2023 AFPM Annual Meeting: Continuing to drive progress and energy security through innovation

The 2023 AFPM Annual Meeting kicked off Monday in San Antonio, Texas. The AFPM Annual Meeting is the world's premier refining meeting, assembling key executives, decision-makers and technical experts from refining businesses, technology providers, contracting and consulting firms, and equipment manufacturers around the world.

At Monday morning’s Welcome Address and Keynote General Session, Jeff Ramsey, President and CEO, Flint Hills Resources LLC and AFPM Chairman of the board, called the 121st Annual Meeting to order, saying, “We may be a bit weathered after the last few years, but I’m glad we are back together.” Ramsey detailed some of the event’s highlights and announced that his term as Chairman has come to an end. “It has been an honor to work with AFPM during these pivotal times. I truly believe that no other organization pulls together leaders from our industry like AFPM.”

Ramsey passed over the mic to Chet Thompson, President and CEO of AFPM, for his Welcome Address and President’s report to the capacity crowd. “I think it’s fair to say that the last couple of years have been what geo political experts call “dumpster fire”: COVID, supply chain disruptions, record inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and now rising tensions with China.” Thompson stressed the importance of U.S. energy security and that of its allies, which goes hand in hand with national security.

“If the last few years have shown us anything at all, it’s that the world needs more energy and petrochemicals and not less,” Thompson said. “They have shown us that U.S. refineries and petrochemical manufacturers are, by far, best positioned to deliver products (the world needs) cleaner, safer and more efficiently than the rest of the world.”

Thompson addressed the issue of renewables, encouraging naysayers to do their homework and learn the facts. One of his key points also stressed a common theme throughout his speech: rising tensions with China. He shared data that China’s share of the battery market was 80%, noting that the U.S. held an estimated 7% of the market. This imbalance is an example of the need for continued energy independence and the continued utilization of cleaner and cleaner liquid fuels, Thompson said.

“Last year, U.S. refiners led the world in production of fuels, manufacturing a whopping 280 Bgal of finished product, more than enough to meet not only the U.S.’s needs, but also that of our allies. We ran our facilities all out, pushing utilization rates well above 90% for most of the year, and most importantly, without sacrificing safety.”

Thompson went on the stress the growing importance of carbon capture, a major theme throughout the AFPM Annual Meeting Agenda.

Thompson introduced the first of two speakers, Michael McFaul, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2012-2014), whose presentation, “The Causes and Consequences of the Russia-Ukraine War,” provided the captive audience with an overview of the causes, progress, challenges, effects and potential outcomes of that ongoing conflict.

McFaul stated that we were indeed living in dangerous times, and put his extensive experience and first-hand knowledge of Russian President Putin to use in explaining the origins of the Ukraine invasion. He spoke of Putin as an old-fashioned imperialist, and stated that the hope of annexation, NATO expansion and Russian domestic policies were major contributors to Putin’s decision to invade Russia’s neighbor. McFaul stated that in addition to the geo-political reasons why the U.S. and other democracies are (and should, in his view) supporting Ukraine, it is a moral responsibility.  

“I believe that we can’t allow annexation…it’s immoral,” McFaul said. “We can’t allow a return to imperialism and colonization.” He also stressed the importance of this war to the security of Europe and the U.S. He stated that if Ukraine wins, NATO allies will be reassured, China will be deterred in its perceived designs on Taiwan, democracies will continue to “be on the march” in places that have not known it, and that it would spell the end for Putinism and provide hope to Russia. If Russia were to win, McFaul stated that NATO allies would become more concerned that they could be next, defense spending in the U.S. would increase, China will be emboldened vis a vis Taiwan, democracy and the U.S. will decline in the world’s view, and it would become even more difficult to deal with Putin’s Russia.

In his presentation, “China and the U.S.: How the 21st Century Unfolds,” Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s 16th Allied Supreme Commander Europe (2009-2013) discussed the impact of relationship, challenges, opportunities and what he thought our strategy should be with China? He termed this a “basket of disagreement.”

He detailed how China has been a naval and maritime power for 500 years, and how they now are increasingly claiming the South China Sea as their own territorial waters, putting countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and others at risk.

He discussed China’s long-term strategic plan of “One belt, one road,” Stavridis called it “…elegant, strategic and clever. The idea is that China will produce mass amounts of goods and services and will export them along the ‘belt and the road’ by sea and land. They will bring raw materials (e.g., oil and gas) along that belt and road,” he said, indicating a map that circled through India, the Middle East, parts of Africa, Europe, Russia, Asia and the Pacific Rim. “Along these routes, China will also create geo-political influence.”

While he stressed ways in which the U.S. can work with China, he also stated that the U.S. must listen to its allies, listen to what China is saying, and study more and understand. “China knows a lot more about us than we do about them,” he stated. He stressed the use of tariffs and trade to manage the relationship, that the U.S. needs a much bigger and more effective cyber force, and new alliances and partnerships around the world, using India as a vital example of a balance to China.

The AFPM Annual Meeting will end Tuesday and features an annual luncheon with guest Michael R. Pompeo, the 70th United States Secretary of State.

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