CWJJ Episode 20: Tina Sanders
August 20, 2020
CWJJ Episode 22: Darrell Cherry
September 3, 2020

CWJJ Episode 21: Geoff Isbell & Bradley Heck

Thursday, Aug 27- Geoff Isbell and Bradley Heck join the show to discuss OQIP and several other initiatives going on in the Oil & Gas industry.

Episode Transcript:

Jim Schauer:  [0:11] Good morning, LinkedIn community. Welcome to another great episode of “Coffee with Jim & James.” We are excited today.

[0:18] As James and I got our guest ready today, the term icons came to our head. When you have people like this that are icons in the energy industry, we don’t take that lightly.

[0:27] Icons are people that anybody in the industry can call about many different things. They have whole industry knowledge, and they like to share that. We’re excited about that.

[0:38] Before we get to our guest, let me bring in my brother in arms, my brother in crime, Mr. James Cross. James, how are you this fine and beautiful morning?

James Cross:  [0:48] I’m well, Jimmy. I’m excited for our guests today. Just having a laugh with each other in the pregame to the show was worth having both Brad and Geoff on.

[1:04] If you haven’t realized it, my boss, that’s really why he’s on and sucking up.

[1:10] Geoffrey Isbell:  [laughs]

[1:11] James:  Geoff Isbell, our president at EWN, is joining us today as well as Mr. Brad Heck, who is the director of corporate compliance at Miller Pipeline.

[1:20] We found out today that he’s in his 36th year with Miller, which is pretty impressive. I think icon says it right on the nose. Brad and Geoff, welcome to the show today. We appreciate you joining us.

[1:36] Geoffrey: It’s great to be here.

[1:37] Bradley Heck: It’s great to be here.

[1:39] Geoffrey: It’s always fantastic to be surrounded by brothers and friends.

[1:42] James:  Amen.

[1:43] Jim:  Absolutely.

[1:44] Bradley: Thank you, Jim and James. It’s great to have the coffee with you. The amazing thing, James, when you talked about 36 years, the most amazing part is I’m only 37.

[1:55] Geoffrey: [laughs]

[1:55] Jim: You look 38.

[1:59] James: An icon.

[1:59] Jim: We brought you on the show to talk a little bit about the DCA and OQIP and a few other initiatives like that. We’ll just dive right into it.

[2:15] First of all, we in the energy industry use a lot of acronyms all the time. DCA, OQIP, blah, blah, blah, can you guys break that down a little bit for us? Let us know a little bit of the whys and what has driven this whole process, a little high‑level 30,000 foot view?

[2:32] Bradley: Sure, Jim, would love to do that. The acronyms, DCA stands for the Distribution Contractors Association. That is a very large national association that has many distribution contractors.

[2:48] Some of them also are involved with the transmission and the hazardous liquids business as well. Many vendors that service those contractors are also associate members.

[3:02] The OQIP ‑‑ or affectionately, as I like to refer to it as “Oquip” ‑‑ stands for the Operator Qualification Integrity Process, and that is what has derived from our genesis.

[3:18] When we first started looking into this initiative about four years ago, it started out with the contractor group looking at ways that we could identify how can we get individuals qualified.

[3:39] Meeting the gas operators’ expectations, the federal regulatory expectations, but yet do it in an efficient and effective way, so that we don’t have multiple means and multiple processes for the same individual on the same tasks.

[3:56] Portability, if you will, is a word that was utilized early on. I will say, however, that as we’re putting these pieces together, to have integrity in what it is we do for qualifications, we suddenly realized that it wasn’t just portability that we’re talking about, but rather, it’s raising the bar, and having full out integrity in everything we do.

[4:28] With the people involved, the processes behind it, the methodologies utilized, and then the accountabilities, or the auditing process, to validate that we do what we say, and how we do it, and we can validate it. That’s the CliffsNotes of we were here, and we’re now here.

