Last week, the MSC sat down with Frank Joanlanne and Dave Summers of Borton-Lawson, a full-service architecture and engineering firm headquartered in Wilkes-Barre, to learn more about their business in the oil and gas industry. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q. How did Borton-Lawson begin? How did business expand into the natural gas sector?
Frank Joanlanne, President & CEO: Borton-Lawson began as a two-man engineering firm, founded by Christopher Borton and has grown to become a Top 500 ENR firm with offices throughout Pennsylvania. Today, oil and gas is actually the largest segment of our business. It began about ten years ago when we found ourselves a stone’s throw away from the Marcellus Shale. We started with the permitting aspects that were necessary for the drilling here and grew our business using resources that we already had on the land development side. Now we do work in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, Oregon, Colorado, Washington state, Wisconsin, and we work with a number of large national players on the upstream, midstream and downstream parts of the industry.
Since then, we have invested significantly in integrating various technologies including 3D scanning and design into our mechanical, structural, electrical and automation & controls engineering expertise. This technology- centric approach has allowed us to develop portable solutions for clients all throughout the country in the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of the industry.
Q. Let’s talk about the growth from 1988, 30 years ago, from a two-man-band in Pennsylvania to a nationally focused firm. Has a lot of that been driven recently by energy?
Dave Summers, Oil & Gas Business Unit Leader: The technology and the processes that we developed working for the energy space definitely has helped us broaden our appeal across the United States, not only in power but also industrial. Our work in the energy space created solutions, capabilities and skill sets that allowed us to not only grow the energy side outside of Pennsylvania, but certainly spilled over into a lot of our other business areas. The energy space is quite progressive compared to some other industries, and that allowed us to get a foothold in some other businesses that I don’t think we would have been otherwise able to do. We have now set up and R&D group providing solutions such as virtual installation, virtual planning, and virtual haul planning just to name a few. The team is also delivering solutions in Virtual and Augmented Reality platforms.
Q. What’s your business size now? How many offices are in Pennsylvania? How many employees?
Frank Joanlanne: We have 180 employees with the firm. Most of those employees are in the Wilkes-Barre office, where the business was founded. We have about 70 percent there, and about 15 percent are in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley, while the other 15 percent are out in Pittsburgh. What’s interesting is that the 5 first employees of the firm 30-odd years ago are still with the firm. We focus a lot of our time, resources, and effort on the culture of the company. We’ve got a very innovative, tight-knit group of folks that has a real stellar reputation out in the market.
Q. How has oil and gas development in Appalachia and the Marcellus helped drive growth for you?
Dave Summers: We were familiar with a lot of different counties, permitting processes, the DEP, and regulations. Initially, we focused on the facilities and pipeline side of it, and we started putting together strategic plans. And that was a bit of a leap for us. Gas just came to town, we really dug in and said let’s figure out what it takes to design a well pad. There was a lot of new things for us to climb over to make a difference. And then we started looking at how to differentiate our operations and what could we bring to a project that the gas folks are currently not getting or experiencing. By leveraging some of our industrial or pharmaceutical experience, we started introducing some differentiating solutions for our gas clients.
We started exploring 3D modeling. The initial responses to that were, “Oh no, I don’t think we need that. It seems overly complicated and overly expensive.” But we were absolutely sure it was the future. We could make pretty short, efficient work by using 3D to do facility modeling and facility design. We started making some progress with different clients by using that. It very quickly turned the corner, once they saw the output and what that brought to them. We complimented the solution with 3D scanning. We continue to look at things like that: How can we bring different technologies to the way we execute projects?
Q. What do you all see as the value of MSC membership?
Frank Joanlanne: We’ve been members for years now, I think its going to be close to 10 years, and the reason why we continue to be members is because we’re part of a group that is trying to do the best job possible in the state. We all live here, and we want to make sure that we have natural resource that is extracted in an effective, efficient, safe manner.
The MSC has given a unified voice to the industry. It has allowed us to set standards and to advance best practices in the industry, not only for us but also in the regulatory components of it. And that’s why we stay in – because we want to be part of the process. We want to make sure we have a voice, especially from an engineer standpoint, because we’re at the forefront of projects making sure that they’re done correctly, and we feel that the MSC is a good advocate of those practices.
Q. What’s one thing you would want to tell someone on the street about the natural gas industry?
Frank Joanlanne: For me, it’s the amount of process in place. The amount of oversight, the amount of diligence, the amount of safety consideration, environmental consideration that the industry puts in every step of the way… it’s amazing.
Dave Summers: One of the things that people don’t realize is how many jobs it’s brought to Pennsylvania. You have to look at the bigger picture. And that’s what natural gas is. Yeah, they might be a producer with 500 employees, but the support engine around that is incredible. Just think about how many jobs that really means in Pennsylvania. And it’s all done in a safe way, a regulated way, and it has made a huge difference.
Visit www.Borton-Lawson.com to learn more.