Natural gas developers in the Southeast typically turn to WHC Incorporated to build the pipelines that will carry their gas to a refinery. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 2000, shale gas accounted for just one percent of domestic natural gas supplies. In 2011, 3,500 shale gas wells were drilled in the United States and shale gas now accounts for nearly 30 percent of natural gas supply.
WHC was founded in 1957 in Lafayette, La. – roughly 60 miles west of Baton Rouge – and the company has developed a reputation over the years for its high-quality work on complex projects. Randy Warner, president of WHC, outlines what he feels sets the company apart from its competitors.
“Pipeline contractors are different from traditional contractors in that we don’t manufacture a product. Our customers buy their pipelines and we install them. Accordingly, labor is our biggest expense, and we work to maintain the best roster of employees,” details Warner. “Our workforce is our number one asset and we’ve learned that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of you.”
Safety Record Leads to New Business
Warner also says that the company’s safety record is another area where WHC shines in comparison to its competition. “Safety is the key to success and it has to come from the top down. Pipeline contracting is one of the safest industries in the construction industry and if you don’t have a good safety record, you’re not going to get any work,” reveals Warner.
WHC employs a full-time safety director who maintains an aggressive safety program – which includes unannounced job site inspections and ongoing training for WHC’s employees. The company also voluntarily allows its insurance company to audit its safety program annually.
The company has grown since its founding, and Warner estimates that WHC currently employs roughly 350 personnel on average and grossed nearly $75 million in 2011. The company’s employees work on projects nationwide, but Warner discloses that WHC’s crew of employees typically work on projects throughout the Southeast.
“If we could say that we have a niche, it would be in the 18″ to 30″ pipelines averaging 25 to 30 miles,” reveals Warner. “We’ve done projects up to 48″ and 100 miles long, but the smaller pipe is really where we shine.”
Although natural gas has accounted for an increase in production, Warner says that WHC will work a wide variety of infrastructure projects. “As long as the project is big and requires steel, we’ll build it,” the affable Warner jokes.
The company has amassed a roster of satisfied clients in the region who routinely ask WHC to bid on upcoming projects. “We go the extra mile to ensure that our clients are satisfied with our work. Repeat and referral business is the way we get the majority of our work, we only have two salesmen on staff,” adds Warner.
“We’re currently completing a major project for a large repeat customer of ours,” details Warner. “We are responsible for two phases of a four-phase pipeline project stretching from Port Arthur (Texas) to Baton Rouge.”
Laying Pipelines under Water
WHC is coordinating its work with the contractor constructing the middle portion of the project, but WHC was selected for the first and fourth phases of the project because of the company’s expertise in building pipelines under water.
“We had to run sections of the pipeline underneath the Natchez and the Sabine rivers,” reveals Warner. “What we do is called push work. Workers use a clamshell bucket crane to dredge a ditch in the floor of the riverbed and we literally push the pipeline into place and cover it with the dredged material,” outlines Warner.
“Laying cross-country pipe is not as simple as digging a tunnel and putting in a pipe. You have to deal with ‘right-of-way’ issues and the natural curvature of the land,” Warner adds. “We have a bending engineer that can take a section of the pipe, and with heat and hydraulics, we can bend it to whatever degree that we need.”
WHC also recently installed new 4-bay cooling units and 48″ diameter vertical separator along with 24″ inlet and outlet piping and bypass valves connecting to an existing outlet header for a repeat customer in Texas.
As the country continues to develop domestic natural gas production, pipeline contractors will remain one of the bright sectors in the economy. Under Randy Warner’s leadership, WHC Incorporated is quickly becoming one of the most respected pipeline contractors in the Southeast.
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