[4:52] James: Awesome. Thanks, Brad. That clears it up, I think, for a lot of people that maybe are not familiar. Fortunately, and maybe unfortunately, I work really closely with Geoff, and have seen the program over the last four years or so, from that genesis stage to where we’re at now.

[5:11] I’ve seen that honing in on what that looks like, and, Geoff, since Brad took that first one, I’m going to put this question to you. How is the OQIP program evolved to what it is today, and what kind of changes have occurred over those four years?

[5:32] Geoffrey: It’s a great question, because when we first started out, as Brad mentioned, it was started off in the contractor community.

[5:39] It was based on a local need, and certainly, as service providers in the industry, we see that a lot, as contractors come to us, and they’re having to get requalified for the exact same programs or tasks that they’re already qualified in other places.

[5:52] There’s a lot of redundancy and therefore a lot of inefficiency in what they do. That was the genesis that Brad mentioned for the program, but as we begin to collect a group of experts in the industry to talk about how we construct this type of program, it did evolve into more of an Integrity basis. Others in the industry namely operators begin to see that it’s equally  beneficial for them as well.

[6:16] What we’ve seen is a bit of a stereotype. We look at contractors and oftentimes, we’ll wrongly stereotype saying, will contractors are only going to do what the operator tells them to do? They’re not going to do anything more.

[6:29] Certainly, from our experience as a service provider, we’ve seen the opposite. We’ve seen contractors such as Miller take the high road and before hot, far and above and beyond in terms of the level of their programs. That’s what we had here with the contractors driving this initiative and then the operators engaging and saying, you know, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

[6:50] We like this. We like it pro in our employees. The evolution has been an origination in the contractor community to the involvement of operators. Involvement of regulatory entities at a state level, some independent consultants and a variety of large‑scale industry associations.

[7:10] The Western Energy Institute, APGA, AGA, SGA has been involved in the past, MEA, we have a number of organizations that have really made a vested interest investment in this program can see it move to the next level.

[7:26] As Brad mentioned, it went from a long time focused since the origin of the OQ rule around portability to one around integrity. We have to have trust in the industry and in the processes that not all OQ programs are created equal. There’s a recognition for that.

[7:46] The evolution is really been one about program effectiveness, and the quality, the security, the trust around those programs to try to raise the bar. Set a higher standard that goes far above and beyond the minimum OQ rule as we know it today.

[8:00] James: Geoff and Jim, I’m going to let you ask the next question here in just a second, but I wanted to piggyback on what Geoff said and ask a question.

[8:11] This is to both Brad and Geoff unless you’re going to say I’m funny, but I’m nowhere in the early stages of the industry, now four years then. As far as what the next steps and everything look like, what is the reception been like from both contractors and operators in your eyes with this initiative?

[8:34] Geoffrey: Yeah, I think that the reception has been good. I think anytime that you have a change, it’s who moved my cheese? We get very comfortable with where we are and what the expectations are. If we have a script of this is what the OQ rule requires, why would I want to deviate from it?

[8:53] A lot of it has been very educational to help people understand why they need to look at making some changes. As people become better educated on the processes, and the impact and certainly, as we see events, or incidents, or concerns in the industry, then it really helped shine a light on. OK, yes. This really is something that we need to pay attention to.

[9:13] As we’ve gone through this evolution, we have seen both operators and contractors embrace the level of change, and realize that there is a need to go above and beyond where they’re at and create a higher standard. It’s going to continue to play out in that way I think for a period of time.

[9:33] We often talk about it being a marathon not a sprint. This is going to take time. When you really try to make a radical change in the industry that’s not mandated through regulation, it’s a voluntary initiative, then it takes a cycle of time for people to recognize the value and then to adopt it.

[9:51] I think that we’ve been very successful in the fact that the trade associations, which represent the majority of all operators in the industry. When they speak at our meetings, they’re speaking on behalf of their membership. I think that that says a lot.

