Haulers of Crude Finding Coverage Scarce

HOUSTON—The recent spike in oil and natural gas production has led trucking companies to grow so quickly that they sometimes scramble to find qualified drivers. This has meant tightening coverage with a limited number of carriers and a market in “disarray,” Anthony Dorn, a broker with Sloan Mason Insurance Services, said today at the IRMI Energy Risk and Insurance Conference.

“Carriers have taken a bath on construction risks,” he said. “Only nine carriers will write crude hauling.”

There is a huge need for risk management in trucking right now, he added. “A lot of these are fly-by-night companies. They are running with drivers that have no experience, they are getting violations from the DOT left and right for not having licenses and adequate brakes on their trucks and they are running on dirt roads that aren’t made for 100,000 pound units,” Dorn said. “It’s a very risky place for underwriters. If we don’t do something as agents and as risk managers there will be fewer carriers.”

The recent downturn in the oil and gas market has also been a game-changer for some companies. Dorn predicts a “cleaning of the crop” of truckers. Inexperienced companies with new drivers will “fall by the wayside. What we are going to be left with are companies that are well-run with proper safety procedures in their fleet.”

Once that happens, he believes more carriers will enter the market. “But as of now, in general the whole market is in disarray,” he said.

He noted that agencies such as the Department of Transportation have vehicle reports available online, which insurers now frequently access when considering whether to take on a trucking company as a risk. He suggested that companies looking for coverage also check these reports and work closely with their risk managers and safety directors to correct any problems, such as drivers without adequate experience.

“There is a huge opportunity out there right now for risk managers to approach these companies and tell them, ‘If you don’t have a risk manager to help with your losses, you are not going to be able to find insurance.’ Right off the bat, I’d say 50% [of trucking companies] are declined as soon as they walk in the door,” Dorn said. As a result, he has seen companies declined by every insurer and forced to form a new LLC or even shut down.

Loren Henry, also a broker with Sloan Mason, said that another thing they are seeing as oil prices drop is companies formed to haul salt water for hydraulic fracturing looking to other opportunities. “They start hauling agricultural products and paper products, whatever there is that is not oil and gas related,” he said. “That is typically not going to be covered under their auto policy.” He advised fleet owners to be aware of this and communicate any changes to their broker to find out specifically what is covered.

“We have had some losses recently, where a company made a shift from what they were hauling because they had lost some saltwater accounts. They were hauling cattle and they had a loss and it wasn’t covered because it is not in the policy language,” Henry explained.

“I don’t know where all these water-haulers are going to go,” Dorn added. “You’re going to see massive fleets go on sale and you’ll get huge discounts on trucks. You are going to see some transitions.”

Dorn added that one of his clients is now hauling salt water with half of his trucks and cattle with the rest. He advised his client to form another LLC for the cattle-hauling if he expects to get insurance coverage, as insurers would cover one or the other, but not both.

Asked whether companies are hiring risk managers and if they are also listening to their advice, he said, “Yes, especially after they get their premium. When they go from $5,000 a unit to $12,000 a unit their ears perk up pretty quick. They are willing to do almost anything to get that pricing down. It’s sad because companies are actually being put out of business because their premiums are too high.”

He expects the next year to see a lot of changes. “A lot of companies will go by the wayside,” he said. “A lot of smaller companies will be gone—they will sell their trucks or be bought out by bigger fleets.”

Shale Shakes Up Energy Sector

shale oil industry

HOUSTON—In the words of the well-known rock group REM, “It’s the end of the world as we know it,” at least for the energy sector in the last decade, said Ross Payne, managing director of Wells Fargo Securities and keynote speaker at the IRMI Energy Risk and Insurance Conference here. Since 2009, production in the United States is up 72%, he said. “That’s a phenomenal increase, driven by shale production.”

The huge boon in shale production was the result of technology. “Just sticking one straw into shale was not going to be economic, butwhen you were able to take that drill bit and turn it horizontal, and go out one to two miles horizontally and pop a hole into the ground every hundred yards along that one or two miles, you got enough flow to make that economically an option,” he said. “That’s why, when we broke the technology on that, it did change the world as we know it.”

Looking at energy from 30,000 feet, he explained that, since the early ’90s, the energy sector has enjoyed “one way pricing,” which was brought about by constricted supplies. The only new technology before developments to extract shale came along was in the deep water offshore arena, “a brand new territory for drilling in the 1980s and ’90s.”

Adding to that was dramatic global growth and demand, primarily from the BRIC countries–Brazil, Russia, India and China–and geopolitical issues such as the Arab Spring and the Iraq war, Payne said.

With high prices, however, “you get substitutions and you get disrupters. Clearly shale has become a disrupter.” What kind of impact has shale had on the industry? “Just since 2011 to 2013, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) doubled their crude basin estimates to 95. There are now 41 countries out there with significant shale assets. Shale reserves increased 980% in that two year time frame. Currently in the United States, 42% of production is through shale, with crude production around 50%,” he said.

As technology continues to evolve, Payne said, “we are continuing to do a better job of pulling this gas and crude out at a lower price. We are going to get more prolific and drive down costs even further.” Meanwhile, other countries, including China and Russia, are doing the same.

“Shale is the future, it’s the future on a global basis as well,” he said. The country with the largest shale reserves, he noted, is Russia, with the United States in second place. “We’re obviously the largest producer of shale crude, and China is number three. On the natural gas side, China is number one and the U.S. is number four.”

