PERSPECTIVES | A Talk with Don Santa

Don Santa, president and CEO, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, talks about the benefits of pipelines to consumers and the energy industry.

Q What is your vision of the North American pipeline industry of the future?
I think it’s going to remain an industry that is vital to our nation’s energy economy, and probably even more so in the future, in light of the benefits of the shale revolution. The tagline we’ve adopted at INGAA is: “pipelines make it possible.” Pipelines are essential for companies getting their gas to market and to consumers, and for the economy to benefit from the current shale abundance.
QHow will additional pipelines and abundant natural gas affect consumers’ lives?
The combination of abundant gas and the pipelines to deliver this energy will positively affect consumers in ways that are clearly visible, such as greater use of natural gas as a transportation fuel. It’s also going to affect them in ways that may not be as clearly apparent, such as in electric power generation, and in the production of products like fertilizer or petrochemicals.
Affordable domestic energy has been a real boost for the US economic recovery. I’ve seen some estimates that the benefit of affordable energy for the average consumer, principally in the form of natural gas, has been up to $1,200 per year—those are real dollars consumers get to keep in their pockets.
QIn March, INGAA released a study that included data on infrastructure investment needed in the United States and Canada over the next 20 years. How can the industry find and apply that investment to new natural gas infrastructure?
The industry has a demonstrated ability to maintain the level of investment and infrastructure development forecast in the study. That been said, we need to ensure that the vehicles to attract financing remain in place. We need to preserve the very predictable process for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approvals of interstate pipelines—including all environmental reviews and permits—and look for ways to increase the efficiency of this process. And we need to continue our strong emphasis on safety, which is key to the industry’s social license, and in working effectively with landowners and others affected by pipeline development.
QDuring your time as a FERC Commissioner, you worked on some significant orders for deregulating electricity, transmission and restructuring natural gas pipeline services. Do you see any similar shifts for the industry in the future? 
I think the overall framework is very good and will endure. We are now turning our attention to coordination of the natural gas and electric power due to increased use of gas for electric generation. There are many operational, commercial and regulatory differences between the two markets that need to be addressed. So in terms of FERC regulation, that is likely going to be a future area of focus.
QHow will electricity companies and natural gas companies need to work together in the future?
It’s a balancing act from the pipeline perspective. The industry has many types of customers, all of which need to be treated equally. With the electric power industry becoming an increasing part of the gas market, we need to balance responsiveness to this source of demand for natural gas and pipeline services while also serving existing customers such as gas distribution companies and industrial users—the ones largely responsible for the current gas pipeline network.
There have been many discussions between the two industries over the past few years, and there has been a lot of progress in better understanding each other’s business and how to work together. It has been an interesting evolution.
QWhat’s one little known fact about you?
I met my wife by sitting next to her on an airplane.
QIs there anyone you would consider instrumental to your energy career?
In 1989, I had the privilege of working on the staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee under the leadership of Senator Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, who was Committee chairman at the time. One of my first projects was The Natural Gas Wellhead Decontrol Act of 1989, the final piece in deregulating the price of natural gas. Some people can go their entire careers on Capitol Hill and never work on a bill that becomes law, so this was a memorable experience. Senator Johnson was an excellent person to work for, and working with him was a huge stepping stone in terms of my nomination to be a FERC Commissioner in 1993. The senator’s support was key.
QWhat is one of your off-hours hobbies? 
I sail on a 34-foot long sailboat called a J-105, mostly on the Chesapeake Bay, and we participate in what’s called one-design racing—racing only against other people with the same boat. It’s very competitive and satisfying, because it’s not about the boat, but who sailed the best that day. There are so many elements to it, which I think is part of what makes it so fascinating.
QAre there any similarities in how you approach business and sailing?
Very much so. In both instances, you’re trying to assemble a team of people with different skillsets—how do you blend them to get the best possible result? With sailing, it’s important to keep in mind that, while you want to win the race, you also want everyone to work together to enjoy the experience and the collaboration. Similarly in business, while you want to communicate expectations and have everyone perform to the top of their ability, you also need to do it in a way that incentivizes performance, to be a loyal part of the team, and enjoy the ride.
You can view the article on Accenture's website here.