[10:05] As we request feedback on the documents as they get drafted, we do get a lot of feedback. There’s a lot of support for the recognition and appreciation for defining the why. A lot of times you’re told what to do, but certainly, as adults and even as kids, we want to know why we need to do that.

[10:24] As we begin to explain the why behind it, the importance and significance, then it helps breed a higher level of appreciation and adoption for what we’re trying to accomplish, which is safety…

[10:35] Bradley: I will just add to that. One of the actions that the OQIP Group has done is they reached out to Industry? They reached out to the operators, to contractor community. It reached out to the gas associations and offered up the written document.

[10:57] We’re asking for feedback, looking to see if these things were identified within the written document. Did it hit the points and what questions do you have? What input do you have?

[11:10] We went out to the community and we plastered the industry. We received back an excess of 500 comments from industry, much like our B31Q process when the B31Q first came about.

[11:27] We went to industry. We asked industry, “What do you think, do you have some input?” Did the same thing. We got some very, very valid responses back, and then what we did is we, as a group, we have segmented into different tracks within our process ‑‑ people, process, and then program validation.

[11:49] The team leads from each one of those then addressed those questions and those inputs that the industry itself offered up. Really good stuff, many of those ideas and concepts we actually adopted, and we inserted within the program.

[12:08] Some of them were redundant. Some of them were, “Hey, maybe you missed this line here, but we addre‑,” It’s like the old spaghetti commercials, back in the day, “It’s in there, it’s in there.” That kind of thing. Really a robust process to make sure that it has validation in the industry, and it has been vetted by operators, contractors, and whatnot.

[12:33] Another thing I’d also offer up is early on ‑‑ 20 years ago, when OQ first came about ‑‑ there was attempts, then, to try and have what we referred to as portability. Any group or any attempt to have portability was always focused on a hundred‑percent portability.

[12:54] If you got qualified under one system, on one particular task, that was good wherever you went. That discounted the individual operators’ expectations for their standards and procedures, so, a few years ago we threw this out at the DCA AGA contractor operator workshops in Chicago, when we talked about the 80/20 rule.

[13:21] 80 percent of all the tasks, it could be 90, it could be 70, but just for a conceptualization anyway. 80 percent of the pieces, or the functions that we do with any task in the system, is not unique to any one operator. It’s universally true. Therefore, the 20 percent, give or take, will be unique to the specifics of that gas company’s standards.

[13:47] Therefore, let’s take a look at the 80 percent piece, which is universally true, and see what we can do to address those pieces, so that an individual who gets qualified to that portion, they can take that with them anywhere they go.

[14:01] Which will then save immense amount of time, financial considerations, productivity, downtime of an individual, to only have to address that gas company’s specific standards for that task, for which he’s already got the universally true element of it. That was where the genesis was [inaudible].

[14:19] Geoffrey: I’d like to add on to what Brad’s saying there. I think the keyword, that maybe we haven’t mentioned yet, is consistency. When we talk about the B31Q, the OQIP program adopted the B31Q as the base model for this, because it is a universally true standard.

[14:34] You look at any given task, and the steps, or sequence of events, that need to occur to safely perform a task with competence are successively listed there, so you know what that core competence should look like. It’s standard, it’s consistent. If an operator is adopting that, at least for that 80 percent, then you know that that’s going to be universally true.

[14:55] When we look at a lot of the things that we’re doing within the OQIP program, some of it is an administrative level activity. We’re talking about having consistency, and how OQ programs are administered, and what are our minimum test scores.

[15:08] What should content look like? What’s the level of rigor in both the training and in the written assessments, and the performance evaluations? What about the competency and quality of the people that are administering those programs? What kind of credentials do they need to have?

[15:23] How do you validate and audit the quality of the program overall? What wait period do you have? What happens if someone fails an exam? What happens if someone gets suspended from a task? All of these are elements that we’ve addressed in the program, trying to build a consistent level of program operation.

