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New companies continue to be courted by growing oil-and-gas industry

| Friday, April 19, 2013, 11:55 p.m.
Operations Manager Rob Bealko takes a water sample from the Aquatech MoVap near Masontown on August 15, 2011. The MoVap is a mobile plant used to treat wastewater used to hydraulically fracture Marcellus shale. (Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review) SLUG: fracking0816 Photo for Joe Napsha story

When Mascaro Construction Co. LP first tried to sell itself to the region's Marcellus shale gas drillers two years ago, the meeting didn't last long, and the company came away empty-handed.

Its officials have been doing homework since then, touring drilling hotspots, visiting remote processing plants and learning about the industry's equipment. When Mascaro tried again this January by opening an oil-and-gas-services business, it won $25 million in projects in just four months for the type of concrete work and steel construction that's been its bread-and-butter for 25 years, said Brad R. McKibben, who directs that business.

“We figured out who mattered. We figured out what to sell,” McKibben said Friday at a seminar in Moon sponsored by the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce and the Marcellus Shale Coalition. “We couldn't be more bullish on this market going 30 to 40 years out.”

There's still room for new companies to move in and do big business in the region's booming oil and gas sector, even with a slowdown in drilling, McKibben and speakers from Michael Baker Corp., Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and Comtech Industries Inc. said. There is an ever-growing network of pipeline and processing plants to build, and more highly professional companies looking for innovative contractors to help improve safety and cut costs, they said.

There have been more than 6,300 deep-shale wells drilled since Range Resources Corp. first successfully used horizontal drilling in the Marcellus in 2004. Drillers usually spend more than $7 million on every well, and a lot of that goes to contractors who help do everything from environmental assessments, to land clearing to drilling the borehole itself. And the mass influx of drillers into wet and hilly Pennsylvania has added new expenses and demands on their work.

That's led to specialized service companies like Comtech, said Terry Bricker, the company's chief performance officer. It started in industrial water treatment and has grown to provide several other water services. Company officials expect to have 150 to 200 employees by next year, up from 29 in 2009, he said. They also need to hire new subcontractors for several things, from building tanks and cages to helping manage their own personnel, Bricker said.

Environmental regulations are big drivers for the work, the panelists said. There's an overwhelming demand for biologists to help do wildlife assessments and engineers who can do environmental audits, monitoring existing wells to make sure their roads and landscapes don't deteriorate.

There are some firms that do that work, but the amount of work keeps growing and not all the existing firms want to get bigger to meet the demand, said George Stark, Cabot's government policy director. To get that work, a new-coming firm has to have a good record of safety and success, and make sure it's done its research and knows what to sell, McKibben said.

“They sniffed us out real quick,” when Mascaro officials didn't know, McKibben said. “We may think ‘This is Pittsburgh. We own this. This is our shale.' It's not. It's a southern game. These guys are the experts. We can only hope to sell some services to them.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or

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