Campbell Transportation Has Big Plans For Hancock County, WV Property

The State Journal
10 December 2015
By Jim Ross

A stretch of Ohio River bank in Hancock County is helping one company that has focused heavily on coal to diversify into one that handles petroleum and natural gas liquids as well.

Campbell Transportation, which is based in Houston, Pennsylvania, has long been a company that moves coal on the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, with some business on the Kanawha. But Campbell executives see that coal will continue to decline before it levels off. At the same time, the market for moving liquids keeps getting better.

“If you’re going to see growth in the company, you’re not going to see it on the dry side,” said Dan Lacek, managing director of operations for the company’s tank barge facility on the Ohio River. “The growth is on the liquid side.”

That facility is at Congo, a community just south of Newell.

There Campbell has a tank barge fleeting, cleaning and repair facility. Congo also offers field service on barges down the Ohio almost to Huntington. In a year or so it will extend that to the Cincinnati area. The lower part of the Congo facility has a greenfield site of about 18.71 acres along 3,298 feet of riverbank that can be used for future development, probably for uses related to oil or natural gas.

As part of that facility’s growth, Campbell recently hired Mike Wallace, a longtime worker in the liquids business on the Gulf Coast, to manage operations involving liquid tank barges and tankermen. He started at Congo Oct. 12.

Lacek said Campbell hired Wallace because of his experience in the liquids industry in the Gulf. He was recruited because Campbell wanted to bring in someone with knowledge of the liquids industry and delivery service at Congo that people expect and receive on the Gulf. It helps that Wallace has connections in the South and is using them to bring business to Congo, Lacek said.

Wallace said growing the liquids business at Congo is not going to happen overnight, but he expects things to really take off by the end of 2016.

Campbell purchased Congo in April 2011. That was about the time development of the gas fields in the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays took off.

“We’ve got the ability to grow and expand it. That’s why we brought Mike on board,” Lacek said.

Lacek said Campbell is putting all people at Congo through tank training, whether they work land side or boat side. That includes the pilots, logistics management, operations management and compliance management personnel.

Wallace said, “It’s going to grow. We’re going to make it grow.”

Company President Mike Monahan said Campbell is four years into its process of diversifying its business. A few years ago, the company basically hauled coal on the upper Ohio and its tributaries.

“As you know, coal has been impacted by the War on Coal. The current administration is 100 percent against coal burning in the United States,” Monahan said.

As part of that, several coal-burning power plants in Campbell’s market have shut down, and the amount of coal moved on the upper Ohio is down. Meanwhile, the movement of petroleum and petroleum products is increasing as companies drill for natural gas and natural gas liquids in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“In the last four years, we’ve migrated into other business areas,” Monahan said. “We operate all the way down the Ohio River. We tow other people’s barges. We tow a tremendous amount of liquid barges for customers.”

The growth of the natural gas and natural gas liquids industries in the Ohio Valley are of particular interest to Campbell, Monahan said. The proposed Shell ethane cracker at Monaca, Pennsylvania, is the largest of the possible projects, he said. That one plant could add 40 to 100 barges to the river, he said.

“As those plants are built out in the next three to five years, that’s potential growth for Campbell,” Monahan said.

Today Campbell has a diversified customer base, which includes companies in the steam coal, metallurgical coal, soybean, corn and steel products markets.

“We have no one customer that makes up more than 14 percent of our revenues,” Monahan said.

Campbell has hired a number of young, strong managers in operations, logistics and accounting in recent years to prepare for the coming growth, Monahan said. Among those is Gary Statler, formerly a teacher and principal in North Carolina schools who found his way to the coal industry and from there to become Campbell’s managing director of safety, regulatory compliance and human resources.

And the company is engaged in a long-term project to upgrade its boats to modern standards for hauling liquid cargo. Those that cannot be upgraded for whatever reason are scrapped.

“We’re not afraid of changing. We’ve had a lot of changes here — good changes,” said Peter M. Stephaich, CEO of the family-owned company.

Stephaich said Campbell Transportation Co. is a privately held, conservatively managed company.

“We have a strong outside board of directors,” he said. “We try to take the good of the public world — governance — and the best of the private world in flexibility,” he said.

“We’re not in this to sell the business, or we probably would have done that years ago.”