But how long will crude prices stay low? “We think it’s going to be awhile,” Payne said. “Because of shale, prices will be capped. As prices start to come up, we will see a situation where rigs come back on line very quickly. We think that, as we get into the $65 to $70 per barrel range, a lot of rigs will come back on line,” he said. “At peak, we were at 1,610 crude rigs in the U.S., and if you have 1,610 rigs working in the fields primarily on shale, you will get 1 million barrels of growth year-over-year.” He also does not see prices going much above $80 because of the ability to turn these rigs so quickly, primarily in the U.S.

A poll among energy experts in the audience as to where prices will be by the end of 2015 reached a consensus of $55 to $60 per barrel. Asked whether he believes the Nixon-era ban on exporting oil will be lifted, Payne pointed out that a number of CEOs have been pushing for U.S. exports of crude. “I’m surprised that Obama let LNG [liquefied natural gas] exports materialize as quickly as he did,” he said, adding that the president has allowed for other similar exports as well. However, he warned, “Once we start to export, there could be a knee-jerk reaction from OPEC. We are going to be viewed as a competitor rather than a customer, and they may want to squelch that competitor a bit longer than people’s expectations. So I think there is a danger to doing that, but it could very well move forward.”

Lack of Skilled Workers a Challenge Facing Construction Industry

NASHVILLE—While a number of issues face the booming construction industry, one concern that has been discussed throughout the IRMI Construction Risk Conference here is the shortage of skilled workers. Projects are larger than ever, with technology and the global supply chain only adding to their complexity, making it even more difficult to find talent.

“The construction industry is absolutely in a war for talent,” said keynote speaker Dominic Casserley, chief executive officer of Willis Group Holdings. He cited a 2013 Willis survey that found 93% of respondents listed a “lack of skilled workers” as their biggest concern. He noted that many workers who left the construction industry during the financial crisis have since gained new skills in other areas and are not coming back.

An example, he said, is in his home, the United Kingdom, which decided in the last two years to return to building nuclear power stations. They had not done this for a number of decades and “quickly found that there were no engineers left. There was nobody capable of building a nuclear power station in the United Kingdom, so our new power station is being built by our great friends, the French. That’s what happens if you lose talent in an area of construction.”

Organizations are putting programs in place in the emerging markets to train talented resources “close to where the action is,” he said. Going forward, however, “We don’t see this challenge getting any easier.” Looking at millennials as a potential workforce, which represent 27% of the U.S. population, “you will see that they have some pretty interesting attitudes about work.”

Casserley noted that of millennials:

● four out of five feel they need to be recognized for their work and want regular feedback

● 72% would like to be their own boss

● 79% would like to have their boss serve as a coach or mentor

● 88% prefer a collaborative to a competitive work culture

● 88% want to integrate work and home life

● 74% want flexible work schedules

Asked how firms can bring millennials into their workforce and be flexible while still getting the job done, he said he views this as an opportunity for companies. “I think this is a very talented, aspirational, exciting generation. They are highly tech-savvy and have grown up in a global world.”

What employers will need to do, he said, is to “get their minds around how to harness that asset.” An interesting aspect about millennials, he noted, is their belief in having social value in what they do. “I can tell you, that for the generation entering the workforce today, that really matters. They want to work for a firm that means something to them so they can go home and feel proud of what they do.”

While all generations may feel this way, millennials are expressing it more openly. “And until you can get your mind around describing what [your industry] does and why it is important to the way the world goes around, I think we will struggle to attract and attain people, particularly that generation,” Casserley said, adding that if members of the industry don’t do this, “you are going to constantly lose people.”

Jack Gibson, president and CEO of the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI), agreed, noting that the construction industry is often viewed as a workplace where people are injured and the insurance industry is seen as a life insurance sales force. “Both industries do so much good, but we have not done a very good job of delivering that message,” he said. Gibson encouraged contractors to get involved in mentoring programs as well as the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF), which has contributed more than $18 million in local community grants and more than 155,000 hours of volunteer service.

Zero Tolerance Needed to Stop Construction Injuries

Photo by Caroline McDonald

NASHVILLE–For David B. Walls, president and chief executive officer of Austin Industries, construction safety became a lifelong mission the day he had to answer to the father of a worker killed in an accident. “Why did you kill my son?” he asked Walls over and over.

“Those words haunted me,” Walls said during his keynote address at the IRMI Construction Risk Conference here. “Nothing I could do would bring him back.” Tragic events such as this are “defining moments,” he said. “But we need to get passionate about safety without experiencing a fatality.” Walls explained that the construction industry has a long way to go, with the worst record for fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Organizations, he added, should focus on the physical work environment and the company culture. They also need to realize that a world-class safety program leads to higher quality throughout the organization.

One prerequisite is strong leadership. A good leader takes the time to really listen to people, admits to making mistakes and shares recognition for a project well done with employees, he said. This person also should be consistent in addressing safety issues and assertive enough to stop workers from continuing on a job if unsafe conditions are evident.

An effective leader needs to be accountable and hold the entire team accountable when it comes to safety. For example, workers need to know that breaking certain safety rules could cost them their job. After all, he said, “you have a moral obligation to get employees home to their families each night in a safe condition.”

Walls recommended frequent discussions of company successes as well as failures. Weekly dialogues of near-misses, for example, can raise awareness about how they could have been prevented and encourage safe behaviors. Posting the safety records of contractors “makes them improve quickly,” he said. Walls advocates for both classroom and thorough on-the-job training.

Safety managers and employees also need to focus on what they might be overlooking, the “sins of omission.” For example, he said, “what are you not doing that you could be doing to save lives?” The litmus test, he added, would be for a manager to ask him or herself, “Would I let my child work here?”

Asked by an audience member how to get the necessary buy-in from a CEO, Walls advised, “Get the CEO to walk the job and see the hazards. Go to the job site and see where someone fell and where the accident took place. Two to three people a day are dying in this industry and it is unacceptable.”