Demolition in “the sands”
Processing and recycling end-of-life steel structures and equipment in Alberta’s oil sands is no small task
While it does not set out to do so, the demolition component of Tervita Corporation’s Environmental Services division is used to turning heads. The company, after all, recently lifted a Cat 325 excavator to the top of an eight-story building to demo it from the top down, undoubtedly prompting stares – and a stiff neck or two. On a recently-completed project in the Alberta oil sands, the division performed an even more impressive feat, dismantling some truly mammoth structures and equipment and processing the more than 25,000 tons of steel it represented within a tight 110-day window. To make that happen, they assembled a fleet of mobile hydraulic attachments, including some of the largest Genesis mobile shears at work today. In the process, they further solidified their reputation as one of Canada’s preeminent firms for safe, effective and impressive demolition results.
Where size does matter
Visit the oil sands of Alberta and one is immediately taken aback by the sheer scale of the projects taking place. Developments capable of generating anywhere from 50,000 to nearly a half million barrels of oil per day dot the more than 54,000 square mile Athabasca Sands deposit. Not surprisingly, the equipment used to extract oil from these tar sands is equally impressive, including everything from bucket-wheel excavators the size of a building to haul-trucks with 500 ton payloads. According to Dwayne Dale, Tervita’s demolition superintendent, on most of the major operations in “the sands” equipment that has reached the end of its useful life is generally brought down, cut up or crushed, and recycled or disposed of accordingly.
“It might not make sense to the layperson, but companies working in the oil sands generally prefer to scrap a component or system rather than re-use or repurpose it and risk any potential liability,” he says. “As a result, gigantic shovels and crushers capable of mind-boggling hourly production rates are seemingly in place one week and gone the next.”
The right choice
Tervita is one of the few companies well-positioned to tackle a project as formidable as oil sands equipment decommissioning. Originally formed in 1979 as a well-servicing company, Tervita has grown over the years through a series of strategic acquisitions to 4,000 employees and now offers a comprehensive array of environmental solutions, including oil and gas industry demolition. So when one of the major holding companies in the oil sands needed a firm to tackle its massive end-of-life infrastructure processing efforts, Tervita was the logical choice. In late November 2014, they mobilized to the company’s Fort McMurray site and started work shortly thereafter.
“For a number of reasons, we feel we have a distinct advantage over many other demolition companies: we’ve done this type of work for a while now, and we have an enviable safety track record and the broad range of tools needed to get the job done quickly and efficiently,” said Dale.
That last point is critical given the scope of work the job entailed. As work progressed, Tervita was responsible for demolishing and processing what is considered general oil sands production equipment – mammoth crushers, sizers, conveying and separating equipment, some mining tires, heavy-duty conveyor belting and process piping – and then shipping it to regional scrap facilities for recycling. Accomplishing that called for a comprehensive range of processing tools. With a history of oil sands demolition work already under its belt, Tervita was amply prepared for the Challenge.
“We brought the tools needed to ensure the job was done right. Not many firms can boast having cut, processed and loaded out more than 25,000 tons of steel in 110 days in a remote setting, let alone an environment like northeastern Alberta.” Dwayne Dale, Tervita
A fleet of nine
Because the scope of work at the Ft. McMurray site was as varied as it was imposing – including everything from structural dismantling and processing to concrete crushing – Tervita’s arsenal of tools had to be equally diverse. They answered that call with a fleet of nine Genesis attachments, each one versatile in its own right, yet still dedicated to a specific application or area.
“The tools ranged from an LXP 200 multi-jaw processor to a GXP 1200R mobile shear and everything in between,” Dale says. “The LXP was our utility attachment and, for a smaller tool, its impact was huge. We used it for things like processing concrete, as well as shearing items such as handrail, expanded metal grating and some small diameter cable. Because so many of the areas we were demoing were fairly high, we had three mid-sized shears – a GXP 400R, a GXP 440R and a GXT 445R – mounted third-member, which were primarily responsible for much of our high-angle demolition. The more than 40 feet of reach provided was outstanding in areas such as the mid-drives and some of the conveyors feeding them, which were quite high.”
For structures exceeding 40 feet of reach, Tervita had a Genesis GXP 660R shear third-member mounted on a Cat 365 carrier outfitted with a Jewel hydraulic tilt cab and a 70-foot demo boom. For facets of the job in which the material was sizeable but easily accessible – all the lower portions of the site’s massive crushers for example – Dale’s crews used a trio of GXP 990R mobile shears, each of which offered a jaw opening and depth of 35 inches.
“The 990s were outstanding, and once material was on the ground, responsible for processing it to mill-spec,” he says. “In addition, they did the bulk of the work cutting the massive volumes of process pipe removed from the site, material that could be as large as 30 inches in diameter with a wall thickness of greater than half an inch. They were the real workhorses out there.”
The Big Guns
Many of the crusher components, as well as much of the other material encountered, were built for the severe-duty nature of oil production and, as a result, were heartier than anything generally encountered in a standard demolition operation. For those segments of the project, as well as for processing large volumes of dragline cable and 36-inch diameter process piping, Tervita brought in the heavy artillery: a Genesis GXP 1200R mobile shear. According to Dale, despite the oversized nature of the material, there was very little the shear could not cut.
“It literally never stopped impressing us,” he says. “On those crushers, there were three of them on-site, our operators were skillful at popping welds to access baffle plates and other material that was easily 1.5 inches thick. It cut it all, even the base plates which were stouter than that.”
The dragline cable was present in large volumes of 3- and 4-inch diameters, depending on the machine from which it came. He says having shears capable of cutting that cable was an outstanding advantage.
“This material was not just large in diameter, it was also poly-coated which would have made any other type of processing really difficult if not impossible,” he says. “Instead, using either the 1200R or any of the 900s, we were able to cut as many as three strands of the cable at a time to manageable lengths.”
Re-use and repurposing
Other material processed at the Ft. McMurray site included a limited number of large mining tires, concrete from the bases of demolished structures and equipment, and a seemingly never-ending supply of conveyor belting.
“We cut more than 10 kilometres of belting,” says Dale. “That’s material that is more than two inches thick, has a 3/16-inch steel cable running through it and can be as wide as 90 inches. We used the mobile shears to cut it into 30-foot lengths, then threw it onto flatbed trailers and sent it to a new home where it can be used in everything from industrial areas to dairy barn flooring. Almost everything on the site will have a subsequent life in one way or another.
On a project such as this, the dollars invested in keeping things moving are staggering. As a result, maintaining production in all facets of the on-site operation, including processing of the decommissioned equipment, was vital. Dale says Tervita was particularly well-suited to make sure that happened.
“We learned early that if you value your contract, you simply cannot impact your customer’s ability to generate product; and that just makes sense. So we brought the tools needed to ensure the job was done right, safely and in as efficient a manner as possible. Having the range of processing capabilities was not only a nice strength; it also met our customer’s needs and timeline. Not many firms can boast having cut, processed and loaded out more than 25,000 tons of steel in 110 days in a remote setting, let alone an environment such as northeastern Alberta. The Genesis shears helped make it all happen and never let us down.”