May 2017, Vol. 244, No. 5


Kimberly Demuth Represents a Changing Energy Industry

By Jeff Share, Editor

When Kimberly Demuth began work in January for TRC Companies Inc., its significance marked the growing desire for firms involved in infrastructure development to hire environmental specialists.

TRC is known as an industry leader for engineering, environmental consulting and construction management services. Early last year, TRC acquired the Professional Services business segment of Willbros Group, renaming it TRC Pipeline Services, with headquarters in Tulsa, OK. As part of its business strategy, TRC opened a Seattle office to serve the Pacific Northwest and named Demuth, its new market director of Environmental Planning, as its leader.

Demuth’s resume is formidable, covering 35 years in the oil/gas, transportation and energy industries. “Her expertise will be invaluable as we build our footprint in the Northwest,” said John Cowdery, TRC’s Environmental Sector Leader.

In this interview, Demuth discusses the opportunities looming ahead in her new job, especially as they involve environmental issues.

P&GJ: What’s your strategy as you move forward?

Demuth: More broadly, the purpose of TRC’s environmental work – whether for applicants, agencies, tribal governments or third parties – is to really identify, avoid and mitigate environmental impacts. The earlier we get involved with a client, the better opportunity we have to help them with their planning and design. The West has numerous federal and state land-managing agencies and tribal governments, as well as strong state and federal environmental regulations.

Having worked on numerous types of projects, I understand the pressures of balancing issues that come up in environmental review with the need for development and progress. One of my primary goals is to work with clients and agencies, those in the Northwest and across the country, to preserve the environment in a way that’s beneficial in terms of both progress and protection.

P&GJ: What are some of the infrastructure opportunities and challenges in the Pacific Northwest?

Demuth: In addition to a stringent regulatory environment, land ownership issues are more different in the Pacific Northwest than other parts of the country – particularly the number of federal land managers – and working with both federal and statewide agencies can make permitting processes more complex than elsewhere in the nation. As is often the case, challenge creates opportunity: having worked in this area for 35 years, I can tell you that it’s possible to work effectively with agencies and tribes to reach permitting solutions that work for everyone.

P&GJ: What can be done to help mitigate opposition to new infrastructure development?

Demuth: There are new approaches for public engagement for pipeline developers. From the Dakota Access Pipeline protests to environmentalist backlash against oil and gas pipeline projects. We are seeing a greater need than ever for early, consistent, proactive public outreach and communications with agencies and Indian tribes.

New technologies can help us when it comes to optimizing new pipeline routes and identifying the most buildable, least controversial routes, but no matter where the pipeline is going, you will face greater challenges if you aren’t forthright and clear in your communication with key stakeholders. Building trusting relationships with consistent communication and face time is a key to successful project completion.

The issue of what to study and how far environmental studies reach is also critical when it comes to the permitting process. For example, if you’re bringing natural gas to an exporting facility and there’s a rail line, do you look at permitting for the facility only or for the whole rail line? In the West, agencies have been requesting the more comprehensive analyses and the development of larger project study areas related to associated transportation routes that tie into oil, gas and coal facilities. The challenge for us is to help our clients work through this process and ultimately secure the permits and deliver their projects in a way that benefit the broader community.

P&GJ: What new technologies do you see on the horizon in terms of building new pipeline routes? Where do you see a need for more advanced technology when identifying pipeline routing risks and opportunities?

Demuth: One of the greatest challenges for our clients is collecting all the  information from the beginning of the project – from survey, through engineering, through construction, into operation – and ensuring that everyone is on the same page; new technologies are making that easier, more accessible and more reliable.

We offer proprietary technologies, including Integra Link and PPRO, that allow for efficient, accurate data management in extremely user-friendly ways (for example, Integra Link is built on the Google Maps platform, so there’s virtually no learning curve). These tools give all team members and stakeholders across a project access to vital asset information and documentation in real time.

We work well nationally to provide these tools to clients wherever their projects are and wherever their teams are, and we coordinate our own resources to ensure that we get the best team on each project. An important aspect of our job is to make sure we analyze the data we help our clients collect to help them identify any fatal flaws early in the pipeline-siting process.

P&GJ: Can we expect to see more environmental specialists such as you working in this industry?

Demuth: Absolutely. We are building an environmental practice in the Northwest that includes a group of cultural resource staff, biologists, geologists, water quality, air monitoring, land use, recreation, visual resources, NEPA/SEPA/CEQA planners, hydrological experts, and we’re expecting to grow over the next several years with more staff as part of our expansion in the region. That’s true for us here and all over the country, and it should be a real priority for anyone in the oil and gas industry. We enjoy the work we do and inspire our staff to succeed through accountability, teamwork, mentoring and a fun work environment.

