Synergy & Sustainability
These days, to be successful, a company must be flexible and diverse in its offerings. This is especially true if the industry to which it caters is in downturn.
Ecoserv prides itself on being a one-stop-shop, but that gains meaning when one realizes that it is the only company that offers all-in-one cleaning and waste disposal services for the Gulf of Mexico Exploration and Production industry. With five locations in Louisiana, its three hundred employees tackle the cleaning, consolidation and disposal of onshore and offshore oilfield waste. Business in Focus spoke to Vice President of Waste Collection Operations David LaCoste.
Ecoserv started in late 2014 with the marriage of two companies: Offshore Cleaning Systems and Newpark Environmental Services. This merger brought a unique and valuable element to the marketplace. It combined cleaning, transportation and disposal into one service provider. Aside from typical integration challenges, the two systems meshed well. Moreover, although still in its infancy, the merger continues to proceed smoothly, with only a few growing pains.
Oil and gas production, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, is Ecoserv’s core business. “We provide cleaning services on operating platforms, both drilling and production.” Offshore Cleaning Systems had been in the business of cleaning equipment and tanks on offshore and land-based platforms, and the next obvious step was to capture the waste that results from the cleaning process, which is where Newpark came in.
“Once the cleaning process is completed, the resulting waste materials are brought to the port-based Ecoserv facilities and docks for waste management. Waste material is offloaded from oceangoing supply or service vessels and transferred into barges designed and Coast Guard permitted for waste transportation service. Those barges are then sent to the Ecoserv transfer facilities on the Texas gulf coast, before being transferred to the nearby Ecoserv disposal facility.”
Oil companies move virgin muds and other drilling materials from port to the drilling rigs via the offshore service vessels. These are 250 to 350 foot-long oceangoing vessels with tanks that bring drilling fluids, mud and completion fluids to the platforms for use in the exploration and production process. On the return trip, the waste material from the drilling process is loaded onto the boat and returned to port. The waste material is then transferred to barges, the boat tanks cleaned, and when at maximum capacity, those barges are moved through the Intracoastal Waterway to Port Arthur, Texas before being offloaded and the waste disposed of.
“A significant component of our dockside service offering comes into play once the waste is pumped off of the service vessel. Our dockside Cleaning teams clean the boat tanks, frequently via robotics, and that waste material generated in the cleaning process is shipped to our disposal sites along with the waste removed from the boat tanks.”
Ecoserv is unique in its ability to handle naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), industrial waste that falls under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), non- hazardous waste, and other dry solid wastes. Ecoserv has five dockside locations spread across the Louisiana Gulf Coast with the largest and newest location being in Port Fourchon, which opened on November 15th of last year. Port Fourchon is the deep water port that services the oil and gas industry in the Gulf. All of the Ecoserv facilities are permitted by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to manage exploration and production waste.
There are wastes generated in the drilling and production processes that are not designated as Exploration and Production (E&P) wastes. This includes RCRA hazardous, non-hazardous, and NORM wastes. Until recently, these non E&P wastes would have to be directed to alternative docks in port for offloading prior to arriving at an Ecoserv dock for management of E&P wastes. This adds time in port for a supply or service vessel. Time is money for the oil companies. With permit modifications complete, Ecoserv can now accept all of these waste categories at its docks, minimizing time in port for the vessel.
Ecoserv’s facility offloads the NORM and RCRA material before the boat moves down the dock to take on the exploration and production service work. “We are the only company that offers a one-stop-shop.”
For materials that qualify as RCRA, Ecoserv accepts and then brokers the waste to the required final destinations, such as hazardous waste landfill, high temperature incineration, or as fuel for a cement kiln. Typical waste in this category include solvents, other hydrocarbon materials, or universal wastes which includes batteries and fluorescent light tubes. Ecoserv sends these to proper treatment facilities on behalf of the client.
NORM waste has its own treatment facilities permitted for treatment and disposal. Radioactive material may not only be in the waste material, but could also be in contaminated equipment or piping that was exposed to NORM while in service and, therefore, needs to be cleaned and decontaminated prior to return to service or being scrapped.
The one-stop-shop was a strategic move that got the company noticed in the industry. ”We were already in the business of servicing the E&P need for cleaning, collection and waste, but, what we wanted to do was encourage a customer that did not typically use us for cleaning to consider using us because instead of making multiple stops as they do with their current set up, could come to us and reduce the time their boat is in port.” These boats cost as much as $30,000 per day for oil companies to lease, so it is desirable to spend as little time as possible in port, and more time on the water.
Ecoserv has drawn tremendous interest from the oilfield marketplace by creating value, and has prepared for future market expansion by opening a new dockside facility in Port Fourchon. “We have just constructed a 1,600-foot-long dock in Fourchon that allows us to address multiple vessels at one time. In addition, Ecoserv amended permits at our other Gulf Coast facilities that now allow us to take NORM, RCRA and dry solids (cement) at those facilities as well.”
The current low price of oil means that activity is reduced in the Gulf of Mexico as well as on land. Drilling activity generates large amounts of spent drilling mud, completion fluids, and produced water/sands which are what Ecoserv manages at its cleaning and disposal sites. The current decline in E&P activity reduces the number of boats that are on charter to the oil companies, emphasizing the need to offer a variety of comprehensive services to maintain and grow market share.
“Less activity means fewer boats and less material being generated overall, so that reduces waste volumes. In order to maintain market position and experience growth during periods of reduced E&P activity, continued evolution of service offerings is required.”
According to David, the immediate or short term future of the industry depends on whom you talk to. “Some people think the price of oil will slip into the teens; others feel that we have hit the bottom. It’s a supply and demand issue. As long as supply continues to outstrip demand, we’re going to be in a depressed marketplace.”
The economies of China, Europe and North America are either in recession or are experiencing low expansion rates, and the demand for hydrocarbon-based materials is reduced. Oil companies will continue to produce as necessary, but spending capital on exploration and drilling is not exactly robust at present.
Ecoserv is automating its cleaning processes. There is a significant employee safety challenge when it comes to cleaning these vessels and tanks due to confined space entry work and associated crane operation. There is careful monitoring and equipping of staff who get into these tanks to do the cleaning. The use of automation will reduce the opportunity for personnel exposure – a win-win for the waste generator and the service company.
Automation has allowed Ecoserv to reduce the time that a person spends in the tank and the number of people that are needed in the cleaning process. The operation is managed from outside the confined space in an environmentally controlled cab via TV camera and robots or articulated arms. Automation also has benefits for the client. Swifter, more efficient cleaning means the boats leave port sooner, saving time and money.