Atlas Services Corporation (Atlas) is a family-owned site development and excavation contracting company located about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pa., in a little town called Eighty Four, Pa. There’s nothing little about Atlas, however. The company employs roughly 50 employees year-round and adds another 25 or so when the warmer weather leads to more work. Atlas is licensed in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and offers high-quality civil construction work to clients in the public and private sectors.
The firm, founded in 1984 by brothers Philip and Barry Stout, has developed a reputation for quality over the years. Steven Stout, Philip’s son and current president of Atlas, notes, “Our employees excel at site development, including everything from land clearing and the installation of erosion control measures to mass earth excavations and underground utilities.”
Stout notes that Atlas has been in the family for two generations, but it’s really the offshoot of an earlier company. Stout explains, “My grandfather founded a railroad construction company in the ’50s, and my dad and uncle worked there for many years. They then founded Atlas in 1984, and I’ve always worked here. As a kid, I’d work in the summers, and after I graduated from college in ’85, I came to work here full-time.
The company has worked on a variety of civil construction projects, including various retail developments and several recreation and sports complexes. Additionally, Atlas has vast experience in the coal, gas and power generation industries.
New Drilling Techniques Key to Huge Find
Stout notes the importance of the Marcellus Shale in the current Atlas business region’s energy development industry. The Marcellus Shale is well known to every geologist in the Appalachian Basin. However, at first very few geologists were excited about the Marcellus Shale as a major source of natural gas. Wells drilled through it produced some gas, but rarely in enormous quantity. However, as recently as 2002 the U.S. Geological Survey, in its “Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Appalachian Basin Province” report, calculated that the Marcellus Shale contained an estimated undiscovered resource of about 500 trillion cubic feet of gas. It was just thought initially that because of the depth of the shale it wasn’t very economical or practical to explore. Stout explains how technology helped the industry:
“The drilling companies with the most technology and experience are mainly in Texas and Oklahoma, but they were never able to access the shale here before. However, they recently advanced their technology so that now they can drill vertically down to about 5,000 to 6,000 feet; then gradually bend the drill and drill horizontally down to around 9,000 feet to access the shale and begin the hydraulic fracturing process that allows the gas to escape.”
Using this drilling technique, scientists estimate that perhaps 10 percent of the gas (50 trillion cubic feet) might be recoverable. That volume of natural gas would be enough to supply the entire United States for about two years and have a wellhead value of about $1 trillion.
The Atlas role in this exciting new find is site development. He explains, “We come in and install the erosion and sedimentation control measures, clear the trees and excavate for the well pads, access roads, impoundments or whatever else the client needs. The drilling companies then come in and actually drill into the shale formation.
Beyond its involvement in the energy development industry, Atlas has earned a solid reputation in the development of other construction projects. Stout recounts that some of the firm’s most interesting projects involved three of the biggest names in golf. He remembers, “We had started working on a golf course and community designed by Jack Nicklaus when we were approached by a few other land developers who wanted to build their own golf communities. So within a span of about three years we built golf course communities for Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer. Today, those three projects – Nevillewood Golf Course Community, Diamond Run Golf Course Community and Treesdale Golf Course Community – remain some of the most sought-after golf courses in western Pennsylvania.
As for the future of the company, Stout is pretty confident that good times are ahead for Atlas. “I see some improvement, particularly in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania. We never had the super highs followed by a crash like in some areas, such as Nevada, Florida and Arizona. We’ve been steady all along, but things seem to be picking up. We’re in coal country here, and also federal dollars to stimulate the economy are being spent so there’s going to be a lot of jobs to bid on.” Given the long years of expertise demonstrated by Atlas Services, the company should garner many of those opportunities and the future should be bright indeed.
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