The midstream sector’s leading trade group sails into 2020 with a new hand on the helm. Industry veteran Joel Moxley became president and CEO in the third quarter, assuming the post from Mark Sutton, who worked for GPA Midstream for 37 years and led it for 25 years—more than one-fourth of the historic organization’s existence—prior to his retirement.

Moxley brings impressive credentials with him.

“Joel is a seasoned and trusted leader and is uniquely qualified to drive strategic prioritization for GPA Midstream in our ever-changing industry,” said Bill Ward, senior vice president of commercial activity at Superior Pipeline and current GPA Midstream chairman. “With more than 30 years of industry experience and a long history of leadership roles within the association, Joel can step right into action.”

Joel Moxley, president and CEO of GPA Midstream

Moxley’s career has included a number of midstream executive roles. Prior to his appointment, he served as chief commercial officer for Southcross Energy Partners/Southcross Holdings, responsible for the company’s gas gathering, gas treating, gas processing, NGL fractionation, and gas and NGL marketing assets. Earlier, Moxley served Crestwood Equity Partners as senior vice president, operations services, and served as chief operating officer for Crestwood Midstream Partners.

Earlier executive roles focused on commercial activities within Crosstex Energy, Enterprise Products Partners, El Paso Corp. and PG&E Corp.

He served as GPA Midstream’s chairman from 2013-2015. Under his leadership, the association opened a Washington, D.C., office to increase its involvement in federal legislative and regulatory issues. More recently, he led a strategic review of the association that resulted in a number of key changes within the organization. GPA Midstream awarded Moxley a Citation for Service Award in 2018.

Moxley took time following a recent GPA Midstream board meeting to visit with Midstream Business and share his vision for the association’s future.

MIDSTREAM You’re taking the reins of the association as it nears its centennial. Does GPA Midstream have any special plans to mark the upcoming anniversary?

MOXLEY Yes, the centennial will be 2021, so 2020 will be kind of a lead-up year. We’ll start things at our convention in New Orleans this coming April. This is a very noteworthy occasion, for a trade association to hang around for a hundred years is quite remarkable. Our 2021 convention will be in San Antonio.

MIDSTREAM What would you regard as the current top priorities for the association and the sector that it serves?

MOXLEY As you can imagine, there are a lot of things that we talk about in our board meetings, and we’re certainly in a challenging environment for all companies that are in the carbon-based energy businesses. We know we can be a part of the solution.

Our members provide a lot of services to hydrocarbon producers—natural gas, specifically—in a safe and reliable manner. We’re certainly getting a lot of pressure from a lot of groups that object when we try to build new pipelines or construct new facilities. We want to show that we’re good citizens, good neighbors and responsible companies that are here to do this needed and necessary work.

We need to get this message out and show the positive aspects of the midstream industry. We’re going to work that message in the political realm, in the regulatory world, and hopefully right down to the grassroots level. Our chapter officers met mid-year in The Woodlands, Texas, and we talked about getting out and being responsible representatives of our industry in their neighborhoods and their communities.

MIDSTREAM The natural gas business, overall, is in the middle of a significant restructuring right now. On the supply side, the major shale plays emerged in the last decade. At the same time, new markets for gas and NGL have emerged on the demand side. Big picture, how are those trends changing the association’s mission?

MOXLEY You know, I think GPA Midstream is here to serve our members and help where we can to support the industry’s expansion. We’re going to keep our major focus on three points. First, the organization started way back in 1921 as a technical-type organization that developed product standards. We’ll continue to do that. We have some tremendous technical committees that share industry learnings. I’ve sat in on meetings where the committee members were sharing best practices for employee safety, operational improvements to further reduce the environmental impact of our facilities, and how to build and operate things in different operating parameters. I think that’s still a strength of the organization as we grow—as the industry grows—and also, frankly, as our workforce turns over.

Second is education. We have a lot of folks who came in the industry in the ’70s and ’80s who are retiring now. Mark is just one of them. They have a lot of institutional knowledge that they’re taking with them. But the good thing about GPA Midstream is, we still have a lot of that body of knowledge in our archives, and people can rely on those technical standards and papers to solve current issues. We still have that base. We still provide education and have increased our schools and training, especially in the last five years.

Again, as our workforce expands with more and more facilities, we’re bringing in, by definition, new people to the industry. We have to provide educational opportunities for them, and we’re doing that. We’re doing that at the national level, and our chapters around the country are doing the same thing within their local organizations, providing educational opportunity. In the future, I would like to grow our online presence to make our knowledge accessible to our members no matter where they are.

Third, our newest initiative is to be a good advocate for the industry—the midstream industry—in legislative and regulatory affairs. Until a few years ago, we didn’t have an office in Washington. We do now. We have two people up there, and they’re very active in trying to be the voice of the midstream in the capital and in several key states. For example, there are all kinds of things going on with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that impact the midstream business. We’re very active in working with those two agencies and others to make sure that our member companies’ needs are represented.

MIDSTREAM GPA Midstream has made government relations a significant enhancement to its efforts. With an election year coming up, how will you get involved in the process?

MOXLEY We’re not going to pick and choose individual candidates, other than try to educate our members and member companies on what’s going on at the federal level. It’s interesting, really, that things tend to slow down in Washington when you get into an election year. Neither side, neither party, wants to push to get a lot of things out that might be controversial. However, a lot of groundwork is done in election years, then, once you see which direction things will go after an election, you might see a change—or no change at all. It depends on who wins.

We started a separate political action committee a few years ago and have some funds available to make selected contributions to candidates who are in a position help the midstream business, that are involved in some of the Congressional committees and agencies where we’re active. We are trying to be more active from that perspective.