[15:42] Operators can continue to go higher than that, but we’re trying to set that minimum standard higher than what the OQ rule says ‑‑ which is very vague and ambiguous in many ways.

[15:53] And raise that to a level of integrity and trust that people can accept and say, “OK, if I’m looking at programs from two different organizations, I know that they are rigorous programs that have high quality, and therefore safety, and reliability, and the quality of the content, therefore the quality of the person performing those jobs out in the field.”

[16:13] That’s the big goal and objective, is to make sure that when we say someone is qualified to perform this task, it actually means something, and it’s universally known and understood what that is, and how that would be defined.

[16:28] Jim: James, I just have to say, I’m sitting here riveted. These are friends of mine, and I’m still riveted. It’s great.

[16:39] James: Jim, I was in close proximity with Geoff when the OQIP was getting its legs and taking off, and I think, even during some of it, Geoff and I were really close in proximity as far as offices.

[16:55] Geoffrey: Across the hall, yeah.

[16:57] James: By osmosis alone, I learned so much, and I got to look at our points, and clean them up, and do things, hearing things like the 80/20 rule, and the three p’s, and all those things I’m like, “Yeah, man, I know what you’re talking about.” So yes, these are two passionate guys that, thank the Lord there’s somebody that passionate.

[17:19] Jim: Absolutely. I think James and I are on the same wavelength now, and I don’t know if James wants to ask or if I should, or we both can.

[17:30] James: I’ve got a sneaky little question I’m going to sneak in at the end.

[17:33] Jim: OK. I’ll let mine be brief because you know me, I’m one of those futuristic thinkers, it’s in my strength finders. Let me throw this question at you real quickly. The future. What’s a point that you want to see, or that you need to see, or that you’re thinking about that is going to happen with this?

[17:51] There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s that crystal ball we’re looking into. Geoff, take it away.

[17:58] Geoffrey: One of the first things that we’re looking for is the proof is in the pudding. It’s putting it to the test. We have three different operators, along with service providers and contractors, that are going through a beta pilot program. Of course, with COVID a lot of that has slowed down.

[18:17] Bradley: I’ll add, there’s state regulators too.

[18:19] Geoffrey: Yes, and state regulators. What we’ve done is we’ve been able to identify three groups of people based on a state‑level regulator. That the regulatory entity embraces what we’re doing, and supports it. Number two, that the operator embraces it and supports it, and is actively reworking their programs to align with this.

[18:42] The service providers that they rely on are supporting them in that effort and embrace this program, and then some of the key contractors, that are DCA members, are embracing it and supporting it as well. You have an end‑to‑end solution here, where all the key stakeholders are invested in trying to raise the bar, purely on a voluntary basis. I think that speaks volumes about the…

[19:04] [crosstalk]

[19:04] Jim: That’s it.

[19:06] Geoffrey: …integrity and the rigor of the companies involved and what they’re trying to do in the industry. For us, what’s next? What’s the future ball? We want to see that play out through these pilot programs and get real life feedback on what works and what doesn’t so that we can continue to refine it, to make it something that people are comfortable with, that they’re excited about.

[19:29] Yes, we’re asking people to do more than what they’re used to, but it’s fair, it’s reasonable, and it makes them feel good about the work that they’re doing. They know that when they get told that they’re done, it actually means something significant and not to discount programs that are out there already, but it’s always great when you when you achieve a major milestone.

[19:48] I view this as a major milestone for both the industry and for these organizations that are participating.

[19:55] Brad: I would just add to that, that would go along the lines that although this sets out some expectations to raise that bar, believe it or not, as the Federal regulators and State regulators have reviewed what it is we’re offering, their comments have been that’s exactly what the intent of the OQ Rule was meant for. You’re right on the but, so that’s number one.

[20:27] The second thing I would say is because we’re looking at this from raising the bar to have some integrity in the deployment of operative qualifications and the processes behind it and the people, it’s far easier.

