As a major North American energy company, TC Energy develops and operates energy infrastructure projects in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. As the company’s geographical footprint has expanded, large-scale projects frequently cross state and jurisdictional lines. Keeping abreast of the often-conflicting licensing and stamping requirements of these jurisdictions was a significant challenge; engineers sought advice from the Legal department on a case-by-case basis. As an attorney with an engineering background, Jill Holley, Senior Legal Counsel, US Natural Gas Pipelines—Environment and Pipeline Safety, fielded these requests.
Providing an informed response required research into the requirements that might be applicable in each state involved. “Some US jurisdictions have exemptions in their professional engineering licensing statutes, but the exemptions include complex and varying conditions,” explains Holley. After TC Energy’s acquisition of Columbia Energy in 2016 brought many additional projects and assets, Holley estimates that the number of requests jumped to 10 to 15 per month, adding up to approximately 200 hours of her time every year.
Post-acquisition, messaging from TC Energy’s CEO, Russell Girling, urged employees to identify opportunities to optimize their time, streamline their processes, and be more nimble in an already fast-paced business environment. The Legal department, which prided itself on being a trusted adviser to the business groups, recognized that providing timely jurisdictional opinions to engineers so they could move the projects forward was key to meeting this goal, Holley says: “We saw an opportunity, with assistance from an outside law firm, to make a tool that put all of the requirements into plain English and that engineers could use to get the answers to their questions.”
Through an RFP process, TC Energy selected longtime partner Shook, Hardy & Bacon, which has a deep bench of computer software specialists and attorneys with technical backgrounds, including a former engineer.
The Shook team designed a secure, scalable, interactive online tool that is accessible from any computer, day or night. It provides an easy, step-by-step way to navigate through the licensing requirements and exemptions in every state where TC Energy does business. It reflects detailed research and analysis of state-law licensing requirements and exemptions in 40 different states. Equally important, it includes only what is necessary to get the correct answer and leaves out irrelevant minutia.
“Our deep bench of software specialists allows us to do innovative projects like this,” says Jamie Thompson, Partner, Shook, Hardy & Bacon. “I think it is representative of a new wave of cutting-edge offerings; we developed it entirely in-house.”
The tool resulted from a true partnership between client and law firm. During the development process, the Shook team used real-world factual scenarios presented by actual TC Energy engineering projects. The tool is monitored, updated, and maintained by Shook, which collects all use data for further analysis and staffs a toll-free hotline for response to any questions that may arise when in-house counsel are not immediately available. These “off-ramps” ensure that users don’t go down rabbit holes, says Thompson.
On an annual basis, time and cost savings are significant: Holley estimates that the tool will save engineers 1,250 hours annually, a 95 percent reduction, as well as reducing her own time spent advising them by nearly 100 percent, which she values at $100,000.
“Although it is tailored to TC Energy’s needs, it’s a model that can be adapted for many other uses in a similar context,” says Thompson.
Another benefit was risk reduction through the consistent application of the regulations. “The tool allows us to ensure compliance more quickly,” Holley says. “It has also enabled greater transparency in adapting to rule changes and in managing our compliance risk on large-scale, cross-border projects.”
The fee structure also demonstrates the nature of the partnership, says Holley. Through the use of a three-stage flat fee arrangement with reductions in each stage to reflect expected efficiencies, TC Energy was able to enjoy budget predictability. Each phase focused on a section of the country based on level of project activity; mockups and testing in the first phase informed the other two as learnings were applied. In total, the development process took about nine months.
“It is critical that we build our infrastructure projects safely and to the requirements specified in each jurisdiction. The tool that resulted from our collaboration with Shook, Hardy & Bacon allows us to do this more quickly and efficiently than ever before,” says Patrick Keys, Executive Vice President, Stakeholder Relations and General Counsel, TC Energy.