Green Earth started in Milliken, Colo., as a fairly routine reclamation business – seeding, commercial landscaping, soil and water management. But when the bottom dropped out of the real estate development market in 2009, owners Bruce Sandau and Jim Daulton turned to the oil and gas fields for new opportunities. “We did storm water management, reseeding and general reclamation work for them, and the business has been good for us,” Sandau said.
But a specific happenstance decades earlier on Sandau’s family farm kept gnawing at his mind, and he was determined to make better a process that he saw as flawed.
Having lived his entire life in Colorado, Sandau experienced the downside of traditional oil and gas land reclamation first-hand. “I grew up farming, and we permitted oil and gas wells on the lands we owned,” he stated. But when one of those drills had an unfortunate leak, the solution did not restore conditions to their original state. “The operator did a fantastic job and took care of us very quickly and thoroughly,” he continued. “But it was the process itself, the best option at the time, that didn’t work perfectly.”
That solution involved, and mostly still does involve, a complete excavation of the contaminated soil around the area, the hauling away of that soil for offsite remediation and the replacement of that dirt with new fill. The problem Bruce’s family faced was the quality of the soil that was brought back in. “We were very picky about what was coming back in, and in the end, there was too much weed seed in the soil they brought. We operated a 400-acre sod farm, and the Bermuda grass that the new fill dirt contained ended up killing quite a bit of our sod. We were fighting it for a long time.”
Finding a Solution
This is the problem Bruce wanted to find a solution for. And after gaining more organics experience, and working with partner firms A1 Organics and Harvest Quest, he began to realize that compost had the potential to remediate hydrocarbons. That eureka moment was the beginning of a cooperative development for a process since branded as HydroLoc Soil Amend.
“This would not have been possible without this team effort,” explained Sandau. “You can’t just throw compost on drill cuttings and have it neutralized. It requires a very precise balance of microbes, media and proper application.”
With the equipment, experienced labor and relationships with the oil and gas companies, Green Earth was well-positioned to bring the right solution to market. With decades of experience creating composts with varying mediums to meet specific applications, A1 Organics was the perfect partner to develop the product. And having worked academically and commercially on developing microbial cultures that can effectively neutralize hydrocarbons, Harvest Quest brought the specific bacteria that gave HydroLoc Soil Amend its remediation qualities.
As a team, an enormous amount of research, development and testing went into creating a solution that truly worked. “As you can imagine, there is a ton of regulation with the process,” Sandau said. “But we worked through every variable: the volume of wet cuttings, the level of hydrocarbons, the right amount of organics, the proper microbial cocktail. And we saw real results.”
The outcome was an on-site remediation solution that could be completed in 30-45 days, allowing the hydrocarbon-contaminated cuttings to be treated in windrows alongside the drilling platform, tested and utilized for the revegetation of disturbed areas. The HydroLoc Soil Amend process was established.
Because Colorado is one of the strictest states in the nation with regard to remediation regulation, the market was a perfect one in which to develop the process. By knowing that HydroLoc Soil Amend was able to satisfy Colorado rules, Sandau could feel more certain that there was a much broader market available. Having invested significantly in third-party testing to analyze, verify and confirm that the remediated cuttings (now classified as a soil amendment) had non-detectable levels of hydrocarbons after the HydroLoc Soil Amend treatment, the process has become a mature solution.
“We have worked through this now for more than three years, and have successfully remediated about 200 sites thus far,” continued Sandau. “This opportunity has come together in a perfect storm if you will. The oil and gas companies recognize their need to create more environmentally beneficial practices in dealing with the waste generated from their operations. With us coming on site to remediate, they can literally have us working adjacent to their drilling rigs, bring us the cuttings and tailings and treat right there. We’re able to eliminate up to 70 percent of their trucking traffic by not having to remove this waste off site. And because of the horizontal drilling technology that has become so prevalent, the quantity of cuttings that require remediation is much greater now.”
Parallel to the product outcome from their research and development process is an enormous wealth of data that can be further mined for continuous improvement and new innovation. “Because the regulations are so strict, all the records have to be kept meticulously,” Sandau said. “Every separate cutting is tracked, analyzed, recorded and maintained so we know exactly what happens to that batch from the moment it comes off the shaker to the final curing. Nothing is ever mixed or comingled. The final application of the newly created soil amendment is GPS-logged, background sampled and custom prescribed to the exact loading rate required for the receiving area.”
With HydroLoc ready to expand market awareness, the three-company team of Green Earth, A1 Organics and Harvest Quest formed a new environmental solutions company, HydroLoc Solutions, to facilitate this expansion. The recent ownership-interest acquisition of Harvest Quest by Ohio-based environmental solutions company Ecoverse also seems to have come at just the right time.
“The Ecoverse deal could not have come at a better moment for HydroLoc Solutions,” Sandau admitted. “Just as we are close to streamlining this process, Ecoverse now offers us instant access to a national, and potentially global, market. Because they already sell processing equipment to commercial compost operations, the opportunity to arrange HydroLoc Solutions licensing agreements with their customer base is huge.”
After all the research, science, data, analysis, regulation and monitoring, Bruce simply looks at one, irrefutable result and smiles. “The revegetation performance behind this process is just phenomenal. Where it usually takes 3-5 years to get a marginal stand of grass reestablished, we’ve been able to accomplish that in just one year. We’re putting an enormous amount of organic power back into the earth, and cleaning up contaminants at the same time. I think it would be easy to argue we’re leaving the environment even better off than it was originally.”
HydroLoc Solutions, hydrolocsolutions.com