Riding the Winds of the Barnett ‘Shale Gale’

Along with benefiting landowners and modern-day wildcatters, the energy play has created a gusher of business for DFW companies.

Ever heard of Bridger? The Addison company isn’t a household name—and may never be. But it illustrates forces that continue to turbo-charge Dallas-Fort Worth while the national economy limps along. 

Bridger provides “integrated logistics” for the energy industry; in other words, it moves oil from fields to refineries through a network of pipelines and rail cars. And that’s a very good business to be in right now.  

How good? Since 2009, Bridger’s revenues have grown from $8.2 million to nearly $1.9 billion in 2012. That’s three-year growth of 23,308 percent—good enough to place the company at No. 4 on Inc. magazine’s recent list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.

It’s just part of the gusher of business being generated by the fracking boom that started in the Barnett Shale near Fort Worth.

While the drilling bonanza in the Barnett created riches for some big landowners and modern wildcatters, the “shale gale” it launched in oil and gas fields across the country has created opportunities for many others. And DFW, known for attracting relocations, has become a magnet for the business.

Bridger moved to Dallas from Shreveport, La., earlier this year. Julio E. Rios III, the company’s chief executive, said the fast-growing company needs to recruit talent from across the country, “and attracting them to a city like Dallas is more palatable than a smaller city like Shreveport.”

Primoris Services Corp. found its way to Dallas as well. The company, which has built itself through acquisitions into a major construction contractor, relocated its headquarters from California in 2010. 

It has tripled its revenue in the past four years and was recently ranked No. 44 on Fortunemagazine’s list of the 100 fastest-growing public companies. Eighty percent of its business is tied to energy, such as pipelines in fields like the Marcellus and Eagle Ford shales.

FTS International, one of the world’s leading fracking firms, naturally chose Fort Worth as its home as drilling took off last decade in the Barnett. Started as Frac-Tech in 2002 by brothers Dan and Farris Wilks in Cisco, Texas, it was sold to Singapore investors in 2011 for $3.5 billion and now employs more than 1,000 people in Tarrant and Parker counties. 

These energy service businesses represent the latest facet of an ever-diverse North Texas economy that always seems to get its share of whatever’s hot. 

“There’s no question that the Barnett development has added a new dimension to the economy of North Texas,” says Bud Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. He estimated that the energy sector of the local economy has more than doubled in recent years.

The flood of energy money washing through Dallas-Fort Worth is leaving its mark in some unusual places. When the financial crisis forced heavily indebted buyout king Tom Hicks to sell the Texas Rangers, a group led by two oil-and-gas moguls stepped forward: Bob Simpson, who sold XTO Energy to Exxon Mobil for $31 billion, and Ray Davis, former CEO of Dallas-based pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners. The deep-pocketed new owners helped propel the baseball team to two World Series appearances. 

In downtown Dallas, a park was built over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway thanks in part to the generosity of current Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren, who named it after his son. And in Fort Worth, Simpson and XTO Energy have painstakingly restored several old buildings, adding new charm to the vibrant downtown.

Then there are entrepreneurial players like Bridger. Rios says the company operates 300 trucks, 12 pipeline injection stations, a loading terminal in North Dakota, 530 rail cars, and two pipeline systems. To give you an idea of how much they’re growing, Bridger plans to add 1,000 rail cars next year. It’s also considering strategic acquisitions.  “So long as we’re a net importer of foreign barrels, you’ll see domestic production continue to grow,” Rios says.

Experts certainly expect that to happen. In a recent report, Credit Suisse said that the U.S. shale revolution is still “in the early innings,” with domestic oil production projected to increase from 6.5 million barrels per day last year to 11.3 million by 2020. Texas should remain a major player, with activity in the refreshed Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford in south Texas.

Some say this 21st century energy boom holds the promise of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, shifting the global balance of power, and lowering everyday costs for consumers. It’s already reshaping Dallas-Fort Worth.  


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