Amid the U.S. boom in natural-gas and oil production, it's easy to imagine a noticeable uptick in business for a pipeline engineering firm.
EN Engineering, based in Woodbridge, Ill., however, has grown its business by focusing on safety for existing pipelines, rather than building new lines.
The firm reports revenue growth of nearly 120% since 2007, with a jump from $38.8 million in 2010 to $54.3 million in 2011. Staff has grown, too, from 60 employees in 2002 to nearly 400 this year. EN Engineering moved from No. 495 in ENR's 2008 Top 500 Design Firms to No. 186 on this year's list.
"The shale plays have not been a significant part of our growth at all," says Tom Ziegenfuss, EN Engineering's president. "Our strategy has never been to chase the megaprojects."
The company has benefited, however, from a handful of federal laws passed over the last decade aimed at raising safety standards for existing pipelines. In 2002, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act required major gas-pipeline operators—largely public utilities—to identify at-risk areas in existing lines and strengthened federal inspections and integrity management programs for pipelines carrying natural gas and crude oil. Another law, enacted in 2006, gave the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, which oversees the Office of Pipeline Safety, stronger enforcement authority.
Following the September 2010 San Bruno, Calif., natural-gas-line explosion that killed eight, Congress passed another bill that doubled the maximum fine for an operator that violates pipeline integrity management guidelines. For a firm such as EN Engineering, which specializes in design, operation and corrosion control for gas transmission and distribution lines as well as liquid-petroleum pipelines, the increased federal focus on safety has been good for business.
"All the regulations associated with pipeline integrity have played a large part in the success we've had over the last several years," says Mitch Hulet, the company's chief operations officer. "The industry has been challenged by these requirements, and we were already positioned to jump into the fold."
The company, which has opened satellite offices in Maryland, Colorado and Kansas, has 55 employees focused solely on integrity management projects.
"Some companies have just a handful of people supporting integrity pursuits, but we have the whole group," says Hulet. "Having so many experts within our organization pursuing these kinds of projects has really made us a go-to company."
In addition to integrity projects, the firm has units dedicated to transmission and distribution and a growing automation group—all of which provide design for high-pressure pipelines and compressor and pump stations, infrastructure development and storage facilities. Despite its many disciplines, EN Engineering focuses on upgrade and maintenance projects for existing pipelines.