HOUSTON—Just like the industry it serves, the Energy Polymer Group of the ACS Rubber Division has seen its fortunes rise and fall in recent years.
Its membership dropped by 20 percent during 2016 as the oil and gas industry went through the worst part of its downfall, but last year rebounded to near the levels of 2013, said Eric Crawford, who is EPG chair and also head of technical and quality for Houston-based Polymer Precision Engineering L.L.C., a unit of IDEX Sealing Solutions.
Crawford answered questions from RPN Editor Bruce Meyer, about the group, its initiatives and how it dealt with the ups and downs of the oil and gas sectors. The following is an edited version of that interview.
What is your background, both in the industry and with EPG?
I have an undergraduate degree in polymer, textile and fiber engineering, and a master's degree in polymer science from Georgia Tech. I am relatively new to the oil and gas industry (five years) but I have spent my entire professional career in the laboratory. I started with General Motors working on air, land, and water pollution compliance. I also worked in the paper industry and in formulations for the flavor and perfume sector.
As for my background in EPG I ascended through the ranks over the past five years. I originally joined the group in 2013 and was approached by the chair to run for end use director. I held that position for two years, was chemical director for two years and vice chair for one year.
What made you take a leadership role in the group?
I believe in being an active part of the organization. I did not join with the intent to become chair, it just happened as I became more aware of the functions of the group and the need for people to help.
How did the difficulties of the oil and gas industry impact the EPG?
As you know, the price per barrel of crude declined significantly in 2015. EPG experienced a 20 percent reduction in membership in 2016. This was the lag factor. However, 2017 membership was within one percentage point of the pre-downturn numbers, and we are expecting to surpass that mark this year.
It was not harder to get participation from those who knew the value of membership. What we did see was reduction in the number of members per employer, but we did not see any significant withdraws by companies as a whole. As a matter of fact, we added several new members from previously unrepresented companies.
How is the outlook different now than from the real depths of the downturn?
Oil and gas outlook is great. The downturn had a 'thinning of the herd effect' to use a Texas reference. When oil was cheap, the market was flooded with some companies that were focused more on short-term profit than on the long game.
Additionally, the money spent during lean times is often more productive and gives better returns. Finally, as can be seen in various reports, oil production has steadily increased over the past few years. This is the result of a more productive work force. As reported by one of our members in the spring 2017 technical meeting, the market will be steady and show modest growth through 2020.
Has the mission of EPG changed in recent years?
The goals have not changed in recent years. However, the approach and tools used have. For instance, in conjunction with the University of Houston and one of our members we compiled and categorized a library of most of the presentations and papers presented during the history of the group. Additionally, we offer scholarships to engineering students and work in partnership with some leading oil field service companies to advance the collective knowledge.
What are the group's initiatives going forward?
Looking forward, the intent is to present research- and data-based material to the membership that will allow them to address processing, manufacturing or environmental questions. Furthermore, we are considering scholarships for graduate degrees for members in good standing. One final initiative is to attract a broader membership base and have more input from some of the OEMs in the industry.