Innovation Through Necessity: Nitro-Lift Technologies
By: Sunnie Dawn Baker
Where does innovation come from? What is the spark that leads to technological advancements? In the case of Danny and Vernon Daniels, two brothers from Tishomingo, innovation came from necessity. Danny and Vernon had been in the oil industry for many years, focusing on the exploration and production side of the business. They had a couple of wells around the Beaumont, Texas area but things weren’t going to plan: the wells were barely producing any oil. They received a “plug or produce order,” an industry term meaning the wells either had to consistently produce oil or they would have to “plug” and abandon them. For the Daniels brothers this could have been catastrophic but instead of giving up, they faced the necessity of their circumstances, went to their workshop and worked to create a new way forward.
The brothers had had an idea to put together a nitrogen generator to artificially lift a well. Putting their heads together in their shop, they were able to construct exactly what they needed and the well went from producing minimal oil to consistently producing 10-12 barrels a day, a rate that has continued since they addressed the initial issues in the late 1990s. In 2006, the Daniels brothers took the technologies that they were using in their own wells and officially started Nitro-Lift Technologies, LLC. Since then, their company has continued to grow as they see the increased needs in their industry. In 2013, they created Nitro-Lift Fabrication, a company which focuses more on the manufacturing elements of the oil and gas industry. And in 2021, they formed Nitro-Chem Solutions, which is the exclusive provider of the nanoActiv particles produced and patented by Nissan Chemical American Corporation in North America. This allows the company to conduct Enhanced Oil Recovery using nanotechnology.
The growth and success of the Daniels brothers stems from several things. First, they have never been afraid to embrace change. They would see the problems that their customers had as possibilities instead of roadblocks and they would adjust their business model to help provide solutions. Every day is a unique challenge, but solving those challenges is their favorite thing about their job. Through the course of their business, they have lifted or de-watered over 15,000 wells, they have purged and tested over 40,000 miles of pipeline, and they have accumulated over 1,000,000 run-time hours operating nitrogen equipment.
Another important facet to their business, though, is that they are 70% Choctaw owned. This allowed them to be a member of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce, get Preferred Vendor status with both the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations as well as receiving the hard-earned designation of a Minority Business Enterprise through the National Minority Supplier’s Development Council. This allows Nitro-Lift to really show the innovative things that they can do for companies that might not know about them otherwise.
Just as important as these other things, though, is having the right people and the right culture within their company. John Beaver, the Chief Operations Officer for Nitro-Lift, says, “It is all about the people. We try to hire people that are self-starters and people that look for work. And the people at the top have to fully understand what they are trying to get the people below to do.” To this end, the vast majority of their employees come from the Tishomingo area, developing this talent locally. Beaver, who graduated from Tishomingo High School with Danny and played football with him, says, “A lot of our employees are people that we went to high school with, or their parents, or even their grandparents. It is a very homegrown business.”
In addition to being a homegrown business, it is also a family business. Danny’s son, Chase, is the Chief Commercial Officer and runs the nitrogen division. Danny’s other son, Blake, is a salesman. Vernon’s son, Scott, runs the entire upkeep operation on the nitrogen units. Their sons-in-law are involved as well. Bryant Upton, who is married to Danny’s daughter Kelsey, runs the Nitro-Chem division and John Rogers, who is married to Vernon’s daughter Ashley, is the Fabrication General Manager. Beyond this, though, the other employees have become family as well as they respect and trust their workers and give them opportunities that they would not have had otherwise.
Though the business began with the Daniels brothers, they now have a roster of 85 employees. Two-thirds of their employees are from Johnston County and they work all over the country. Nitro-Lift has locations Oklahoma, Texas, Pennsylvania as well as servicing off-shore locations through the Houston shipping channel from Louisiana to Corpus Christi. These are opportunities that would have been very difficult for some of their employees to find before the Daniels brothers formed their company and decided to make reinvestment in their community a priority.
One of the most significant ways that Nitro-Lift Technologies is investing in their community is through their work with Murray State College (MSC). MSC had started a Manufacturing Technology program and had asked representatives from Nitro-Lift to come on in an advisory capacity. Beaver attended several meetings but was struck by the fact that their program did not have a stand-alone CAD (computer aided design) lab or computers or software that were suitable. They were sharing resources with the gunsmithing program at MSC, but that was just a band-aid. Through his work with Nitro-Lift, he understood the importance of CAD in fabrication and knew that, for these students to get the education that they would need to succeed, the program needed to be bolstered.
Beaver went to the Johnston County Industrial Authority and laid out what would be needed to make the program successful. They would need somewhere around $10,000-$12,000 dollars to purchase the computers and software, as well as hiring someone to teach CAD. Nitro-Lift ended up writing a check for $2,500 and then First United and Ameristate Banks wrote checks to make up the difference. MSC conferred an adjunct professorship on Nitro-Lift’s CAD designer, and Nitro-Lift also hired two interns from the program. One of them is now doing real-world design work and the other one has gone full-time with Nitro-Lift. Every semester they try to secure an intern to help cover some of their tuition, books, and other expenses. By doing this, they are helping train the people that they need while also investing in their community.
When the two wells in Beaumont were going dry, the Daniels brothers couldn’t have known where that challenge would lead them. But because they decided to see that challenge as a possibility, they have grown into a nationally recognized company with other 400 Master Service Agreements. They pioneered the use of membrane nitrogen in the oil and gas industry in the Barnett Shale and continue to innovate when faced with a challenge. In addition to changing the face of the oil and gas industry, though, they have also changed their own community, bringing jobs and wealth to the town of Tishomingo with a population of a little under 3,000. Their impact across the industry is significant, but their impact in their own backyard is priceless.
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