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Vol. 13, No. 48 Week of November 30, 2008
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

AK-WA Connection 2008: Colville meets industry’s pressing needs

Firm develops innovative oily waste recycling plan and builds North Slope Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel mega tank farm

Susan Braund

For Alaska-Washington Connection

Colville Inc.’s Alaska-Washington connection is positive, productive and provides a win-win. In a turn of innovative alchemy, the company transforms oily waste from the North Slope into highly efficient electricity for eastern Washington in the Spokane area.

In another effort to meet North Slope needs, the company is constructing a mega tank farm to store enough federally-mandated Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel fuel to keep the oil industry running in the Arctic.

“We always strive to add value to any project Colville undertakes,” said Becky Gay, Colville’s vice president of business development. “These projects are good for the environment, the companies and Colville, and they demonstrate our ability to innovate solutions to meet unique Arctic situations.”

Founded 27 years ago by Bud Helmericks, father of current Colville President and CEO, Mark Helmericks, the industrial service company provides essential supplies and services across the entire North Slope, including fuel supply and delivery, logistics, solid waste management, industrial supplies, hardware, parts, tools, contract services and a general store.

Solid waste management

Colville provides solid waste and recycling services across Alaska’s North Slope. A recent expansion approved by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska extended solid waste service parameters from the border of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the east to Point Hope on the west and offshore to the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, creating one of the largest regulated service territories in the United States.

The Dalton Service Area extends from Prudhoe Bay south to Atigun Pass, and includes the highway corridor, service roads, pump stations, and areas within five miles of each side of the roadway.

“The North Slope Borough could not handle the area’s solid waste with its existing fleet, so Colville forged a way to handle solid waste. And, we pioneered recycling efforts of oily waste on the slope,” said Gay. “Where the industry goes we go — oil industry customers wanted recycling, so we stepped up. Our eventual recycling goal is zero landfill disposal.”

Colville’s waste management services fall into three categories, according to company resources: Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), Construction Debris (CD), and Recyclables.

MSW usually comes from kitchens or camps, and is characterized by wastes that may attract animals. Collection bins are designed to keep animals from feeding on or scattering the contents.

CD usually comes from warehouses or construction sites and contains materials that do not attract animals and is not susceptible to wind scatter such as pit liners, drill cuttings and crushed concrete.

MSW and CD wastes are disposed at the North Slope Borough Oxbow Landfill.

Recyclables include metal, wood, tires, cardboard and oily waste. Each of these material streams have specialized bins and handling procedures. Recyclables, except wood, are shipped to permissible facilities in Anchorage or outside of Alaska, and now oily waste is shipped to Washington State.

North Slope waste is directed into two streams: the direct-bury stream and the recycle stream. Colville has found a way to divert oily waste away from the direct-bury stream to avoid burying it in the landfill. “We put it into the recycled stream,” said Gay. “Colville collects and compresses the oily waste, ships it in lined containers, and then delivers it to Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy Plant, where it is burned to produce electricity.”

The plant burns it and likes it.

“The waste produces high-end heat, lots of Btus,” said Gay. “At the plant they call it ‘hot bullets.’ It’s a great performing fuel!”

The Oxbow landfill is the single municipal landfill on the North Slope.

“By recycling the high-volume and hard-to-compress oily waste, Colville has added years to the landfill’s lifespan. “When the landfill is full, it will be a huge complication to the oil industry; extending the life of the landfill is essential to oil production,” Gay said. “So the more we can recycle the better.”

Fuel services

Fuel for the oil fields and aviation is Colville’s cornerstone business.

“We started out in fuel; we’ve always been the distributor for the Slope,” she said. “Oil companies can’t sell fuel to themselves; we are the middle man.”

Colville, Inc. has established decades of experience supplying and delivering bulk fuel throughout the North Slope oil field, including local villages. Jet fuel and avgas is provided at Deadhorse, plus the company operates the furthest north gas station on Alaska’s highway system, for industrial clients, tourism and the villages. This station has a chip-key system for frequent users and accepts major credit cards.

“The fuel station is its own little niche, a small but very critical part of the big picture,” said Gay. “We import unleaded gas for vehicles as the Tesoro franchise.”

In response to a federal mandate to use ULSD fuel, Colville is building a 1.8 million gallon C-Plan storage facility. “The oil companies stepped up to use ULSD on the North Slope sooner than the rest of the country,” Gay said.

The move to use ULSD is aimed at lowering diesel engines’ harmful exhaust emissions and improving air quality. By December 2010, all highway-use diesel fuel offered for sale in the United States must be ULSD fuel. Two grades of the ULSD fuel, arctic and non-arctic, are made by Tesoro. The fuel is not made all year, so “you have to get it when it’s made,” according to Colville.

ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc. was set to build a ULSD plant on the North Slope, but due to tax considerations and other changing parameters, they pulled out, causing some concern in the oil community.

“It’s tough to get enough of the fuel on the road and distributed before ice roads melt,” said Gay, “so Colville stepped up to build the mega tank farm.”

The spill safeguard standard for fuel storage of this type is secondary containment, or the capacity to contain 110 percent of the largest tank. Colville is not stopping there.

“In the new tank farm Colville is going well above requirements to tertiary containment. We re-graded the whole gravel pad,” said Gay. “If secondary containment is breached, it will be zero discharge into the waters of the United States, or the wetlands, due to the extra preventative measures of tertiary containment.”

The project timeline is to transition to fill new tanks and decommission the old tanks by the end of the year.

“We feel good about the tank farm,” said Gay. “Colville’s owner Mark Helmericks grew up on the North Slope and feels strongly about the environment. He made the call . . . another example of our willingness and ability to respond quickly and safely to our clients’ needs in remote areas.”

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