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Ortloff Engineers plans to open office in Japan


Mella McEwen - Oil Editor
Midland Reporter-Telegram

From West Texas to the Far East, Ortloff Engineers is looking to broaden its market.

The Midland engineering services firm is looking to open an office in Japan, a desire spurred by the company's experience with a Japanese engineer it hired last year.

"We wanted to hire him," but couldn't obtain an H-1B visa for him, said John Wilkinson, Ortloff's president and chief executive officer. Now, he said, the engineer, who has a chemical engineering background, will represent Ortloff in Japan, developing business in Japan, the Far East, Southeast Asia and "perhaps as far as the Middle East."

The company, said Wilkinson, has a large number of prospects in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and he estimated that 90 percent of Ortloff's business "has been international for about the last three years." In fact, last year the company received a certificate of export achievement from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But that international demand has stretched the company's personnel, he said, noting that an engineer from Midland is currently in Qatar assisting with a facility that houses both a gas processing plant and a liquefied natural gas production plant. Wilkinson said the engineer will be in Qatar through start-up testing and performance testing, which could take several weeks.

"Our primary focus is in natural gas processing, LNG production and processing and sulfur recovery," Wilkinson said. "Having a representative in that part of the world to make calls on our behalf will open opportunities for us."

He went on to point out that a number of major related projects being done internationally are being done by Japanese or Korean contractors, who could receive calls from Ortloff's Japanese representative.

The company, he said, offers front-end engineering services -- process design and engineering and works with others on the review -- and then returns to the project for start-up and performance testing.

Ortloff was founded in 1960, closed in 1985 and revived in 1986 as a subsidiary of ElkCorp. It was acquired in June 2005 from ElkCorp. by a group of local investors and since then, Wilkinson said, has kept staffing steady, though he said they are looking at adding a couple more staff members. Expansion, he said, is being done slowly.

When Ortloff was acquired last year, Wilkinson said there was little domestic demand for its services. But, he said, that is changing. The company has been working on several sulfur recovery units and is involved in a large LNG regasification project in Louisiana.

With natural gas demand exceeding domestic production, the nation is expected to turn to LNG imports to meet demand and Wilkinson observed that there are a number of LNG projects on the drawing board.

"Not all of them will be built," he acknowledged, "but some will," and Ortloff hopes to be involved with those projects.

In the Permian Basin, he said, Ortloff is looking at working on gas plant applications and has already been working on some gas plants in Oklahoma and Colorado.

Still, the bulk of the company's business remains international and Wilkinson said Ortloff is seeing "the market come back to life in Argentina and Brazil and we're involved in a project under construction in Peru."

In addition to projects in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Wilkinson said company officials are keeping an eye on the Russian and Chinese markets, working on a project in Kazakhstan -- actually a Chevron project the company is involved in because of its ties to Chevron. Wilkinson said Ortloff is also involved in a project in Nigeria. The company has also worked on four projects in Mexico in the last several years and is looking at two more in America's southern neighbor.

About the only market Ortloff has not been able to crack, Wilkinson said, is Australia, where, he noted, "they have a lot of in-country engineering firms and tend to favor them."

At any rate, he said, "there aren't too many places where natural gas exists that we're not active in or eyeing."


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