[20:42] In fact, it’s almost a slam dunk that the transferability of one individual worker that holds a specific qualification from one company to another company can be an easy transition without any other organization asking, “What does he really have, and what was really the process done behind them?”

[21:04] For someone just pushing papers, was it some admin sitting behind, answering the phones, just checking the boxes? Is there some integrity behind it? It makes it a lot easier to just transfer that person over. At which point then, look at the cost savings, look at the productivity savings, look at the integrity that we can say is included in what the individual has as a credential.

[21:32] James: Love it.

[21:32] Jim: Fantastic.

[21:34] [crosstalk]

[21:36] Jim: Again, the passion that just is oozing through all those words, it’s…

[21:41] [crosstalk]

[21:41] James: Yes, you two should start a show.

[21:42] [crosstalk]

[21:43] Jim: Who?

[21:43] [laughter]

[21:44] James: Geoff and Brad.

[21:45] [crosstalk]

[21:45] Geoffrey: It might have to be a late night show.

[21:49] James:  One way I’ll read this one.

[21:51] [crosstalk]

[21:51] Brad: It would have been called “The Mutton Geoff Show.” Maybe no. I don’t know. [laughs]

[21:59] Geoffrey: No, [inaudible].

[21:59] James:  All right. I have one question. I’m going off script here, guys. I know how much you love that, but I’ll start with Geoff. You got a little bit more time, Brad, but then closing out shows with this because I think it’s really important. Geoff, I got a question for you. Do you love what you do?

[22:20] Geoffrey: Absolutely. I think that that’s the key behind everything is having passion. People often say, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” We see a lot of folks retired and then they come back to the industry because they just love what they do and they want to contribute.

[22:35] I think that for myself, for Brad, for a lot of other folks…In fact, Brad just ‑‑ and I just talked about this the other day on a personal call ‑‑ the passion that we have for the industry, the love that we have for the industry. There are so many great people.

[22:48] I’ve worked in different industries, but the energy and utility industry is fantastic, the quality and caliber of the folks both from a professional and a personal level. You develop friends and you develop professional colleagues all at the same time. How can that be wrong?

[23:03] Brad: Amen.

[23:04] Geoffrey: When we go to events, it’s always like…or even this, right, today is like a reunion day, especially being separated from some of the industry events. Yes, it makes it very easy to get excited, to get involved when you know that you’re making a difference. You’re doing something meaningful, important.

[23:21] You love the people that you’re working with. At the end of the day, you know you’re helping people out in the industry with the quality, their careers, their job, and ultimately, their safety and going home to their families every day. That’s something to be proud of and to get excited about.

[23:36] James:  Amen. Brad…

[23:37] [crosstalk]

[23:38] James:  …you can just say ditto if you want.

[23:40] [laughter]

[23:41] James:  The floor is yours, sir. Do you love what you do? I hope so after 10…

[23:46] [crosstalk]

[23:46] James:  …years with Miller. Miller…

[23:50] [crosstalk]

[23:50] Brad: Thank you. Geoff hit it right on the head. I’ll just add just a couple of pieces.

[23:56] That is when you deal with and when you work with the people that we do in our industry, regardless of whether it’s other organizations, associations, even cross the lines from an LDC world to a transmission world or to a hazardous liquids world, the quality of people, the subject matter expertise, the willing to work together in partnership to achieve good and phenomenal things, I personally believe that you don’t see that in every industry in this country.

[24:30] It’s very unique and it’s very specialized. It exists in the world of pipeline operations. It’s a wonderful thing.

[24:40] The second thing I’d add to that is when you have leadership and when you have quality people in leadership positions, like I am privileged to have at Miller Pipeline, it’s amazing how just the leadership perspectives and the culture that the leadership provides within each one of these organizations, including Miller Pipeline, allows for greatness to foster.

