The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 7, 2012

business isn’t drying up ...

W.B. Johnston Grain finding new ways to diversify its business

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — The 2011 drought might have driven a different agribusiness into the red, but this Enid grain company reached into its diversified war chest and continued to stay on top of its game.

W.B. Johnston Grain, 411 W. Chestnut, found a niche in the oil field market by offering a service others do not: storing and handling fracturing sand — a fine sand used in drilling to hold open a fracture in the rock so oil and gas can flow through.

Oklahoma’s largest privately owned grain elevator business, Johnston Grain operates 20 elevators in Oklahoma and Texas. It also operates five ports in Louisiana, West Virginia and Oklahoma. The company provides year-round employment to 300 and seasonal employment to about 60 more.

Using company assets to handle the oil field supply meant no employees had to be let go when the volume of grain flowing through the company went down because of the drought, company president Butch Meibergen said.

“Last year’s drought was just devastating, so you look to use your assets somewhere else,” Meibergen said.

Meibergen credits the vice president of the company — his son Joey — with the creative thinking that resulted in the frac sand accounts.

Drillers often incur additional charges for keeping a rail car loaded with frac sand longer than the railroad wants the car detained. Storing it at Johnston Grain means releasing the rail car in a timely fashion and avoiding being hit with those extra charges, Butch Meibergen explained.

“Our customers’ trucks come to our facility to pick up their sand,” Joey Meibergen said.

Additionally, Johnston Grain is handling drilling mud and pipe for their oil field customers. The company also is expanding by developing a new port east of Tulsa.

“There’s always something different to handle, whether it’s at the river or off the rail system,” Butch Meibergen said. “We look at these industrial demands.”

Handling wind turbines is another possibility Johnston Grain is exploring, Joey Meibergen said.

Meanwhile, back to the company’s stock in trade, Butch Meibergen said this year’s growing crop looks excellent.