July 2016, Vol. 243, No. 7


Frank Yoho and Natural Gas Are a Perfect Fit

From helping engineer the multibillion-dollar merger of his Piedmont Natural Gas with Duke Energy to his role as 2016 chairman of the Southern Gas Association, Frank Yoho is a very busy man with natural gas on his mind 24/7.

Yoho, 56, is Piedmont’s chief commercial officer, with responsibility for such projects including Piedmont’s involvement in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Charlotte, NC-based Piedmont will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Duke Energy but will retain its own name. In this interview with P&GJ, he provides a clear perspective of the opportunities facing the booming gas business.

P&GJ: Why did you choose “Developing People, Relationships and Solutions” as your theme?

Yoho: Collaboration and exchange of ideas is core to what sets Southern Gas Association members apart from other industry professionals. We are focused on the growth and advancement of each member and the natural gas industry as a whole, and this would not be possible without our members and volunteer leaders driving us forward.

That’s why I chose to focus on developing people, relationships and solutions. As we gathered in San Antonio in April for our annual membership meeting, that is exactly what we did. Over 300 industry executives and professionals met to discuss critical issues facing the industry today as well as to share best practices on how to address those concerns.

P&GJ: What are the most important items on SGA’s agenda for 2016? Are there any new programs that represent a change from previous years?

Yoho: In 2016, we’re focusing on compliance with new and potential federal rules and regulations; pipeline safety management systems, the convergence of natural gas and electric for power generation, workforce development; and understanding and leveraging technology for the benefit of our employees, customers, industry and investors.

P&GJ: What is there to report in the ongoing efforts to improve safety practices?

Yoho: In 2014, SGA created a more direct focus on pipeline safety by creating a board report level council to focus on this need. The SGA Pipeline Safety Council is unique in that it includes organizations across the entire spectrum of our industry – gathering, midstream, transmission, investor-owned utilities, and municipalities. The council is focused on learning from one another and allowing our industry to collectively share information from one sector that can hopefully help another sector.

As an organization focused on the training and education of our industry employees, new opportunities have been developed to better understand the recently published API Recommended Practice 1173 – “Pipeline Safety Management Systems.” In addition, multiple groups have engaged in open discussion and dialogue about their efforts and also the efforts of other industries for effective safety management system practices.

We look forward to advancing these efforts in continuous improvement for our industry through candid and open discussions with PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), and other industries through the SGA for all sectors for natural gas transportation. Solutions to these types of challenges are best solved with the industry coming together, and SGA is best equipped to offer this through its variety of membership.

P&GJ: What is your perspective of the opportunities and challenges facing natural gas today, and how is SGA helping its members meet them?

Yoho: Infrastructure development is both a challenge and an opportunity for the industry. If natural gas is to reduce carbon and support renewables development, we must support our industry peers and work together to build the infrastructure to deliver natural gas where it is needed. We also must focus on workforce development from both a technical and cultural perspective. It’s our role to mentor the next generation of natural gas professionals to continue our industry’s history of success.

P&GJ: When you talk to members, what do they express as their greatest concerns?

Yoho: When I talk to members, I find they share the same general concerns of how to help build the next generation of natural gas professionals; ongoing infrastructure development, ways to increase customer satisfaction; and future product development. These shared focus areas serve to unify us and make us stronger and more influential as an industry.

P&GJ: How is the industry doing in attracting younger people to the workforce as baby boomers retire?

Yoho: We’re definitely getting better at attracting new talent, but we’re not where we need to be. We’re figuring out that there are more myths than facts when it comes to recruiting younger people. Ultimately, all employees want the same things – fair compensation, flexibility and a mission/vision statement they believe in and support. In other words, they want a good and meaningful work environment.

Our industry is moving in this direction and we’re telling our story in digital and online forums where we can leverage our brands and encourage young professionals to think of a career in natural gas as a way to make a positive impact. From reducing carbon emissions to bringing low-cost energy to communities that have never had an energy choice, these are the stories that matter to our generation and to the next generation of potential workers.

