ENGINEERING company Whessoe Oil and Gas has created more than 150 jobs in the past year and has a bulging order book of more than £200m.

The Darlington firm, which specialises in building terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage, has also signed a partnership deal with a US market leader in the field, giving it a foothold in the lucrative American market.

Whessoe moved to new premises in Darlington's Morton Palms office park last year and has increased staff from 200 to 360.

Sources close to the company said extra numbers were due to the amount of work Whessoe was winning, with turnover rising from £30m in 2004, to £90m last year. This year it is targeting turnover of £150m.

Whessoe said yesterday it had formed a partnership agreement with the Washington Group International to win work in the US, which is seeing increasing demand for gas storage facilities.

Whessoe's work on the terminals is in demand because of its ability to use mainly concrete, instead of steel, in building the terminals, making it cheaper and far more efficient.

Demand for LNG facilities is expected to grow significantly over the next decade.

In the US alone, LNG supplies make up less than two per cent of the US gas supply, but the US Department of Energy predicts this will reach between eight and ten per cent in the next ten years.

Because of the high price of oil, gas storage is seen as part of the energy solution for the future in the US.

LNG is gas frozen to minus 126 degrees celsius, shrinking it in size by 600 times into liquid, which means it can be transported and stored more efficiently.

Whessoe, which was established in Darlington in 1782, has concentrated almost solely on its LNG work in recent years in order to become a specialist in that area.

It built one of the first LNG facilities in the UK 40 years ago and its most recent work has been on the Milford Haven importation terminal in Wales.

It was almost out of business at the beginning of the decade, when Saudi Arabian company the Al Rushaid Group bought it. Sister companies Cleveland Bridge and Dorman Long, were also bought by Al Rushaid.