In the 10 years since he formed EnviroBore Directional Drilling, Josh Wettlaufer has striven to stay true to the company’s roots as an honest and professional trenchless contracting firm. That dedication to these core principles has paid off with the greatest accomplishment for the still-young company.
A lot has changed since September of 2010 when Wettlaufer started the company with its head office in a friend’s parking lot.
In the last year, Wettlaufer, owner-president of the Grand Prairie, Alberta-based company, was able to buy out his former silent partners. At the same time, knowing he had to surround himself with individuals who could help take EnviroBore to the next level, he added Robert Taras, president, director of business development and sales; Doug Astles, vice president, director of operations; and Dan Fontaine as LRD project manager and HSE manger.
The addition of the robust front office staff, with many years of oil and gas and horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industry experience, was to handle the work that is coming down the pipeline and expand EnviroBore into the world of midi- and maxi-rig HDDs. In 2018 the company added an American Augers DD-240 rig and in 2019 it added an American Augers DD-440.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve grown from me trying to get my boots wet with a small company, a few guys and two drills to now having six drills,” Wettlaufer says. “We consider ourselves a one-stop drilling shop. We’ve added staff in management with Doug, Rob and Dan. We have utility-sized rigs up to this brand new 440. And at peak season we have 60 employees.”
With its headquarters in Alberta, much of the EnviroBore work is oil and gas focused, and since the early days of the company Wettlaufer has found work with many of the country’s larger pipeline contractors and energy companies including TC Energy, Enbridge and ConocoPhillips.
“We are still an oil and gas dominant company with 75 to 80 per cent of our workload being in that sector. Last year was a record-breaking winter, it was the best season for us and we are hoping to match it,” Wettlaufer says. “We are looking to exceed it, but because of the weather we are almost two months short on our season. I will be happy to match last year’s income.”
Because of work, like the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, that will be ramping up in the coming years, Wettlaufer and his team made the investment to add the DD-440 to the equipment roster.
“We are trying to be a one-stop shop for our clients. In the oil and gas industry the 100,000-lb. drill series are the bread and butter,” he says. “With all of the announced large-diameter pipelines that will need to start here in Canada in the next three years, we did our research and there is a window for us to find work because there are not enough of these big machines to handle the demand.”
Taking on the big rig also meant building a proper support system and that’s where Astles’ background in the downhole drilling and large-diameter HDD work came into play. With Astles’ help, EnviroBore linked up with Jason Savage and Daniel Page at Connect Energy, a company with a background in the upstream oil and gas sector.
“The Connect team is well known in the downhole world for designing and building rigs and we had some mutual connections,” Astles says. “EnviroBore needed a support package that was built by people who knew what will work best for our company and the environments where we drill. When we sat down at the table to discuss our vision, it came together quickly and it was apparent they were the right choice for us.”
The support package for the DD-440 is the first for Connect Energy, but company leaders have said they hope to do more work in the sector. The all-custom setup was built by Connect Energy at its headquarters in Nisku, Alberta.
“We wanted the build the fit what we feel is required for our elements, our setups and what our customers are looking for,” Astles says. “When we started the build, we looked at more ‘off the shelf’ products, but when it came down to modifying them to our needs it wasn’t as easy. It was easier to build to our needs from the start.”
The build includes two F800 Continental Emsco pumps, a 100-hp boiler; a combination building with two, 250-kilowatt Cummins diesel gen sets; a circulating water and fuel system; and a 65-cube active mud storage system and recycler/mud tank with hydraulic raise roof.
The entire package is operated through a programmable logic controller (PLC) automation system designed by Mustang Controls of Leduc, Alberta. It is also wired with a 4K ultra high-definition camera system that can be monitored remotely 24/7.
“With the cameras and automation, the management team and our clients can log in and see what is happening at the rig,” Astles says. “We focused on making this part of our package, to make sure we always have open lines of communication.”
Wettlaufer adds that by working with companies like Connect Energy, Mustang Controls and others, it allowed EnviroBore to work and support local businesses.
“I’ve invested a lot of money in finding and hiring a well-experienced team to make sure we are ready to be a long-lasting contender in this [large diameter] market,” Wettlaufer says. “It also opens the door to the larger diameter and longer runs of sewer and water infrastructure work in the 24-in. or larger range.”
The majority of the work is in Alberta’s Peace Country region and Northeastern British Columbia where the oil and gas companies are working in the Duvernay and Montney formations. That being said, Wettlaufer notes that the company is also working its way east into Saskatchewan and further south into Alberta where it is tackling more utility and private projects.
“We do watering lines for livestock, private water for farmers, environmental horizontal remediation wells and we started doing culvert swallowing and pipe bursting. This has been slowly gaining traction for us,” says Wettlaufer. “We are definitely experienced and comfortable, and it’s helped with the slowdown of the oil and gas work. It’s nice to diversify the company.”
For the bulk of this work, the EnviroBore team looks mostly at its light rig division fleet: A trio of Ditch Witch JT100s, a JT25 and a JT5. EnviroBore also owns pipe bursting and pipe ramming equipment from HammerHead Trenchless. The variety of offerings has helped steer some of the company’s work away from the oil and gas industry.
“I have surrounded myself with people who I can trust to help run the rigs, so I can run the company. But I still put on my coveralls and I still go out and get dirty,” Wettlaufer says. “I don’t want anyone to be a number, even though we are growing. I want to bring that home feeling and I want them to feel like they have a place to grow and flourish. They are shoulder to shoulder with me instead of carrying me. We pride ourselves in being that personable, family-run company.”