Our current employees are vital ambassadors for sharing the advantages of choosing a career in natural gas, so our focus is really on our people and our purpose. Any industry can offer training programs, flexible work arrangements and testimonials – all of which we do – but I believe our industry is going to benefit most by focusing on the positive impacts of a career in natural gas.

P&GJ: How is the low-price commodity environment affecting SGA members, or does natural gas still seem to immune to the issues facing crude oil production?

Yoho: Our industry is still trying to figure out this new world. The greatest strength of SGA is that it provides a forum where all segments work together to help each other adapt and succeed. While there are challenges, they are far outweighed by the opportunities.

P&GJ: Despite some pushback from the environmental lobby, are you still optimistic about the future for natural gas? Aren’t we seeing substantial strides being made in lessening of emissions such as methane?

Yoho: We remain very optimistic about the future of natural gas. The outlook for the future cost of natural gas predicts it will remain relatively low, which will continue to provide consumers with a low-cost and efficient-energy source. In addition to the cost advantage, natural gas is domestic, abundant, reliable and safe.

The industry is making substantial strides with system improvements, new materials and technologies to lessen emissions, and we will continue to do more. The challenge we have now is to step up and proactively solve these issues rather than wait for outside organizations to pressure us. The American Gas Association (AGA) methane challenge is a great example of our segment doing just that.

P&GJ: Concerning the pushback issue, what strategy would you like to see the industry embrace to achieve more positive results?

Yoho: I would like to see us address issues head-on and continue getting the natural gas message out to customers, policymakers and the public at large. This includes making investments in and being transparent about our commitment to emission reductions.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched on March 30, 2016 the Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program. So far over 40 partners, including Piedmont Natural Gas, have joined the program and are committed to reducing methane emissions.

P&GJ: As natural gas and power generation continue to integrate, do you expect we’ll see more mergers such as Duke and Piedmont, Southern Co. and AGL, Questar and Dominion Resources? What factors are making these occur?

Yoho: I would anticipate these trends to continue. With natural gas becoming a bigger piece of the power generation portfolio it seems logical. Personally, I am looking forward to what the combined Duke/Piedmont organization can achieve.

P&GJ: What will be the predominant factor for natural gas in a supply-and-demand context?

Yoho: With the potential to export LNG on a larger scale and participate in a more global market, this is becoming a more complex question to answer. How developing shale supplies will stay in balance with the International LNG market, along with our traditional residential, commercial, industrial and power generation markets, will be an interesting supply/demand story to watch.

P&GJ: What is SGA’s outlook for pipeline construction over the next 18 months?

In our markets, we continue to experience economic recovery and strong demand for our product from residential space and water heating to deliveries for power generation.

P&GJ: Is there any new or pending legislation that has SGA concerned?

Yoho: State and federal regulators have looked at our industry over the last decade to consider what needs to be done differently. As a result, some changes have started showing up in proposed rules from the federal level and several states are proposing to make more progressive changes than what the federal level is proposing.

Our industry is committed to the safe transportation and delivery of natural gas, and we continue to work through the various advocate-related trade associations to find balance in proposed rules. Through SGA we’re committed to understanding and advancing the dialogue around improving the safety and reliability of our systems, and improving our people by finding solutions that will advance our industry through the development of common practices.

P&GJ: How did you get into the business?

Yoho: A long time ago I was looking for a job, any job, and Cabot Corporation was kind enough to give me an opportunity in Amarillo, TX. I have now been in the industry, in a number of segments and cities, for over 30 years and I absolutely love it.

P&GJ: What is your role as it relates to the Duke-Piedmont merger?

Yoho: I will have the good fortune to be responsible for and part of the team that oversees the Duke/Piedmont natural gas utility business along with a number of natural gas infrastructure investments, and will be a member of the Duke Energy senior leadership team.


Related Articles


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}