There’s enough to deal with when workers are on a remote site. The last thing employers need to worry about is providing crews with fresh water and good sanitation.
In 2001, Kevin Slough, an experienced engineer with master’s degrees in environmental engineering and business administration, recognized the opportunity to provide mobile high-quality water and wastewater treatment systems to construction and drilling camps in the Fort McMurray area in Alberta, Canada’s oil sands. With a couple of (now retired) partners and investors he started FilterBoxx Water and Environmental. Its systems can be found in most of the man camps in Alberta and on gas, oil and mining work sites and man camps in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Besides expanding to new regions, including south into the U.S., Slough notes that FilterBoxx continues to research and develop technology. This year they are offering a frac water recycling system.
Focus on quality
FilterBoxx offers rental units and systems for purchase. For long-term man camps, it’s often more economical for oil companies and support services contractors to buy a system. For short-term work sites, FilterBoxx offers packages through its Combo Energy Services Inc. rentals.
“What sets us apart largely has been the overall quality of what we provide,” says Slough, president of FilterBoxx. “Because we’ve grown up in the gas and oil industry we provide best-in-class equipment and best-in-class service.”
Assorted awards back up the best-in-service claim. For example, it was named on the 2011 Global Cleantech Top 100 list, and received the 2012 Safety Contractor Award from a top client.
“We design specifically for rugged applications,” Slough says. “Northern Alberta in the wintertime can be a rough place to operate in. The sites are remote, and access roads are usually very rough. You need to make the equipment very robust so it’s able to stand up to those situations and be able to operate in very cold climates — and conversely quite warm temperatures in the summer.”
The mobile systems include beefed up framing, securely supported piping and plenty of insulation. They are mounted on skids or incorporated in containers to fit on roll-off trucks.
Fleet takes center stage
With about 150 employees and four locations, FilterBoxx has a big presence in Canada. The executive team and engineers work from the main office in Calgary. The main rental fleet and service team is based in Stony Plain, Alberta. An office in Grande Prairie, Alberta, serves northeast British Columbia and northwest Alberta. There are also salespeople and applications engineers in Toronto.
Most business comes from the Combo rental side, setting up units and providing regular service for gas, oil and mining workers. Between 60 and 70 rental units are typically on sites each season.
“The majority of large man camps in Alberta have our systems,” Slough explains. “We have a number of different types of units in that group. Our most popular is the Rig Combo. It has a combination water plant, wastewater treatment plant, power generation, light tower, industrial laundry and washroom facility combined in a single skid.”
Typically companies rent for the season and move the units with their own roll-off trucks as job sites change. FilterBoxx workers prepare them for transportation, then set them up again on the new site. Workers make regular service calls to test the equipment, record information and do routine maintenance and repairs for smaller systems. A FilterBoxx technician stays on site full-time with larger systems to provide the same services and oversee the operation, just as a municipal worker takes care of a city’s treatment plant.
On the capital side, FilterBoxx offers standard systems with its proprietary engineering built by Canadian fabricators. They use a variety of pumps including Endress+Hauser instrumentation and a variety of pumps from Goulds, Grundfos and Zoeller. Combo units with generators include either Cummins or John Deere diesel engines.
“We have a basic line of instrumentation, but if a client has a specific branding requirement to fit with the rest of the equipment on site we can customize to adapt,” Slough says. “Our standard may use Endress+Hauser equipment, for example. But the client may have Rosemount Analytical equipment (Emerson Process Management) on their site, and may want to have that consistency for their own service personnel.”
The company also offers sludge treatment and dewatering systems.
FilterBoxx recognizes the importance of adding new services. The newest is a frac water recycling system with chemical technology developed by the company over the past two years with a $1 million investment in research and development.
“There’s a variety of different drivers to recycle this water — economics certainly being one of them,” Slough says. “Also, when you get a lot of these operations in a given area it can tax the local infrastructure in terms of being able to supply the clean water for these operations. So the water scarcity is there as well.”
FilterBoxx created a spreadsheet tool to help potential clients determine if recycling or hauling is more economical based on trucking rates, tipping rates, distance, etc.
Though they aren’t the first to offer recycling systems, Slough believes the company will do well with the new offering, based on the company’s history.
Client loyalty is a big factor that leads to new opportunities. One client contracted with FilterBoxx for units for military troops in Afghanistan, for example.
“Because most of our clients are multinationals we tend to follow them around. The client we are working for in Colorado — we do a lot of work for in Alberta as well, and so we followed them down there,” Slough says. “A number of the clients we work with here are active in the Bakken, so we are looking to take a number of our services down there.”
FilterBoxx is also eyeing markets in Texas for the future. With a U.S. incorporated entity, the transition is smooth. The biggest challenge is finding qualified workers. But Slough is confident the company will grow and succeed.
The company is eager to expand in new markets and take on new challenges as they have done with frac recycling. And quality products will keep old clients coming back and new clients seeking their services. “We’ll continue to grow on that basis,” Slough says. “Quality translates to fewer breakdowns, less maintenance, less hassle for our clients and fewer service calls.”