Pure energy: The fast-paced business of marketing and moving hydrocarbons

Gulf Coast Crude Oil Scheduler Reese Nixon at work on the Commercial trade floor in Houston.

ConocoPhillips employees are experts at safely finding and producing oil and natural gas, but the expertise doesn’t stop there. It extends beyond the wellhead, as those hydrocarbons must be marketed and transported. That’s where the roughly 250 employees in the company’s Commercial business unit come into play.

By Gus Morgan

Gulf Coast Crude Oil Scheduler Reese Nixon is always peering into the future, as ConocoPhillips sells its crude oil one to two months ahead of its actual production.

“We work on monthly cycles,” said Nixon, who primarily handles the company’s Eagle Ford crude scheduling.

In her job role, Gulf Coast Crude Oil Scheduler Reese Nixon, top, supports Gulf Coast crude marketers; Below: Nixon reviews crude trucking reports with South Texas Crude Marketing Representative Kevin Brock.

For crude oil schedulers like Nixon, the goal is to move equity barrels with maximum efficiency.

“I make sure it gets from point A to point B,” she said, “and that we get the best value for our barrels.”

Nixon is among the 250 employees who work in Commercial, a business unit that manages the company’s commodity portfolio, a mix of natural gas, crude oil, natural gas liquids (NGLs), liquified natural gas (LNG), bitumen and power .

Within Commercial, you’ll find numerous functional teams, including Gas & Power Marketing ; Lower 48 Gas & Water Midstream (L48 GWM); Crude Oil & NGLs Marketing; LNG Marketing; LNG Technology & Licensing ; Risk Management & Regulatory Affairs; and Finance. Commercial and the L48 GWM teams work very closely with other functional groups such as Commercial Legal, Commercial Compliance and Global Credit.

While Commercial employees market the equity production produced by the company’s exploration and production (E&P) business units, equity production is just one piece of Commercial’s portfolio. The Commercial team also markets third-party volumes, better positioning the company to satisfy customer demand while maximizing its transportation and storage capacity.

While Nixon works on the trade floor at ConocoPhillips Center in Houston — a bustling mix of traders, marketers, schedulers and analysts — Commercial also has offices in Calgary, London, Singapore, Tokyo and Beijing.

After hydrocarbons are discovered and produced, Commercial employees market and move them to customers.

“I love the energy of the trade floor and the Commercial group,” said Nixon, who coordinates with the traders she supports, as well as keeping in touch with external counterparties, such as pipeline companies and customers.

Each morning, Nixon starts her day by analyzing spreadsheets, tracking volumes and nominations, and determining if everything is going according to plan. And she’s always checking to see if production is coming in on schedule.

“We have a great reputation within the industry,” she said. “We've earned that by being transparent, fair and ethical in all we do.”

A business model that's 'proven the test of time'

Global Gas, Power & LNG General Manager Tom Mathiasmeier cited Commercial’s business model as the key to success.

Global Gas, Power & LNG General Manager Tom Mathiasmeier

“Our customer-focused and optimization business model has proven the test of time, enabling us to adapt, react and create value no matter the market conditions afforded to us,” he said. "Customer-focused means we strive to form core, long-term relationships with very targeted customers. We want to be their company of choice. Optimization means we aim to market molecules, electrons and barrels better than anybody else in the industry."

In 2023, Mathiasmeier said the main objective is to take care of the company’s base business.

“We have to do the blocking and tackling associated with making sure that ConocoPhillips' molecules and barrels are flowing 24-7 at the most optimal value while creating incremental value in Commercial," he said.

ConocoPhillips' major LNG deals in 2022 have opened up new marketing opportunities, Mathiasmeier said.

In 2022, ConocoPhillips announced the signing of a non-binding LNG Heads of Agreement (HOA) with Sempra Infrastructure and was awarded an equity stake in the Qatar North Field East and North Field South projects . ConocoPhillips secured regasification capacity at the German LNG terminal in Brunsbuttel that will provide access to the German natural gas market for the Qatari expansion and Port Arthur LNG projects.

Mathiasmeier said these agreements are part of a larger strategy to grow the company's global LNG presence and acts as an extension of ConocoPhillips' existing global LNG business, complementing its activities in Qatar and APLNG .

"And our LNG Technology & Licensing team is making a lot of headway using ConocoPhillips’ Optimized Cascade® process technology at some of the new and emerging liquefaction facilities," he said. "Plus, not to mention tactically, we've done a lot of systems and processes work. It’s about how do we make our business the most efficient that we can by utilizing the most current technology. We've got a lot in store for us in 2023.”

