Thomas Russell Co. - New port plant busy
Tulsa World - By ROD WALTON World Staff Writer 8/7/2007
CATOOSA -- The oil and gas boom has rewarded Thomas Russell's faith and patience.
Russell, at age 70, started building gas processing plants again three years ago after selling his previous company in 2000. He started small, with about six employees and a big reputation for quality workmanship.
Work was slow at first, though, but that was OK because the newly minted Thomas Russell Co. was finding its way. The outfit built its units at a north Tulsa space rented from Cust-O-Fab.
The domestic exploration boom -- fueled by higher energy prices and more efficient technologies -- pushed Russell to move his manufacturing plant this summer to a warehouse at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa industrial complex.
"We wanted to do more," he said.
Russell bought the warehouse from Tuloma Crane and Rigging for about $1.25 million late last year. He has spent about $1 million renovating and upgrading the plant for producing cryogenic processing units.
And business is good.
Thomas Russell Co. may ship as many as six modular units this year. These plants, which can process 25 million to 250 million cubic feet of natural gas daily, carry price tags as high as $20 million when installed at the well site.
Altogether, the company has about 10 projects going on. Russell now employs 30 people, including 10 full-timers and 20 contracted laborers.
"It's beyond any expectation we ever had," said Lamar Seale, vice president of sales. "What we're doing is pretty amazing."
The success is a result of good timing, adaptability and some long-term working relationships, the company's owner said. Taking advantage of the drilling boom, Russell decided to build state-of-the-art cryogenic units, which use extreme cold to help process various components from the natural gas.
Russell also made a commitment to hire people he knew well. Many of them worked for Russell before he sold T.H. Russell Co. to Houston-based Hanover Co. seven years ago. Some -- like Seale and Russell's son, Matt -- even toiled for Hanover before signing up with their old boss.
"We're blessed with a really good team," said Matt, who is vice president of engineering. Russell's other sons, Glenn and Neal, also work in leadership roles at the company. Russell was teaching mechanical engineering at the University of Tulsa when, after waiting out a non-competitive agreement with Hanover, the family began talking to a Bolivian driller several years ago.
One thing lead to another, and suddenly the Russells had another company to run. "They called and said they wanted it," Matt Russell recalled. "We started hiring people and built it." Russell's "skid-mounted units," which are modular plants built on girder-type foundations, can process and separate components of natural gas in multiple ways. First, it takes out acid gas -- a combination of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide -- to acceptable levels.
The intense cryogenic method, which reduces processing temperatures as low as 250 degrees below zero, also separates other gases such as ethane, propane, butane and helium for respective markets. The remaining natural gas flows by pipeline for further production. The intense scientific and logistic challenges in building one of Russell's units means that the company sets aside nine months for planning and fabrication, then another three months for assembly. The tanks hold back thousands of pounds of gas pressure per square inch, so safety and security go hand in hand. That's why Russell likes having so many trusted, longtime employees in the shop.
"We insist on quality, and we never cut corners," he said. "That's the beauty of having people you know. You don't have to worry about it."
Thanks to the boom, Thomas Russell Co. currently is building only for domestic producers in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Utah and Colorado. And, despite its proximity to the Port of Catoosa and McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, all of his products move by truck. Nonetheless, Russell was thrilled to find a warehouse site that already included a 20-ton crane way -- a sliding overhead crane system -- and had lots of space inside. He believes it will make any further expansion easier. "It was a godsend for us," Russell said. "I can't believe how lucky we were."
HOLMAN / Tulsa World
Thomas Russell, President of Thomas Russell Co., has moved his operations to the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, where cryogenic processing units are manufactured for the energy industry.