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Marcellus shale boom lifts Civil & Environmental Consultants of Robinson | TribLIVE.com
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Marcellus shale boom lifts Civil & Environmental Consultants of Robinson

David Conti
| Monday, October 27, 2014 11:39 p.m
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Barry Wolfe, corporate director of human resources , left, and Dustin Kuhlman, vice president and natural gas industry consultant group lead, are with Civil & Environmental Consultants, in Robinson, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Dustin Kuhlman, vice president and natural gas industry consultant group lead, listens to questions about Civil & Environmental Consultants at the company's Robinson location, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Barry Wolfe, corporate director of human resources, listens to questions about Civil & Environmental Consultants at the company's Robinson location, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Barry Wolfe, corporate director of human resources, left, and Dustin Kuhlman, vice president and natural gas industry consultant group lead, are with Civil & Environmental Consultants, in Robinson, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Barry Wolfe, corporate director of human resources,left, and Dustin Kuhlman, vice president and natural gas industry consultant group lead, are with Civil & Environmental Consultants, in Robinson, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.

The engineers, scientists and technicians at Civil & Environmental Consultants don’t actually drill for natural gas. But the shale boom has matched perfectly with the Robinson firm’s focus.

“The interesting thing about the gas industry is there are very few markets like it that take advantage of every one of our practice areas,” said Dustin Kuhlman, a vice president at CEC overseeing its natural gas consulting group.

The firm helps companies navigate permitting processes, geotechnical issues, ecological studies, land deals, water challenges and waste disposal.

In return, shale-related business has bolstered CEC’s payroll and bottom line, accounting for nearly a third of company revenue last year.

The number of employees jumped from about 425 to more than 650 over the past five years.

“It’s an exciting time for the industry,” said Barry Wolfe, corporate director of human resources.

CEC started in 1989, formed by four partners with varying backgrounds in engineering and consulting. It’s an employee-owned firm — about half its workers are shareholders — that initially focused on civil engineering and consulting for the mining, power generation and waste industries and for real estate developers.

When drilling in the Marcellus shale started to increase in 2007-08, the company’s revenue from that sector totaled less than $2 million, said spokeswoman Emily Chiodo. Last year, it hit $32 million.

The firm concentrates on clients in seven markets: gas, real estate, waste disposal, manufacturing, power, mining and the public sector.

“The gas industry has influenced growth in all those sectors,” Kuhlman said.

The power industry is converting to natural gas generation. Hotels are gobbling up available real estate. Drillers need more crushed stone and sand from mining operations for roads, well pads and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. They also need new alternatives to dispose of cuttings and to design leak-proof earthen pools to hold millions of gallons of water at a well site.

“There’s nobody better trained to design liners for water impoundments than landfill guys, and we had those very specialized people already,” Kuhlman said.

Access Midstream, an Oklahoma City-based pipeline company, has contracted with CEC for four years to handle applications for permits in the Marcellus shale and to design erosion and sediment controls around its projects.

“During that time, CEC has provided us with consistent and quality work. They’re a great firm to work with,” said Will Ratcliffe, manager of regulatory affairs at Access.

The firm sells itself to clients as a company that can handle all their needs from site selection through design and construction to waste disposal. And it can do it quickly.

“Speed is everything to these companies. Speed and compliance,” Kuhlman said, noting that gas production companies have a heavy focus on well site efficiencies that reduce cost in a tighter market. “We have the horsepower to get these things done quickly.”

Maintaining that horsepower for an industry that increased gas production from the Marcellus shale seven-fold since 2008 requires expansion and hiring. CEC recently opened its 19th office; locations stretch from Phoenix to Boston.

Hiring for the gas group centers on finding more civil engineers, biologists, hydrogeologists and surveyors.

“I’m having a hard time hiring surveyors and civil engineers,” Kuhlman said.

CEC offers tuition reimbursement, advanced training and stock options as it looks to build a workforce that will stay with the company beyond this boom in business and hiring.

“A lot of employers accept volatility and don’t expect to hold on to people. Philosophically, CEC rejects that,” Wolfe said.

The firm’s employees work closely with state and federal regulators that are charged with policing the industry, but also with industry groups such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition that are lobbying for its success.

“It feels like we’re at a point in time that you just don’t come across very often,” Kuhlman said.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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