Southwest Schedulers Zane Hill, left, and Clark Killion are part of a fast-paced gas scheduling team that must meet daily nomination deadlines. Members of this team schedule on over 100 natural gas pipelines and deliver natural gas to over 1,000 customers across the U.S. Both natural gas and power are traded in markets that range from intraday to multi-year time frames with individual marketers focusing on different parts of that spectrum. Gas schedulers meet deadlines five times a day to get their nominations in on time and to make sure the gas gets to where it needs to go.
‘Where the rubber meets the road’

U.S. Crude Oil & NGL Operations Manager Kali Alvarez, whose scheduling team includes Nixon, said Commercial’s scheduling operations are “where the rubber meets the road,” noting that while traders make the deals, delivery remains a vital part of the fulfillment process.

U.S. Crude Oil & NGL Operations Manager Kali Alvarez is part of a team that ensures hydrocarbons are delivered to customers. Crude Oil & NGL Marketing operate as marketing service providers for ConocoPhillips' E&P business units. The team accountability is to ensure offtake and improve netbacks though commercial deal development, infrastructure agreements and commercial asset optimization.

“My team is super focused on making sure our deliveries happen, and we are always keeping an eye out for where we can capture savings on transport,” she said. “We want to make sure we capture the best netback for our shareholders and deliver a great product for our customers.”

Alvarez’s team collaborates with the E&P business units to manage and monitor production, watching for any deviations in the production forecasts, adjusting plans if necessary. The priority is customer service, and Commercial is known for its reliability and first-rate customer care.

For Alvarez, working in such a fast-paced, dynamic environment is part of the appeal.

“We are a high-energy group,” she said. “It’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s a fun place to be. You’re never going to be bored in Commercial. We all depend on each other for success, and we work together every day to that end.”

Building on a 'record year'

Global Crude Oil, NGL & UK Business Development/Commercial Services General Manger Nick Allen is looking to build on the success his team achieved in 2022, a record year where they traded around 1.3 million barrels per day of crude oil and NGLs.

Global Crude Oil, NGL & UK Business Development/Commercial Services General Manger Nick Allen

“Our first priority is to move our equity production to market successfully,” he said, “and make sure it flows every single day and that we don’t shut in any of our production.”

Allen’s team is always looking for ways to move the needle. For instance, with around 50 employees working in the crude and NGLs space, Allen’s team focuses on beating the market benchmarks, the published prices for the crudes and NGLs streams that ConocoPhillips produces.

“We’re always trying to do better than the market and improve netback for the company,” he said. “In 2022, we had great success in that area.”

In 2023, Allen and his team will be implementing a crude oil marketing strategy based on the additional WTI they have available to sell stemming from ConocoPhillips’ acquisitions of Concho Resources and Shell’s Permian assets .

“I’m sure it’s going be another busy year,” he said.

Traders, marketers, schedulers and analysts work shoulder to shoulder on the Commercial trade floor at ConocoPhillips Center in Houston. This interactive environment enables fast communications and knowledge sharing when it comes to discussing trades, prices, markets and scheduling.
Marketing Alaska North Slope Crude

Just a stone's throw away from Alvarez's desk, Alaska North Slope (ANS) Crude Marketing Director Cherie Hancock is busy conversing with ANS Crude Oil Scheduler Vladimir Babikov, discussing field production.

Hancock markets the company’s crude oil production out of Alaska, primarily selling it to refineries in the Pacific Northwest and California, with occasional shipments going to Hawaii, and even Asia.

Alaska North Slope (ANS) Crude Marketing Director Cherie Hancock, left, sits next to ANS Crude Oil Scheduler Vladimir Babikov on the Commercial trade floor at ConocoPhillips Center in Houston. The two converse constantly about the status of the Polar Tankers and if the ships are running on schedule. "It's an all day, daily conversation," she said.

“My primary role is to achieve the highest netback for the company’s shareholders,” said Hancock, who spends much of her day trying to decipher market dynamics. This means understanding what crudes are available and how much they're selling for in the marketplace.

When she’s not marketing, she’s managing day-to-day business, checking on the company’s five Polar Tankers, making sure deliveries are running on time. She’s also checking with what’s happening in the company’s North Slope fields and if the production forecasts are meeting expectations.

During the trading cycle, Hancock negotiates with counterparties, arranging transactions that would deliver ConocoPhillips crude to them via one of the company’s five Polar Tankers , double-hulled vessels that are loaded at a terminal in Valdez, Alaska.

Asked why customers choose to do business with ConocoPhillips, Hancock said: “We have a great reputation. We are reliable, flexible and known for our safety.”

How the trading cycle works

In Commercial, traders and schedulers make up the front office, or customer-facing positions.

