Sowing the seeds of success

Energy sector provides opportunities for Edmonton firm

From oilsands mining sites where reclamation and erosion control is a priority, to pipeline rights-of-way where erosion must be managed, to creating green roofs, a fast-growing Edmonton company's techniques and equipment are being used to solve a range of problems.

Erscon Canada Inc. was founded in 2004 with a staff of three and one large piece of equipment: a blower truck.

Its staff has since grown to 20 and-aside from that first piece of equipment (a blower truck can pneumatically spray materials such as mulch, compost, etc.)-the company has added other equipment as it grows to service the energy, transportation and municipal sectors in Alberta.

"We probably have about $1 million invested in large equipment-and that doesn't include pickup trucks," says operations manager Cory Mandrusiak.

The growth has been propelled by the company's integrated approach, which allows it to offer a range of erosion and sediment control services to the sectors it services.

Like other companies that provide services to the energy industry, Erscon has been looking towards Alberta's booming oilsands industry.

"The oilsands mining sector requires a large amount of hydroseeding [Erscon has two large hydroseeders, pieces of equipment that can spray, up to 250 feet, a mixed slurry made of hydromulch, seed and fertilizer]," Mandrusiak says. "The oilsands mines need hydroseeding for reclamation of mined sites and for temporary protection to prevent run-off."

Mandrusiak says oilsands-related work is responsible for about one-third of the company's overall volume, which now totals several million dollars a year in revenue.

One of its hydroseeders was specially redesigned to handle oilsands work.

"We took a 40-tonne rock truck and converted it to a hydroseeder, so it could service the oilsands," he says. "The tires on the unit are almost six feet tall."

He estimates that the erosion and sediment control business is worth several billion dollars a year worldwide.

The sector is so large it has its own organization, the International Erosion Control Association (IECA), to represent members.

Katie Laurin, the IECA's spokeswoman, says members include firms like Erscon, as well as engineering firms, consultants, mining companies, construction firms and others.

"It's difficult to get your hands around because all projects that involve moving the earth, from the construction of a single house to a large industrial project, involve some form of erosion and sediment control," she points out.

Mandrusiak says environmental legislation in Canada involving soil disturbance isn't as strict as it is in most of the United States, but that is changing.

Aside from its oilsands work, Erscon is busy in the pipeline sector, where the equipment and the materials it uses allow it to revegetate slopes where normal seeding won't be successful.

It uses products developed by Oregon-based Rexius, Inc., including the "EcoBlanket," which uses recycled organics (compost) as a growing medium to aid in the speedy creation of vegetation, primarily grass, to help stabilize slopes.

Another area of growth for the company is in the municipal sector, where it has installed Filtrexx filters (developed by Ohio-based Filtrexx International, LLC) to help recreate or mimic the growth of grass in an arctic setting at the Edmonton Valley Zoo's new Pinniped Exhibit, which opened on March 17.

Erscon has also completed about 20 green roofs in the Edmonton, Calgary and Banff areas of Alberta.

A green roof or living roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. It may also include additional layers such as a root barrier and drainage and irrigation systems. Green roofs help insulate buildings, making them warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

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