P&GJ: Are energy companies in general doing enough to mitigate environmental issues?

Demuth: The energy companies that are making the greatest impact in terms of balancing environmental issues and permitting are those that bring together the right team early in the process. That team needs an understanding of changes in legislation and regulation on the federal, state and local levels. They also need to understand that permitting is a process – the end goal is to get the permit, but along the way there will be a lot of creative thinking when conflicts arise. The right team will have the experience to anticipate those problems, and to develop smart solutions and creative mitigation measures when new challenges arise.

P&GJ: What can the industry do to make the public, lawmakers and regulators more aware of their efforts?

Demuth: In my experience, every time you have an opportunity to allow the public, lawmakers and regulators to ask questions – take it. If you’re prepared with good, clear, accurate information, you can engage in a meaningful dialogue. You want to ensure that the public and decision-makers are already familiar with you and with your project before the draft GIS comes out, so make sure they can attend meetings with you, get to know you, and that you can frame your information in a context that allows you to address questions and concerns.

It’s also key to make sure you’re sharing information in a variety of ways – visually, graphically, through face-to-face communication – and that you do so consistently throughout the process. Your goal is to engage people and give them a role in the development of the process, so they feel ownership in the project.

P&GJ: How do you expect the regulatory environment will change under the new administration?

Demuth: There’s going to be some pushback from statewide regulatory agencies on any changes to federal regulation under the Trump administration. I think we will see more aggressive regimes going forward based on safety. At the same time, I think the impact of some changes that come from the new administration – for example, changes in FERC or EPA – may not necessarily be felt in the next several years, but will have a greater impact later.

P&GJ: What are some of the more compelling projects you’ve worked on?

Demuth: I had a key role on the NEPA EIS management team for an extremely high-profile long linear oil pipeline project. My management responsibilities included the completion of portions of the DEIS and FEIS, scoping and public meetings, and assisting the client with the Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act consultation process and the development of mitigation documents associated with this process. I assisted the Department of State on the outreach to over 100 tribes, 47 of which became Section 106 consulting parties, as well as roughly 25 agencies.

The most significant part of my work was helping the client navigate this extremely complex consultation process to reach a programmatic agreement for the project, which was signed and included within the FEIS. This process, which I led in parallel to the NEPA EIS, involved an incredible amount of communication, coordination, meetings, documentation and consultation, but we got what we needed. As part of this project, I worked closely with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as well as the Department of State, tribes and agencies.

P&GJ: How have you helped impact historic preservation?

Demuth: Some of the most interesting rehabilitation and adaptive reuse projects I’ve worked on have been those where the preservation benefited both the developer and the public – for example, a jointly owned former naval air station in Washington, owned by a municipality, public university and nonprofit housing organization, in which I helped to ensure that buildings were adaptively reused for new purposes instead of being demolished. On that site, one project I led was the conversion of an airplane hangar into a gym.

With that said, I might argue that the greatest impact I’ve made on historic preservation is through educating and empowering the next generation in the field. I’ve taught in the University of Oregon’s program and have always sought to hire and mentor bright young professionals, and provide or help connect them with opportunities to grow their skills and magnify our collective impact.

P&GJ: How did you get into this field?

Demuth: I certainly didn’t follow a “typical” path. As an undergraduate I studied fine art and design. Working as an architectural designer after grad school, I started doing adaptive reuse projects in California, which led me to pursue my master’s at the University of Oregon in historic preservation of architecture. I found that I wanted to work on understanding buildings, design, and setting, landscape and planning, not just building design. This led me to work as an environmental manager, balancing the impacts and potential impacts to cultural resources and historic structures, in addition to other technical areas. Working with clients through facilitation and consultation to resolve difficult issues in environmental planning in design is something that I now focus on in my work.

P&GJ: At day’s end, how will you determine if your efforts were successful?

Demuth: It’s extremely gratifying to be in the position of helping make our environment a better place to live. Mentoring and giving staff the opportunities to grow with project experience is very rewarding. Every project has its challenges, but I really enjoy the creativity of working with clients to uncover the opportunities and helping them to reach their goals. Sometimes I consider the most important part of my job is helping our clients be successful. To work here in the Pacific Northwest in particular, it’s such a beautiful part of the world, I’m grateful to be doing work that helps sustain the environment as we move forward. That all adds up to success for me.

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