It was a logical career path for a man and his family who grew up fishing the lakes and rivers of the North Peace.
Dave Kowalski, who runs DASKI Contracting along with his wife, Angela, had been a mechanic for fifteen years in Fort St. John. His knowledge of the equipment and his passion for environmental preservation eventually led him to develop solutions to problems that he was noticing with respect to how gas companies were conducting their operations near bodies of water. Kowalski used those ideas to launch his new business.
"We started out doing river crossings and frac-out control," Kowalski said of the early days of DASKI Contracting. "Frac-out control is for horizontal drilling. We don't do the drilling, but when they're drilling, they'll drill under a creek. That drilling mud can quite often come to surface in the creek or on the shores of the creek. And, therefore, they call it a deleterious substance to the creek. It's basically a sediment type of pollutant, so it's harmful to fish and all that stuff. What we do is, we'll dam and divert the creeks, and we'll collect this fluid, and we'll capture it and return it back to the drilling rigs so they can continue their operation. Creeks range from six inches wide [and] a couple inches deep to, you know, quite vast. Like, we've done the Kiskatinaw River. We've done the Murray River."
"Generally," he continued, discussing the frac-out control process, "if somebody's doing a creek bore they'll have us on site before they start drilling. Because there's always a chance of that fluid coming up to surface in the creek. The problem is, once that fluid comes to surface in the creek, all operations cease. Then they have to report the spill to Alberta Environment if it's in Alberta or [the BC Oil and Gas Commission] if it's in B.C. So, they'll have us on site ahead of time. We'll do a pre-set-up. What we'll do is run some of our hoses from the creek up to the borrow pits or the discharge area and then, that way, as they start to drill, we just walk the banks and we monitor the banks and we monitor the creek for sediment. And then, if we notice a release of fluid in there, we're in contact with the drilling rig. They stop."
DASKI will subsequently divert the creek and dam the contaminated area using sandbags or an Aquadam, essentially a large bladder that fills with water, effectively using water to control the flow of water in the creek.
"We'll put our pumps in," said Kowalski. "We'll divert the creek. Dam up the contaminated area. Recover that fluid. Pump it back up the drilling rig. And then, at that point, once we have control of that area - of that release area - then they`re allowed to continue again.
"Now, our procedures are monitored by an environmentalist They do turbidity monitoring of the waters. And they have to get approval from [the Commission] or the regulating bodies before they can start. Once we get our stuff done, then [the drillers] have to ask for approval to start [up again]."
"Generally," he added, describing the benefits of using DASKI's services, "what`s happened in the past, if somebody`s drilling, and they don`t have a service like us on site with a frac-out control, they will stop. And, at times, it takes two or three days to get approval for them to continue again. If we`re on site, we`re usually up and drilling again in, usually, anywhere from twelve to fifteen minutes to a couple hours. That`s where the saving comes in. And then, of course, once they`re done the drill, then what we do is we clean up the creek bottom, and then we take our dams out, and it`s all inspected by the regulating body."
DASKI are pioneers in this area. They were the first company in the region to develop and use this type of frac-out control technology, as well as being the only one with their level of expertise and experience with water diversion and Aquadam installation. DASKI first began doing frac-out control in November, 2005, and services northeast B.C. and northwest Alberta.
It has been a family effort right from the start. The husband and wife team - proud to be running their own business in their own hometown - comprised the entire DASKI staff in the beginning. Their children have also played their part, providing their input when choosing company colours, trucks, and the name of the company.
During the past year, demand for their services has seen their staff grow from just six individuals to about twenty employees.
"We're unique," said Kowalski, explaining DASKI's popularity. "We're proud of the fact that it wasn't an idea that was out there. The Aquadams have been out there. There are companies that rent pumps. There are companies that will come and put the Aquadam in for you. But we're the only company still that [is] certified to put in the Aquadam, to sell it, install it, remove it, and have the pumps and the knowledge to be able to take care of the [project] from start to finish."
A "one-stop-shopping" experience is provided, which is always valuable to energy companies.
DASKI began to shift into a new area about three years ago when pipeline construction in the region began to slow. Seeking new uses for their equipment at that time, they began to move into doing water transfers for hydraulic fracturing of horizontal shale gas wells.
Kowalski said this is "currently the bigger part of the operation."
DASKI pumps water from lakes, rivers and borrow pits to hydraulic fracturing sites via surface lines, existing pipelines, or underground infrastructure that has been built by the oil and gas companies.
"So," said Kowalski, "we're getting some of these pushes where we can push from a source and we can go fourteen [or] fifteen kilometres without a break in between - with no station in between. Just specialized equipment."
A few companies did not initially believe that it was possible to pump water such long distances without stations along the way, but DASKI has proven them wrong from the start. Every transfer does have its challenges, however. The temperature and the slope of the ground can differ from job to job and those types of variables must always be taken into account when planning a water transfer.
Kowalski believes that the demand for DASKI's water transfer services will remain strong.
"I don't see it slowing down."