Now more than ever, projects related to the Canadian petroleum industry, be it pipelines, hydraulic fracturing, or flaring are debated in the context of broader issues of climate change, environmental protection and economic prosperity. While some may use the term ‘social license’ to arrive at the debate’s resolution, many in the industry will agree that the most important element between all stakeholders involved with energy production is trust.
As one energy executive stated, “we in the North American energy industry are trusted to provide energy safely, while caring for the environment, and to be a force for good in the communities where we operate.”
As an example, emissions from flaring operations are complicated and their composition is influenced by a variety of factors including flare design, operating conditions, and composition of waste gases. In addition, over the last twenty years, landowners have become increasingly less tolerant of the black smoke and odors that arise from traditional flares that are in close proximity to their residences. This set the stage for a group of innovative Albertans to ultimately provide a market based solution to a growing problem of a disrupted trust between industry and the communities in which industry operates.
In the late 1990’s, recognizing the growing need to find an alternative to traditional flaring, a group of founders started Total Combustion Inc. (TCI), a privately owned oilfield service company which sells and rents patented incineration equipment for the purpose of efficiently combusting waste gas. TCI’s initiative took existing traditional refractory incineration stack technology, reworked the design, combining it with a new technology used to cool the smoke stacks of battle ships. This new smoke stack technology lowered the temperature signature of the ships smoke stack making it invisible to incoming heat seeking missiles. TCI then matched this cooling effect technology with an improved burner design that premixed air and waste gas prior to the point of ignition to create a more complete combustion system.
Following a two-year trial and error process, TCI placed two units on field sites owned by major oil and natural gas companies and both units were able to combust efficiently with no smoke, no odor and no visible flame. The successful performance convinced both residents and oilfield operators that TCI’s new stack and burner designed incineration equipment was a viable option to flaring.
Eighteen years later, TCI has grown to employ fourteen full time employees and multiple contractors in and around Alberta and the United States. The company has been used by over three hundred companies in Canada, the United States and Internationally; including sales in Ecuador, Oman, Venezuela, Cuba, France and New Zealand.
But despite TCI’s past and ongoing success, like most companies involved in the oil and gas industry today, the current environment of depressed commodity prices has proven challenging. “The goal of the company is to bring down our operating cost structure to survive this downturn while focusing on preserving the jobs of our valued employees,” notes Tom Wiseman, TCI Founder. Adding, “An overall lack of awareness surrounding incineration technology by clients, regulatory bodies and the general population, makes marketing and promotion an additional challenge for our company.”
However, even during this difficult financial times, as a well managed company, TCI has succeeded to continue with expansion plans. After spending eighteen years in a single bay, manufacturing shop, TCI made the decision to expand operations. In 2014, the company moved into a custom designed, manufacturing facility in Red Deer with the hopes of continuing growth in Alberta and worldwide.
At the end of the day, it’s about facilitating trust between oil and gas producers and landowners. Total Combustion’s patented incineration equipment maximizes combustion efficiency, eliminates smoke and odor, and alleviates public pressure surrounding flaring. The people at TCI believe in creative alternatives to flaring and if TCI can help energy companies operate with minimal external disruptions, while fostering trust within the community though an environmentally friendly alternative to flaring, that’s a mission accomplished.