  • To start, a ConocoPhillips trader will want to sell a product to a third-party for delivery at a specific time and location.
  • Next, the Commercial Integration team, which manages contracts/agreements and handles confirmations, ensures ConocoPhillips has an agreement with the counterparty and verifies the terms of the deal.
  • Then, schedulers ensure ConocoPhillips gets the product to the right place at the right time, with Commercial Accounting, known as the back office, handling the invoicing and collections.
Adding value uplift: Commercial Finance

At the opposite end of the trade floor from Hancock's desk, you'll find Commercial Finance Manager Laurie Werth, who manages a team that delivers crucial analysis on business performance, building on the work produced by Commercial Accounting.

Commercial Finance Manager Laurie Werth

Werth’s job role gives her a holistic view of Commercial’s business activities. Her global team, which supports Asia, the United Kingdom and Canada, accounts for transactions, manages payables and receivables, and closes the books along with Commercial Services in Houston. In addition, they provide Finance & Performance Analysis support for the business by analyzing activities from a financial perspective and producing performance reports in support of business activities.

“My team helps to tell the story of the business,” said Werth, who savors the energetic atmosphere and high-performance mindset prevalent in Commercial. “It’s one of the most integrated, collaborative businesses I've worked in."

The Commercial organization is unique in that ConocoPhillips isn't just producing hydrocarbons, Werth said, but taking those commodities and marketing and selling them, allowing for flexibility and value uplift compared to companies that don't have a Commercial organization.

ConocoPhillips' access to different markets gives it a competitive advantage, Werth said, enabling the company to move hydrocarbons to markets that deliver the most value.

"We are one of the largest natural gas marketers in North America," she said. "Not only do we manage the sales of some of our equity production for ConocoPhillips, but we have a significant footprint with third-party marketing as well."

Having pushed our technical levers to the max to reduce cost of supply, for me the value that Commercial brings is now our critical advantage.

Terri KinG, Vice President and CHIEF Commercial Officer
Providing essential back-office support: Commercial Services

Adjacent the bustling trade floor, you’ll find Joseph Thomas, who manages Commercial Services, an organization within Finance that provides the back-office support for the Commercial trade floor, focusing on activities involving the Lower 48, Canada and Alaska business units.

Thomas oversees a team of around 60 employees and contractors, an age-diverse group consisting of early-career professionals to employees with 30-plus years of experience.

Commercial Services Manager Joseph Thomas

“We're an essential part of the Commercial organization, just on the back end of it,” Thomas said. “What back-office support really translates to is the accounting. We're closing the books as well as settling with counterparties because Commercial is doing the buying and selling. This is in addition to the contract and confirmation work done by the Commercial Integration team. We're making sure the cash comes in and goes out the door timely and accurately.”

Thomas' team includes Commercial Integration, a group that manages contracts/agreements and handles confirmations.

“This is going to be a really big year for us,” he said. “We are supporting our new crude strategy and new LNG activities, but we're also heavily involved in nxtgenERP as well as replacing some of our optical character recognition software. So that's going to be a big lift on the team. The business is changing and the tools we use on the back end are changing. But the team is up to the challenge.”

24 Hour Power Trader Jake Woodard is part of the ConocoPhillips Gas & Power Marketing team that provides industry-leading energy services, flow assurance, asset and risk management, scheduling and back-office services 24/7. On the power desk, traders work 24/7 to make sure power is flowing across the grid for customers. Unlike natural gas, electricity cannot yet be stored in large quantities, so the power desk needs to be staffed around the clock to meet obligations in the hourly traded power market that publishes price signals every five minutes.
Managing risks and regulations
Commercial Risk, Data, Regulatory and Market Analysis Manager Tori Kuykendall

By its nature, trading involves risk.

This is where Commercial Risk, Data, Regulatory and Market Analysis Manager Tori Kuykendall’s team comes into play.

Kuykendall’s group ensures Commercial employees understand where and how they are creating risk and profit margin, enabling them to optimize their activities. Transparency is vital.

Working as a control function, separate of the marketers and traders, Kuykendall's team handles various tasks, including open/closed position reporting, price/data feed management, value at risk processing/reporting and daily trading profit/loss statements. This team also protects ConocoPhillips’ regulatory rights for commercial activities, such as monitoring pipeline markets to ensure fair shipping rates.

While Kuykendall wears many hats in her job role, she’s especially fond of helping young professionals in Commercial develop their analytical and marketing skills, with the goal of creating a pipeline of intellectual talent.

“My team is an important component of our Commercial new hire program, allowing recent university graduates to learn the building blocks of the business and make key contributions through their analytical efforts," she said. "The formal and informal leaders in these groups have a unique opportunity to shape our future schedulers, marketers and traders.”

