Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007

NDR Energy taps the lucrative natural gas market

Upper Marlboro firm is among the nation’s top black-owned companies

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Rickey R. Hart was no newcomer to starting a business when he founded NDR Energy, a natural gas marketing company, in Upper Marlboro seven years ago. He had previously owned and operated a personnel consulting firm for nearly 10 years.

Black Enterprise Magazine recently listed Hart’s firm among the nation’s top 100 black-owned industrial⁄service companies, based on revenues. NDR Energy debuted at No. 40, with $108 million in sales in 2006.

NDR sells natural gas to more than 15 utility companies across the country, and also does energy consulting. Its local customers include Washington Gas and Baltimore Gas and Electric. The company’s top suppliers — Total, Eagle Energy Partners and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. — are all in Houston.

Hart, who now lives in North Carolina, has seven employees stationed across the country.

The company’s first supplier was British energy giant BP, and its first client was BG&E, Hart said. In NDR’s second year, it racked up about $38 million in sales.

The impetus behind Hart’s entrepreneurial spirit is simple. ‘‘I want to do my own thing,” he said.

Hart was introduced to the energy industry through an executive at a Colorado oil and gas company who was looking for staff. The executive talked to Hart about the industry and encouraged him to attend a seminar. Hart eventually got on board and began working as a company representative on the East Coast, selling natural gas and propane to utilities.

‘‘What really got me into the business was the sale of 5 million gallons of propane to Washington Gas. The money that I made from that ... had me hooked,” he said.

After working for other companies and learning the business for six years, Hart decided to branch out on his own. For nearly five years, he worked the night shift as a counselor at an independent living facility in Washington for at-risk youth, while running his company during the day.

‘‘I couldn’t even come home and go to sleep. I had to work,” he said. ‘‘But that was fine. It kept NDR where NDR needed to be.”

The company’s name has a bit of history. Hart’s personnel consulting company was New Day Resources, hence NDR Energy. However, NDR are also his, his daughter’s and his granddaughter’s middle initials.

Natural gas marketing is a relatively new segment in the natural gas industry. Before the deregulation of the natural gas commodity market and the introduction of open access to natural gas pipelines roughly 15 years ago, there was no role for such marketers, according to a report by the Natural Gas Supply Association.

As of 2000, more than 260 companies were involved in marketing natural gas, the report said. That year, about 80 percent of all the natural gas supplied and consumed in North America was traded by marketers.

Challenges faced by natural gas marketers are similar to those faced by the entire energy industry, including limited access to new supplies, infrastructure constraints and public resistance to new infrastructure, said Jennifer Deegan, director of energy markets at the Natural Gas Supply Association.

Gina Baker of Lanham, who worked with Hart during the company’s early years and recently rejoined his staff, recommended that newcomers to the industry work with a mentor and ‘‘just be patient.”

It’s a multibillion-dollar-a-day industry, but that does not necessarily reflect what the individual business owner will make, Baker said.

‘‘It’s an industry that, after you’ve proven yourself, can be wide open, like we’re starting to experience now,” she said.