MIDSTREAM Going back to your first point: technical standards. How is that mission changing?

MOXLEY I think it continues to evolve because there are more and more things that change with technology. You come up with more learning, and you share it. For example, we’re still doing basic research on thermodynamic properties, which you’d think we would have figured all of it out by now. But no, there always seems to be another twist. There are several new research projects that have been suggested, which will start next year.

You know, it just keeps coming. The sector has built a tremendous amount of infrastructure in the last 10-plus years with the shale era, once we started in the mid-2000s with the Barnett Shale. We’ve built a lot of plants and a lot of pipelines—and again, just as new people got involved in the midstream.

It’s all new to them to some extent. There are things that the guys who started their careers in the ’80s know, and now you’re starting to see the folks that have less than five years’ experience in our industry. What we do is always new to somebody.

We’ve just got to keep doing what we do. You know, there are certainly new circumstances. The basic processes that we use are, I’d say, fairly mature. Cryo-plants have been around since the late 1960s. We certainly have seen evolution in them, but there hasn’t been much revolutionary change. There certainly have been changes in their controls and all the peripheral things, though, like the treating of natural gas or gas liquids for CO2. There are always tweaks to be made.

This is not unlike the upstream E&P industry, we’re always tweaking things to make them better, to make them run more reliably and safely. We’re always learning from that standpoint.

That’s a good thing about a trade association, those learning opportunities are shared because, ultimately, what we all want to do is to be good operators and operate safely and responsibly. A lot of things get shared from that standpoint. Take safety programs: We put a lot of effort and a lot of thought into best practices for safety and how we can educate those around the industry.

MIDSTREAM Of course, setting technical standards relates to the widely used Engineering Data Book, published by GPSA, your supplier affiliate. You’ve had a major project to update the book and put it online. Could you give an update on that effort?

MOXLEY Yes, the cloud-based data book is now live, and building out the features will be an ongoing process over the next few years. All of the text is there now in the web version, and we’re continuing to complete the other details as we move from paper. If you look through the data book information, there are a lot of charts and graphs, and it’s our goal, over time, to make those interactive, so that you can press your mouse at a given point and actually get the X-axis and the Y-axis numbers, rather than trying to eyeball it like you would from a chart in a book. That’s an ongoing work.

This is a significant change that we hope our members, both at GPA Midstream and GPSA, benefit from. It’s now part of their membership privileges. Before, you had to buy the book or get a CD/DVD. Now, we’ve changed the data book subscription model to be included as a part of membership. That started with the data book going online last summer. It became a part of our membership dues for GPSA beginning last July. For GPA Midstream members, it becomes a part of the membership starting next month, in January. And it goes beyond just offering the data book; all GPA Midstream standards, technical bulletins and presentations are also in the cloud and free to both organizations’ members.

MIDSTREAM You discussed the association’s emphasis on educational programs. Could you follow up on that? With the big crew change under way, which you mentioned, and all of the things that are going on in the sector right now, do you see foresee any particular changes or expansion in your educational efforts?

MOXLEY We’re still doing the week-long introductory course to the data book, which is mainly focused on engineers and technical staff. We’re also doing the Introduction to Midstream course that we have been doing at preselected locations. Now, it has evolved to where we go onsite upon request of member companies to train their nontechnical workers.

I’d like to point out too that our chapters around the country have ongoing educational programs, almost every time they meet. The chapters meet, on average, around four or five times a year. That’s something that I feel like we certainly want to encourage.

We recently expanded what used to be only technical committee meetings in the fall of each year into our first-ever, two-day technical conference this past October in Oklahoma City. We added technical presentations and networking functions alongside the usual committee meetings, again to add value to our members. Attendance exceeded our expectations, which tells us we’re doing the right thing.

I don’t know that we have a target yet of what else to grow in education. We certainly encourage operational courses, like the compression program we support at Oklahoma State University- Okmulgee. We’ve supported some others around the country, too. We’re still very much in support of education and broad education overall, not just technical, but operational staff, too.

MIDSTREAM Networking is a plus for any trade group. What is the association doing to enhance its members’ ability to meet and work together on common issues?

MOXLEY I think that’s probably one of our strengths. Our board meetings provide key networking for advocacy, technical matters, safety and so on. Then, of course, there is our annual convention—that’s a massive networking opportunity. We continue to evolve the convention program to create more opportunities for folks to meet and share ideas, for customers and clients to get together.

And like I mentioned earlier, networking within the chapters is incredibly strong, from luncheons and golf and sporting clays to their regional meetings. Some of them have very active young professional groups attached to them, too.

MIDSTREAM A significant share of the association’s membership is based overseas. How does the midstream sector abroad differ from what we see in the U.S. and Canada?

MOXLEY The overseas companies that are involved in GPA Midstream, for the most part, are there for access to our technical standards, our research and our papers. They also find great value in the safety programs.

Traditionally, the U.S. and Canadian midstream is structured very differently than what we find elsewhere. In the U.S. and Canada, we have focused midstream firms, a lot of publicly traded midstream companies as well as private equity-backed midstream companies. Whereas around the world, our membership is more traditional, split between upstream and downstream. They come to GPA Midstream with a technical focus and come from large, state-owned companies, as well as the supplier and engineering organizations that support them.

It’s a different audience. Their focus is, I would say, right now, more on the traditional aspects of our association, what we do from a technical and safety standpoint, whereas the U.S. membership has that—plus the interest in what we’re doing from the advocacy standpoint and in education.