and distribution side.”
As a member of the OGA, contractors are able to discuss best practices, incorporating new technology and implementing processes with other industry leaders. This allows member companies to continue to improve their organizations and industry as a whole, Hamilton says. The association is continually adding new members; it meets bimonthly and generally every meeting the board approves one or two new members. Expansion is important to those associated with OGA.
“For an organization that has been around for 45 years, it is very welcoming to new members,” Hamilton says. “Some of our more active members in the organization are the individuals who helped mold the organization into what it has become: a valuable asset to the gas and oil industry in Ohio. Having the opportunity to network with these individuals gives new members an opportunity to understand how our industry has evolved over the years and where we, as an organization, are headed and why.”
MAKING A MARK LEGISLATIVELY
OGA hears quite a bit of feedback from its members when it comes to legislative issues they want to tackle at the state level. The association builds a consensus among its members before it takes a position on a matter. OGA isn’t afraid to make its voice heard when it comes to member concerns on issues at the state level.
“On the legislative side, we have looked at various issues that have come up relating to bringing natural gas infrastructure to underserved parts of Ohio for both residential, but primarily industrial purposes,” Stewart says. “Obviously not every place has access to natural gas transportation or distribution, so that’s something that we have worked with the Legislature on in the past and probably will be in the future.”
Some big issues Stewart believes his organization will play a legislative role in are infrastructure development and taxation.
“We’ve had some bills passed in the last couple of years that we worked on very hard,” Stewart says. “House Bill 319 was one of them that touches on some of these infrastructure development issues. Another piece of legislation dealt with ‘Call Before You Dig,’ and we worked very hard on that.”
Bill 319 was a key measure for OGA. The organization understands the importance of extending pipeline to help future production of natural gas in Ohio.
“Senate Bill 319 was spearheaded by a few of the bigger gas utilities in Ohio,” Hamilton says. “But it also benefits smaller utilities, enabling us to extend to areas that are set for economic development that previously may have been cost prohibitive for us to extend to.”
LOOKING FORWARD TO A GOOD YEAR
OGA has high expectations in 2016 for what it wants to accomplish. The association is working on a broad strategic plan for the next three years with various events as well as training and technical seminars.
“We always want to try to increase the value we bring to our member companies,” Hamilton says. “So we’re trying to host more one-day seminars. The seminars range in topics but they allow our members to stay abreast of industry changes, new technology and allow them to train key members of their organization on a variety of topics cost-effectively.”
It’s an exciting time for the association and also the industry — especially in eastern Ohio where there’s an influx of new natural gas production.
“Ohio has just about reached a point where we will probably produce as much natural gas in the aggregate as we use in the aggregate,” Stewart says. “That’s an amazing stat, because
Ohio’s about the eighth- or ninth-largest natural gas consuming state. We used to produce in the aggregate about 10 percent of the volume that we used, natural-gas-wise, and now this year that will be closer to right around 100 percent.”
Stewart says the natural gas production is going to remain high, but with the price being so low at this point, drilling could be at a minimum in the short to medium term.
“But certainly there’s going to be more production than what there was four years ago,” Stewart says. “Remember, just because it’s produced in Ohio doesn’t mean it’s all consumed in Ohio, that’s not really how it works. We’re producing an awful lot that we didn’t used to produce, and ideally it would be great to have greater use of it here within our state and region.”
It was a slow start to the winter on the production side, but Hamilton believes the state of the natural gas industry right now is very positive.
“Considering the abundance of natural gas we have underground and the major pipeline projects scheduled to be constructed over the next few years, I think Ohio is definitely an exciting place to be if you’re in the natural gas industry,” Hamilton says. “We need to make sure safety remains our No. 1 concern as we, as an industry, continue to take full advantage of the opportunities that may come our way.”