A Green Success Story in the Oil and Gas Sector

Total Operations & Production Services (TOPS)
Written by Nate Hendley

TOPS LLC specializes in advanced, electric-powered compressors that facilitate the gas flow in the oilfield. The company’s environmentally friendly wares have proven hugely popular in the Permian Basin—an oil- and natural gas-rich region stretching from West Texas to southern New Mexico. Since being profiled in April of 2023 in Resource in Focus magazine, the Midland, Texas-based firm has introduced new compressors, hired more staff, and doubled the size of its rental fleet.

When our previous profile ran, TOPS had approximately 900 compressors in its fleet. Today, the company boasts over 1,700 compressors, “between our active compressors and units to be delivered to customers in the very near future,” says Vice President of Sales and Marketing Misty Ingle, and the emphasis remains on rentals, not sales.

In late 2021, the company’s equipment offered a combined output of roughly 100,000 active horsepower. This output has since quadrupled and continues to climb.

The company’s success can be attributed to excellent products and great service. TOPS provides maintenance and support for all its compressors, as well as certain “macro factors,” says Chief Executive Officer Brian Green.

“There’s a broad drive for developing a cleaner, more efficient oilfield, and electrification and automation are key components of that. Our customers see the benefits to electrification and we’re seen as the top supplier for that,” states Green, whose father founded the company. “Secondly, we’re seen as the premier service provider of compression period—electric or gas.”

Superior compressors
Gas compression involves increasing the pressure of natural gas for a variety of purposes in the oilfield, from artificial lift to pipeline transmission. The process is not new, but until recently, most compressors were powered by gas-combustion engines which generate a lot of carbon dioxide and other toxic emissions.

By contrast, over 98.5 percent of compressors in the TOPS fleet boast electric-powered motors that produce considerably less pollution. The company recently contracted a third-party engineering firm to quantify the environmental benefits of its electric units, and the results were impressive. By switching from a gas-powered compressor to an electric model, “we’re looking at roughly a 50 percent decrease in overall emissions per compressor,” says Green. “This equipment runs 24/7, 365 days a year. Given a 50 percent decrease in emissions and the aggregate level of our horsepower, it’s an incredibly significant [amount of] carbon emissions we’re saving.”

Electric units from TOPS are also one-third quieter than traditional gas compressors and feature cutting-edge, custom-designed supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology. SCADA systems incorporate software, sensors, programmable logic controllers, and other technologically advanced solutions that enable operators to automate processes, collect real-time data, and remotely monitor performance.

The SCADA system and other technological tools allow the company to “automate processes that you normally cannot do on engine-driven equipment,” notes Green. “You’re improving efficiencies across the board to the point where I think we’re seeing anywhere from four to five percent improvement in overall run-time with electric compression compared to engine-driven compression.”

TOPS compressors offer 98 percent-plus run-time versus an average 95 percent run-time with competitors’ compressors. “Our equipment runs more seamlessly than many of our competitors,” says Ingle.

In addition to enhancing performance and reliability, automation is a boon to safety, as there is less need for a human operator to monitor compressors in the field.

Such futuristic compressors represent quite a leap from the early days of the firm. TOPS was founded in 1996 by Brian’s father, L.D. Green, at a time when natural gas-powered compressors dominated the sector. Brian joined the firm in 2006, and a few years later, the company began to take a close look at electric-driven compressors. Industry veterans were skeptical of electric units, but such compressors proved to be well suited for handling shale gas, which became a coveted Permian Basin commodity around 2008.

A growing team
The company continues to invest in electric compressors and expand its fleet. L.D. Green retired in early 2023, and his son became Chief Executive Officer. This is not a family-owned business anymore but is “a private-equity-backed company. Apollo Global Management, Inc., based in New York, has been partnered with TOPS for several years and remains committed to our growth strategy,” explains Brian Green.

TOPS runs a branch in Carlsbad, New Mexico to support operations in that area and a facility in Yukon, Oklahoma that prepares equipment for use in the field. Personnel numbers have increased, adding nearly 50 additional employees during 2023.

When it comes to new hires, “We try to go for a fully blended profile as far as experience goes. We are actively targeting experienced engineers, technicians, and so forth, as well as brand-new, just starting community college level individuals,” states Ingle. The company offers a comprehensive, 18 to 24-month internal training program at its Midland headquarters.

“We can take someone with not necessarily tons of experience but base skills coming out of technical school, then by the time [they are done training], they have a background in every facet of what we do on the mechanical side and [instrumentation] side. By the time they finish, they can choose whatever specialization they want within the company,” says Green.

With safety as the company’s “number one core value,” TOPS runs its own safety department, develops and implements safety policy based on best practices, carefully investigates any problems or errors, and provides “all the necessary safety equipment to our employees at our own expense,” Green says. Weekly safety meetings are held with staff to go over issues and note any hazards, and the company aims to “encourage as much open dialogue as possible.”

Partnering for success
The company acquires its gas compressor units from Ohio-based manufacturer Ariel, and as a measure of how close these companies are, TOPS became an official Ariel distributor last summer.

“Ariel manufactures the compressor frame and cylinders. Those are the major components on the overall skid, but there are other components as well that we get from other manufacturers,” says Green. However, “all the horsepower we have deployed over the past two years has been 100 percent Ariel.”

After constructing the frame and cylinders, Ariel ships the units to packagers who add electric motors, process piping, cooling systems, and other components. The units are then sent to TOPS. Upon arrival, the compressor “is about 90 percent complete. We finish all the instrumentation, do our own quality checks of the compressor, and do a full run out before it ships to the field,” says Green.

And the TOPS compressor fleet only continues to get bigger and stronger. When we last spoke, the company was preparing to ship a 2,000-horsepower compressor—the largest unit it had handled at the time. It has since surpassed that benchmark and shipped compressors capable of 2,500 horsepower. TOPS has also added its first-ever line of medium-voltage compressors; while most of the company’s compressors are running off less than 500 volts, these larger compressors require over 4,000 volts.

Looking ahead
The company does not do much promotion, relying primarily on repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals from existing customers. While eager to grow, the firm wants to avoid becoming a victim of its success. “Managing the growth” as Green puts it, is the priority.

This involves “making sure our service stays up to the best standard and ensuring that we have a strong pipeline to add on technicians, both on the mechanical side and the [instrumentation] side. For a lot of companies, as they grow, their service begins to suffer; that’s not what we want to see here. Up until this point, we’ve done a great job managing that.”

TOPS would prefer to enhance its existing strengths rather than develop products beyond compressors or move into markets outside of the Permian Basin.

“We’ve gotten some opportunities [elsewhere], but the demand is so great here,” says Green. “We have a really strong customer base. We’re nowhere close to outgrowing the Permian Basin. This is our sole focus and will be for quite some time.”

Going forward, the company plans to “continue what we do and what we’re best at: being the industry leader in electric compression and continuing to grow while providing a full spectrum of horsepower.”

Within those parameters, the company harbors some pretty big ambitions: in five years, Ingle hopes that TOPS has enough equipment to offer “a million horsepower, for sure.”

“I would say a million horsepower is certainly within reach of our company,” Green agrees. Other goals are “being recognized as the industry leader in compression—both gas and electric—to offer the best level of service and innovation to further reduce emissions, to get better uptime, and continue to innovate and add features.”

AUTHOR

CURRENT EDITION

From Here to There

Read Our Current Issue

PAST EDITIONS

Peace of Mind

March 2024

Making the Smart Grid Smarter

February 2024

Inclusive Workplaces

December 2023

More Past Editions