Ronald Lane Inc.

Ronald LaneAs technology to drill for natural gas has improved, Ronald Lane has gotten busier.

By Mark Lawton, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Publishing

Almost 40 years since it was founded, it’s hard to believe how much Ronald Lane Inc. has grown. “In May 1979, we started with three employees, a little Ditch Witch and laid 1.25-inch plastic pipe,” Founder Ronald Lane says. “Now we’re laying 20- and 30-inch cross country steel pipe.”

Lane comes from a family of pipeliners for the oil and gas industry.  His father and older half-brother started a pipeline company in 1970 and Lane worked there while attending college.Ronald Lane info box

Today, Ronald Lane Inc. has 200 employees and a fleet of late model equipment. The company is a turnkey contractor and handles every aspect of pipelaying including clearing land, processing trees, directional drilling, painting, welding, backfilling and hydrotesting.

“We have our own staff of electricians and carpenters and can do concrete and electrical work around facilities,” says Chris Lane, vice president and son of Ronald. 

The company works in the West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania portion of the Marcellus Shale basin, which might be the largest natural gas reserve in North America. “Prior to 2008, drilling technology wasn’t advanced enough to tap into its potential,” Chris Lane says. “Because the drilling technology has expanded, we now have access to larger quantities of gas.”

That gas is used not only to heat homes but also in the manufacture of aerosols, plastic, rubber and other raw materials, Chris Lane says. He predicts its continued extraction will bring a wave of manufacturers to the region that want to be close to raw materials along with an East Coast customer base.

“We see in the coming years a lot of large-term investments,” he says. “Jobs that have long left are coming back to this area.”

That’s something of a change.  Several years ago, the company created a division to work on commercial properties - to keep our employees busy when pipeline work is slow,” Ronald Lane points out.

Ronald Lane Inc. is currently working on a two-year contract, which is much longer that the usual single projects it won in the past. The company is now being offered one- to three-year-contracts by other clients.

“I remember when, maybe once a year, we told a client no,” Ronald Lane says. “Now it’s almost biweekly that we have to turn work down.”

“There is more work to be done than what qualified people and companies can perform,” Chris Lane says. It’s a challenge, but a good one to have. And it has helped Ronald Lane Inc. with other challenges such as finding and retaining qualified employees.

Gaining and Retaining

“We now offer a 401(k) that is matched by the company and life employee life insurance paid entirely by the company,” Chris Lane says. “We now have the highest wages we have ever been able to offer, increased our contribution to health insurance and offer high quality health benefits. It’s really helped our being able to gain and retain qualified people.”

Ronald Lane Inc. also cross trains its employees, which also helps retention. “If someone is sick or off a day, we have several people who can fill in,” Chris Lanes says. “With the way the industry has grown and is becoming sustainable, we’re trying to instill in the workforce that you can have a career here. The cross-training is a big part of enabling career-minded individuals to decide what job they would like to make a career of.”

Innovation in the Field

In its early years, due to a lack of equipment, Ronald Lane Inc laid the pipe one joint a time in the ditch in a method sometimes called ‘stovepiping.’

“Over the years we found that not only is this the most cost-effective way but also the safest way to lay pipe,” Ronald Lane says. “It’s easier to hold a 40,000-pound machine on a steep hill and put in a joint of pipe rather than multiple heavier machines needed to lower in a string of pipe. This also allows Ronald Lane Inc. to have less ditch open and to keep the clean-up process closer to the pipe laying.”

Ronald Lane Inc. specializes in laying pipe on steep slopes. It’s not easy. “The work we do is very dangerous, particularly when you get on the steep hills,” Ronald Lane says. “In West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the red clay turns to grease when it gets wet during wintertime.”

Because the work is dangerous, the company holds safety meetings every morning on every project in the field. The company employs a safety director and two assistants. “We’re always looking at how experienced workers are making sure they have sufficient experience in the task,” Chris Lane says. “We’re constantly having employees shadow other employees.”

That sort of preparation pays off on tricky projects. In mid-October a Ronald Lane Inc. crew inserted 3,800 feet of 30-inch steel pipe into a directional drill. That pipe was inserted underneath a river as part of a larger project. “We worked on it with two different shifts for 46 straight hours,” Chris Lane says. 

“There was only room for 1,000 feet of pipe in the pullback area,” Ronald Lane says. Plus, points out his son, “Once you start pulling the pipe into the ground, you have to pull constantly until you have it all inserted,” Chris Lane says. “If you stop for too long a period, you run the risk of pipe being stuck.”

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