The trade floor at ConocoPhillips Center is filled with analysts, including Market Analysis & Economics Supervisor Ishk Varghese, who collaborates with the Chief Economist's Office, making sure that strategic teams understand market fundamentals. The analysts on Varghese's team take a long-range perspective, focusing on U.S. and North America crude and natural gas markets including West Texas Intermediate and Henry Hub.
Developing intellectual capital

Commercial is brimming with analytical minds such as Jenna Mossbarger, who has held numerous roles within Commercial since joining ConocoPhillips in 2012 after graduating from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

California/Rockies Scheduler Jenna Mossbarger

After two years of working as a risk analyst, she recently transitioned to a new role as a gas scheduler.

Mossbarger, who studied business and economics in college, relishes the problem-solving aspect of Commercial, each day bringing a fresh challenge. Her career path exemplifies Commercial’s priority on employee development, as intellectual capital provides ConocoPhillips with a competitive advantage over its peers.

If Mossbarger has a question about something, help is merely steps away, as the trade floor is an open-concept environment where traders and schedulers work side by side, enabling fast communications and fostering knowledge sharing.

“We also have such a wealth of knowledge across the trade floor in people who are so willing to talk to you and provide information and make the story make sense even when the numbers are daunting,” she said.

Commercial is filled with experienced employees, such as ESG Coordinator and Senior Commercial Advisor Daniel Paul, who started working for ConocoPhillips in 1994. "ESG touches all aspects of our business and Commercial is no exception," he said. "Our customers across commodities and of all sorts — from global crude and LNG buyers to domestic power companies — are increasingly asking for products supplied from low-emission sources. Commercial ESG initiatives overlap with such corporate initiatives as electrification, low carbon business development, and OMGP 2.0. My role will be to help develop a cohesive Commercial ESG vision and strategy and to better partner Commercial with the various ESG initiatives across the corporation. There's a lot of excitement going in Commercial. ConocoPhillips is growing as a global player in the LNG world and we're building a crude export position. Our business is all built on relationships, reputation and having a good portfolio."
‘Attached at the hip’ with Lower 48

A key contributor to Commercial's success, the L48 GWM team occupies a unique functional niche, serving as a bridge to connect wellhead activities to Commercial activities.

L48 GWM Manager Garrett Rychlik’s team functions as a liaison between the Lower 48 business segment and Commercial Gas and NGL Marketing, his group securing gas-and-water gathering/processing capacity to provide flow assurance.

The team, consisting of 27 employees, aligns those gathering-and-processing commitments to production forecasts.

Lower 48 Gas & Water Midstream Manager Garrett Rychlik

“Even though we are Commercial,” he said, “we are attached at the hip with Lower 48. We have to be hand-in-glove with Lower 48 to ensure flow assurance for the gas and get the highest netback price.”

The L48 GWM team, which also handles water disposal, works with just about every group in the company, including commercial, technical, operations, engineering, financial, accounting, legal, credit, land, regulatory, environmental, tax and royalty.

“We are not the experts in these areas,” he said, “but we have to be knowledgeable about them to get the best possible outcome for the company.”

From minimizing curtailments and gas flaring, to handling contracts and daily operational activities, Rychlik’s team focuses on adding value and reducing risk.

“The work is challenging and rewarding because we have to be problem solvers for many things,” Rychlik said, “and a lot of times when no one knows where to go they come to us to fill in the white space between the business unit and the customers.”

Commercial Legal and Commercial Compliance

Led by Deputy General Counsel Mark Cowan, Commercial Legal helps with commercial matters, negotiations, structuring transactions and resolving disputes. Cowan's Houston-based team consists of five other lawyers and one paralegal. This team works closely with lawyers situated in ConocoPhillips’ foreign offices in Calgary, London and Singapore.

Deputy General Counsel Mark Cowan

The lawyers working in the Commercial area support all the trading and marketing deals for Commercial and L48 GWM across all commodities and jurisdictions worldwide in which ConocoPhillips is active, including gas, crude, natural gas liquids, bitumen, power and LNG. As part of this support, the lawyers negotiate pipeline, rail, truck and marine agreements with companies to deliver these commodities to the desired delivery points. Commercial Legal also provides support for the LNG Technology & Licensing team.

In addition to Commercial Legal, there is a team of compliance professionals who support the Commercial business. This team, led by John Doran and Robert Bonner, consists of seven professionals in Houston and two professionals in London, with assistance from other professionals in Calgary and Singapore.

