InnovOil previews some of Downstream 2019’s offerings ahead of June 11-12
Houston, Texas is set to host Downstream 2019 Exhibition & Conference, the biggest downstream event in the world.
Next year will be the convention’s biggest year ever, with over 7,000 people due to visit the exhibition, which will feature 350 booths.
InnovOil spoke to project director Kerr Jeferies about what to expect in 2019.
“Downstream 2019 really is the culmination of a four-year legacy of what’ve been trying to do in the petrochemicals, chemicals, LNG and refining space,” he told InnovOil.
“What makes 2019 different, though, is the level of resources we’re putting into the event.”
This summer, FC Business Intelligence, the company behind Downstream 2019, received MBO funds from the major equity investment group LDC. These funds will help Downstream 2019 to grow beyond previous years.
“Playing in the big leagues now gives us the resources to go out and make Downstream 2019 the OTC for the downstream market globally,” Jeferies said. “Next year is going to be on a vastly different scale – you’re looking at 3,000 conference attendees, 35% of which are owner-operators, which is industry-leading and double the number of trade booths.”
“We pride ourselves on getting the very best speakers that you possibly can – executives that you would never normally find speaking anywhere else – and asking them to delve into issues in a greater level of detail than anyone’s really seen before,” Jeferies said.
The Downstream 2019 speaker line-up includes KBR CEO Stuart Bradie, Bechtel president of oil, gas and chemicals Alasdair Cathcart, McDermott COO Samik Mukherjee, Wood Americas CEO Andrew Stuart and Fluor energy and chemicals president Jim Brittain.
These speakers will be discussing a wide range of issues, with a focus on mega project case studies, capital projects and productivity across the whole downstream value chain.
“One of the core issues across a lot of the programme is about transforming productivity, whether you’re at reliability and maintenance or looking at capital projects,” Jeferies said.
In addition, the speakers will discuss case studies on recent major projects and share insights about the latest engineering and construction and project safety innovations that can help a company deliver capital projects on time and on budget.
“We’ll be talking about how to digitise execution, how you can really unlock the power of big data to transform your company’s ability to respond to challenges and make difficult project decisions in real time,” Jeferies said. “It’s not just about how to collect data anymore – it’s about how you mould that data into something that can make a real value decision right now.”
As these technologies and new practices help transform the downstream sector, and the oil and gas industry as a whole, individual workers and companies will need to work hard to adapt to this new environment. Downstream 2019’s speakers will help provide insight into the challenges the industry will face, and potential solutions.
“One of the challenges that the US market faces is the shrinking pool of labour,” Jeferies said. “For too long, we’ve treated workforce developments as an unsexy topic – how do you get the right kind of resourcing, how do you develop the talent of the organisation, how do you make sure you’re promoting the right people in the right ways, how are you working with community colleges to make sure you have the right levels and numbers of journeymen available.”
“That’s really coming to a head – from our research, 80% of the people we spoke to developing this programme said that workforce issues and development and availability and quality are really starting to bite this next year and that’s going to be a huge focus for next year.”
With so many downstream professionals gathered in one place, Downstream 2019 is a chance to gauge some of the developing trends in the downstream sector.
While engineering, construction and new capital projects have been staples at previous Downstream events, this year has seen growth in the reliability, maintenance, supply chain, process technology and turnaround portions of the programme.
“We’re really excited with lots of new projects in the LNG, petrochemicals and refining space being announced in the US as part of that second wave of investment,” Jeferies said. “We’re also able to finally bring in technical track dealing with processing engineering, which is really an exciting space for the development of the new molecule strains that will be supporting the low-carbon plastics and chemicals that we need in the future and dealing with our supply chain.”
Jeferies also pointed to exhibitors focusing on new technologies, such as those to facilitate advanced work packaging (AWP), which will help guide the early stages of a project.
“Companies like Dow and Shell have been leading the charge on AWP within their own organisations, and then putting that on to the rest of their supply chain,” Jeferies noted. “When you’re seeing AWP providers in the exhibition hall, that’s not just for the owner-operators, but so other contractors, large and small, can get on board with the AWP principles.”
Jeferies also pointed to modularisation, offshore fabrication technologies and process automation as other trends on display amongst the exhibitors, with something for everyone in their first trade show-scale expo floor.
“Digital solutions are available to automate processes to streamline and reduce overall costs, but in a way that doesn’t overcomplicate things and tie companies into overly long contracts,” Jeferies added.
“And then there’s also some of the really exciting stuff that everyone likes to play around with, which is the virtual tools – building virtual plants in the design and engineering phase is technology that hasn’t really been that well advanced.”
“Or you’re even looking at augmented reality tools to train the technicians of the future and give them as much practice time as possible,” he added.
An event on the scale of Downstream 2019 is a good time to get a feel for the oil and gas industry’s general mood. After the malaise and austerity following the 2014 oil shock, Jeferies pointed to a growing optimism in the downstream sector, driven by the second wave of US petrochemical investment and LNG investment.
“The only caveat with that is the executives that we work with are becoming more and more keenly aware of the associated challenges of project delivery, commissioning, as a result of that next wave of investment,” he added.
“I think people will look back on 2018/2019 as a really good year for building relationships and securing new project investments. Even despite the clouds you might have over the tariff environment or the impact of low-carbon initiatives, there [are] an incredible number of projects going ahead.”
The downstream industry is not isolated from greater global issues, however. With climate change moving steadily toward the centre of global politics, growing anti-immigration movements in developed economies threatening workforce availability or trade tensions between China and the US, the oil and gas industry needs to take a lot of different movements into account when planning for the future.
“What’s very clear now is that more and more executives are looking for the full picture,” said Jeferies. “When we talk to people in capital projects or turnarounds, they’re looking at how do we join the dots together how do we design for liability, how do we integrate turnaround projects with other capital projects, how do you bring that full picture together in a way that hasn’t been done in petchems before.
“What our executives want to get across is: let’s understand issues around workforce development, around making sure we have the right technology, about making sure we can digitise where we can, how do we become more productive to make sure we can deliver on those new projects and keep those projects in the US.”
Downstream 2019 will take place on June 11-12 in the George R Brown convention centre in Houston.