Tales From The Front Line: 4 Lessons Learned From A Former NGL Scheduler

Patrick Martin Written by Patrick Martin
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Tales From The Front Line: 4 Lessons Learned From A Former NGL Scheduler

Find out what things keep an NGL scheduler up at night and how you can be prepared to respond to unexpected supply chain disruptions.

They are on the front lines of daily logistics—the unsung heroes behind the scenes in the energy supply chain who get in early, stay late and typically work odd hours scheduling and coordinating daily and monthly product movements on assigned transportation modes, coordinate crisis management, monitor assigned NGL inventories, review receipts, deliveries, and exchange balances, to name a few. Who are we referring to? The day in the life of an NGL scheduler.

As more new pipelines get built to transport products from shale basins and trucks, rail, ships, and barges become increasingly relied on to transport crude oil, petrochemicals, and refined products to market, it’s important to revisit the basics of how NGLs move and the critical role that these schedulers play.

Patrick Martin, Senior Consultant in Opportune’s Process & Technology practice, gives a unique perspective on what his top concerns were during his time as an NGL scheduler at Enterprise Products Partners LP, what kept him up at night, and how you can better respond to unforeseen disruptions in the supply chain.

  1. Inventory: This is a simple enough concept. Do I have enough products with which to fulfill demand? However, given the constant fluidity of a supply chain, here’s what Patrick would face:
    • Is the production of the fractionators fully utilized? Is there enough feedstock to run units at max rates?
    • Am I overextended? Or, better yet, did a trader overcommit on sales when we don’t have the physical volume to cover (especially true at the beginning of the month)?
    • Is my inventory on-spec or do I have issues with my production and, therefore, will not have an on-spec product that I have to deal with?
  2. Pipeline Logistics: Depending on the mode of transportation there were plenty of worries and complexities to contend with daily.
    • Was I able to keep up with the schedule for the pipeline batches? In other words, was I taking advantage of my allocation and maximizing it to maintain a high capacity and get the product to customers?
    • Were there ever unplanned pipeline outages that forced me to have to think of Plan B or C to get supply out of the fractionators and to customers?
    • Would the planned outages finish their maintenance on time and allow for my batches to flow on a timely basis?
  3. Rail Logistics: Railcar scheduling was complex.
    • Were the switches on time from the railroads? If they were early, it was a potential problem because the cars weren’t ready to be moved. If they were late, it was an issue because it caused a backup at the rack and disrupted inventory plans.
    • Were the railcars sitting too long and were we forced to pay demurrage? And, if someone made a claim on us, did I have support to refute that claim?
    • Was there enough space in the railyard to spot cars and build trains to move them? Or were there delays with the railroad and, therefore, going to be issues with loading out railcars?
  4. Barge Logistics: Weather, limiting demurrage costs, and ensuring the product was on spec were all of great concern.
    • What was the current weather like? What was the weather forecast? Severe weather, hurricanes, fog, and heavy winds all cause delays. Delays are bad when it comes to moving products.
    • How long did it take to load a barge? Even though the math and experience gave you an estimate for the length of time to load a barge, you weren’t in control of loading schedules and shifts. Therefore, if a crew was delayed, that would then delay loading to get the barge delivered to a customer.
    • What is the spec of the current product and what was the spec of the previous product? There was always a fine line between understanding what was previously being transported and what was currently being loaded and making sure that it didn’t cause the product to go off-spec. That was a huge concern. An off-spec product couldn’t be delivered to customers.

As you can see, as an NGL scheduler, Patrick was constantly worried about timing and customer service. It sounds easy until you factor in the reality of multiple modes of transportation and the unpredictability of the supply chain. It was during these times that Patrick needed to solve problems quickly and be creative about coming to those solutions that were mutually beneficial to his organization and, most of all, to his customers.

At Opportune, we not only hire talented individuals like Patrick, but we also implement systems to solve these problems. The greatest skill an NGL scheduler can have is visibility into inventory, logistics, supply, and demand. They need to be able to see options quickly so that problems can be solved efficiently. Opportune’s Logistics & Operations practice works closely to tackle these problems and help schedulers do what they do best—resolve supply chain issues.

About The Expert

Patrick Martin is a Senior Consultant in Opportune LLP’s Process & Technology practice based in Houston. Patrick has over six years of midstream scheduling/operations experience within the NGL trading and commercial development groups while working for Enterprise Products Partners. During his time at Enterprise Products, he worked with and built strong customer relationships with many oil and gas companies from supermajors like Exxon, Chevron, and Phillips 66 to trade shops such as Vitol and Trafigura. His operational skills include scheduling physical movements of NGLs via pipeline, trucks, railcars, and barges, while also handling the paper side of trades through well transfers and customer inventory account management. Patrick worked extensively with RightAngle to ensure trades were properly recorded and scheduled and exposures related to physical trades were reconciled with the risk department daily. Patrick graduated from Texas A&M University with a BBA in Supply Chain Management.

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Patrick Martin

Patrick Martin

Senior Consultant

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