The Houston-based Commercial Compliance team provides a variety of services to the Commercial business around the world, including trade monitoring and surveillance, client screening and regulatory support. They also provide training programs for Commercial employees to facilitate an understanding and compliance with the ever-changing laws, rules and regulations impacting the commodity business. In addition, this team handles the regulatory filings with U.S. regulators, agencies and exchanges on behalf of ConocoPhillips and its affiliates that are required in connection with the Commercial business. This group also provides support to offices making regulatory filings triggered by Commercial activities in Canada, the UK and the EU.

"The goal of the Commercial Legal and Commercial Compliance teams is to provide client service to advance the company’s Commercial business around the world by bringing a problem-solving approach to the challenges presented," Cowan said, "consistent with applicable laws and consistent with ConocoPhillips' corporate values."

Credit Relationship Analyst Sean Taylor, right, a member of Global Credit, works on the trade floor, providing timely support to the traders.
Global Credit, helping the business run smoothly and profitably

Playing a crucial role in Commercial's financial health, Global Credit is responsible for mitigating counterparty credit risk. This team consists of evaluations and reporting analysts who sit in the Treasury department, and relationship analysts who sit on the trade floor to provide timely support to the traders. This group also provides Credit support in London, Calgary and Singapore to manage regional commercial needs.

Global Credit Manager Michelle Gu

"When an opportunity arises with a potential new counterparty, we are engaged early in the process to assess financial strength and identify potential red flags," said Global Credit Manager Michelle Gu. "We are also active participants during the negotiation phase to ensure adequate credit protection is built into the contract."

Each counterparty undergoes the credit evaluation process at least annually, Gu said, where the team analyzes the most recent financials and allocates an appropriate credit limit. And credit exposure is monitored routinely through daily rating changes notifications, monthly portfolio reviews and quarterly deep dives.

"What I am most proud of is the partnership and collaboration we have with various functions within Commercial," she said, "coming up with creative solutions to minimize losses while maximizing value to our customers, helping to build long-lasting relationships."

ConocoPhillips’ Commercial business unit includes the following functions:
  • Gas & Power Marketing – A customer-driven business organization that provides numerous commercial services for natural gas, including volume management, asset management, risk management/hedging, scheduling and back-office services. One of the top five marketers in U.S. gas sales since 2002, this marketing team manages more than 10 BCFD in global gas sales. The Power Marketing team is a top 50 marketer of electricity, providing service to ConocoPhillips’ office buildings and field operations while also delivering energy management services and other products to power plants and key customers across the U.S. ConocoPhillips has been transacting in the deregulated North American electricity markets since 2002.
  • Lower 48 Gas & Water Midstream (GWM) - GWM handles gas gathering/processing and produced water gathering/disposal. It serves as the company’s primary voice to the external midstream sector.
    Financial Desk Manager Thomas Cornell, left, and Senior Market Analyst Matthew Henderson at work on the Commercial trade floor in Houston.
  • Crude Oil & NGLs Marketing – Operates as a marketing service provider for ConocoPhillips’ various E&P business units. This team ensures offtake and improves netbacks though commercial deal development, infrastructure agreements and commercial asset optimization. Currently, the team is responsible for marketing over 1.4 MMBPD of liquids globally.
  • LNG Marketing – Operating as a marketing service provider for the E&P business units, LNG Marketing is tasked with optimizing and growing the company’s global equity LNG portfolio while supporting the company’s joint venture projects in Qatar and Australia.
  • LNG Technology & Licensing This group markets the company’s Optimized Cascade® natural gas liquefaction technology.
  • Risk Management & Regulatory Affairs – This group includes position control, price/data feed management, Value at risk (VaR) processing/reporting and daily trading gain/loss and open/closed position reporting. It also protects ConocoPhillips’ regulatory rights for commercial activities.
  • Finance – Members of this functional group, located in every one of the company’s global Commercial offices, account for transactions, manage payables and receivables, analyze financial activities, produce performance reports and close the books.
  • Commercial Legal – Supports trading and marketing deals for Commercial and L48 GWM across all commodities and jurisdictions worldwide. The lawyers on this team negotiate pipeline, rail, truck, and marine agreements and support the LNG Technology & Licensing team.
  • Commercial Compliance – Provides trade monitoring and surveillance, client screening, regulatory support and training programs for Commercial employees to facilitate an understanding and compliance with the laws, rules and regulations impacting the commodity business.
  • Global Credit – This group is responsible for mitigating counterparty credit risk.
  • Commercial Information Technology – The IT team is embedded within the business to ensure transaction flow, address system issues and manage software and hardware changes.

    Optimized Cascade® is a registered trademark of ConocoPhillips Company in the United States and certain other countries.