[25:07] Jim:  Amen.

[25:07] Brad: This is something that you can’t put a price on. That is phenomenal.

[25:12] Jim: I agree. I hate to be the bearer of news, but if we don’t wind this down, the next thing you know, it’ll be next week’s episode. We still kept on going for your 284 hours…

[25:27] [crosstalk]

[25:27] James:  Part two.

[25:29] Jim: What?

[25:29] James:  We can do part two.

[25:31] Jim: You know what? We probably will do part two…

[25:33] [crosstalk]

[25:33] James:  Where we just talk about fishing and not going on Brad’s boat.

[25:36] Jim: Yes.

[25:37] Geoffrey: Yes. Agree.

[25:38] Brad: One thing I would offer before we conclude. I would encourage anybody that is listening or watching this cast to go to O‑Q‑I‑P dot O‑R‑G,, to get additional information.

[25:55] We’ve got a great website. We’ve got the document to review. We’ve got the process. We’ve got all the validations. We’ve got FAQs, all kinds of things that are in there to help anybody in answering any questions that they may have further.

[26:11] Geoffrey: Yes, and I’ll add on to that because we posted it as part of the website. There’s also a podcast that Myra, my AC, and I recorded with Russell Treat as part of the pipeliner’s podcast. It was I think about a June 9th episode.

[26:27] As you go through and you look at all that information and get a full download of the document itself as it’s written today, ensure a lot of FAQs are posted out there about what the process means and looks like, and where we’re going, and what the expectations are.

[26:40] But then there’s also some other background information that you can listen to to understand why the B31Q, what role that plays in this, and what we’re trying to achieve through the OQIP program.

[26:49] James:  Awesome.

[26:50] Brad: Right.

[26:51] Jim: Excellent final thoughts. Anything else, gentlemen, before we wind it down? It’s your platform. This is your show.

[26:58] Brad: I want to thank you, folks. This is wonderful to have a platform like this to talk about something that Geoff and I are passionate of. We love our industry and we love the people in it. Thank you so much for offering this.

[27:10] [crosstalk]

[27:11] Geoffrey: I want to thank you, guys, as well, but I also want to say thanks to everybody else that’s on the committee, the task force. We have a phenomenal group of folks that have volunteered their time. Their companies have made a financial investment to get them there.

[27:25] They are financially investing in the future of the industry by allowing those folks to go and spend quite a bit of time over the years building this program out, having meetings, traveling around, putting documents together, providing internal resources, as James mentioned earlier, doing PowerPoints for industry presentations, writing, drafting, editing program documents, creating forms and audit protocols.

[27:48] You name it. There is a lot of work that’s going on. It’s taken the entirety of that team to do that. My thanks to everybody that’s been participating.

[27:58] [crosstalk]

[27:58] Brad: For your listeners to this cast, please go to and look at all of the members that are a part of this, that made this happen, and reach out to them and thank them. They put a lot of energy and effort into this.

[28:12] Geoffrey: Amen.

[28:14] James:  It takes a village.

[28:15] Jim: It does take a village.

[28:19] [crosstalk]

[28:19] Jim: I’ve heard that before. All right. On behalf of James and I, we cannot thank you two enough for joining us today. Absolute pleasure. When we say that we love you, it is a true thing. Everything that you’re doing for the industry, we can’t thank you enough. We encourage our viewers out there to please connect with Geoff, and please connect with Brad.

[28:41] If you have questions, shoot them a message. They’re great people. They would want to respond and help you or point in the right direction or whatever it is. As always, on behalf of James and I, we appreciate you listening. If you would like to be on our show, drop us a note.

[28:57] You never know who’s going to be the next guest. Until then, God bless you and God bless our industry. Everybody, please stay safe and take care. I’ll see you next week.

[29:06] [music]

[29:07] James:  Bye‑bye. Thank you, guys.

[29:09] Brad: Bye.

[29:09] [music] 

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