Elite Midstream Services
Based in Cuddy, Pennsylvania, Elite Midstream Services is a premier midstream pipeline contractor serving the oil and gas industry from the epicenter of America’s ample natural gas reserves. Conveniently located amid the largely untapped Marcellus and Utica Shale plays, Elite Midstream Services’ (EMS) geographic niche and 100-plus years of staff experience make the company a trusted partner when it comes to high-risk pipeline work, including live line welding and hot tapping.
“We function in the midstream section of the Marcellus and Utica Shale industry. We’re not on the drilling end or the distribution end, but we’re essentially dealing with the pipelines, interconnects and compressors that move the gas from the well sites to the distribution points,” says Clyde Graham, internal auditor for EMS.
EMS performs a range of pipeline-related services, including project design and management, sandblasting and painting, hydrostatic pipeline testing, leakage surveys, meter runs, fabrication of launchers and receivers, high-pressure torqueing and tensioning services and site development, excavation and surveying.
“We focus on the interconnects on the pipelines: that’s what sets us apart in the industry,” says Keith Keane, president and founder of EMS. “We don’t ask customers to back off pressure, we don’t interrupt service to the system; we just do what we do.”
Founded in 2013, EMS was formed in response to what Keane saw as a huge opportunity in the booming East Coast natural gas industry: a lack of qualified contractors specializing in the highly technical process of hot tapping.
“Hot tapping can be fairly dangerous if not done properly” says Graham. “We’re drilling a hole into a 1-inch to 42-inch pipeline that has 1,200 to 1,500 PSI of methane gas flowing through it. The drill has to be secured and sealed to the fitting and the drilling measurements must be exacting. During this process, any number of things can go wrong. We focus on safety at all times. It is our number one priority.”
EMS serves customers across the oil and gas industry with a complete turnkey service that allows them to quickly enter the market. The company serves both established transmission companies and newer startups eager to take advantage of the Marcellus and Utica deposits and their proximity to distribution sites along the East Coast. While EMS works primarily in western Pennsylvania, the company has completed projects as far afield as West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico.
On any given project, EMS might be completing individual tasks or overseeing the entire effort, depending on customer’s needs. “We have some customers who are younger in the midstream arena that have reached out to us to make tie-ins for them, but at the same time a lot of transmission companies want a total turnkey package; they don’t want to set up all the phases themselves,” says Keane.
On those turnkey jobs, EMS handles every step of the process from site prep to the final tie-in. “We complete the entire unit, sandblast it, prime it, pour the concrete footer and supports so that when the customer goes to perform the interconnect with the new pipeline, it’s seamless and their contractor just ties in to the valve we installed,” Keane explains.
Starting at the source
“I knew it was the right choice because I’d been on the other side and knew there was an opportunity in hot tapping,” he says. Keane was able to leverage his reputation within the industry to help EMS achieve a strong start, hiring some of the industry’s most skilled technicians away from his competitors to ensure that EMS hit the ground running.
“We pirated from a lot of people,” Keane says. “We’ve been fortunate because we hired some people I’ve worked with before and have been able to recruit from some of our competitors. You can’t just bring anyone in the door and I consider employees an investment because there is a lot of training and careful evaluation that goes into every hire.”
All members of EMS’s 30 full-time field staff of technicians and welders hold the industry’s highest prequalifications, including Safeland training and Veriforce and MEA Operator qualifications. EMS holds its workers to an even higher standard than the industry norm, regularly tracking welder’s procedure qualification records (PQR).
“The welders I have on staff are exceptionally well-versed in what they do,” says Keane. “When a customer wants to bring us on they might elect to say ‘Let’s see your PQRs and if they supersede ours, we might accept yours,’” he says.
EMS retains the best possible staff by offering competitive wages, benefits and even a stipend employees can use to purchase additional fire-retardant uniforms beyond the company issued ones. “I need my guys to focus on what they’re doing while they’re here and the best way to do that is to compensate them with a fair wage and benefits package because if they’re off looking for work somewhere else, they’re not doing their best work here and even worse; if you don’t compensate them properly, you end up with a malcontent out on the jobsite who causes problems,” says Keane.
While EMS self-performs most of its own welding and drilling work, the company regularly turns to a trusted team of subcontractors to complete painting, coating and concrete work. On larger jobs, EMS turns to an experienced team of welding subcontractors.
“Welders in this industry are the most sought-after employees to a degree,” says Graham. “If we can handle it in-house, we will, but otherwise we use a specific welding contractor because we have confidence in their welders; probably 90 percent of their work is for us,” he says.
Going with the flow
EMS recently completed a massive hot tapping project on a transnational pipeline project that required the company to install 24- and 30-inch taps at various points along a 42-inch pipe, installing valves and meter runs while changing out the inlet and outlets at compressor stations as a means of reversing the pipeline’s flow.
The project was necessitated by an interesting quirk in today’s domestic natural gas market. “As a result of the Marcellus and Utica Shale, methane gas prices are now cheaper in the East than the West, so companies are now reversing the flow of the pipeline and sending gas from Pennsylvania or Ohio out west,” says Keane.
While the drilling end of the natural gas industry has been on the decline recently due to the reduction in natural gas prices, the midstream position occupied by EMS remains largely unaffected.
“With the price structure of natural gas right now, it’s not profitable to drill new wells, but midstream is booming because one of the reasons they’re not drilling is because the pipeline and the interconnects are not in place,” Keane says.
EMS is anticipating an eventual rise in natural gas prices, and is planning accordingly. “There is almost a flurry of activity to increase infrastructure so when prices do go back up there will be a pipeline in place to take advantage,” Keane says. So far, EMS has been able to maintain steady workflow despite an overall industry slowdown thanks to solid relationships with several large customers. “The people directing the large companies are really stressing the need for more interconnects to get product out of newly established areas and midstream projects into existing transmission lines, so we have a bit of a niche,” he adds.
The company recently co-sponsored the Marcellus-Utica Midstream Conference and Exhibition in Pittsburgh, where Keane was able to connect with industry partners and grow EMS’s already considerable reputation as an expert in hot tapping. “When we go onto job sites, they look at us like ‘OK, the neurosurgeons are here,’” says Keane.
While this sort of reputation ultimately benefits the company, Keane must be sure that every aspect of the business meets that lofty reputation. “We can’t look like we’re not one of the best: they’re paying for professional service and that’s what they’re going to get from our employees to our equipment to our trucks and paint schemes,” he says.
The company recently purchased a new Peterbilt tractor with a 20-ton crane and lowboy to haul larger equipment and fabrications to and from the jobsite. “We strive to be able to immediately mobilize a team and equipment and this truck should help us do that,” Graham says.
As EMS continues to make a name for itself in just the third year in business, the company will rely on the same management expertise, quality and professional attitude that have fostered such growth thus far. “We’re looking at how do we expand what we’re doing and get in front of other prospective customers and at what rate do we want to continue to grow,” says Keane.
With natural gas companies scrambling to build out pipeline infrastructure along the Marcellus and Utica Shale, Elite Midstream Services will remain a leader in hot tapping and other vital interconnect services in western Pennsylvania and beyond.