By Tony Kryzanowski
Alberta’s Barmac Contracting is a rare bird in the resource sector: a business that has succeeded in offering its services to both the forestry and the oil and gas industries at the same time. Usually, it is one or the other because of how differently each business operates.
Today, company owners Bart MacLean and Norma Block feel “extremely lucky” that they secured a logging contract with Weyerhaeuser in Drayton Valley three years ago. “But not just because of the decline in activity in the oilfield,” says Block.
“It has made our company stretch to new growth in operator training, the safety program, and company vision,” she adds.
Barmac Contracting has a stump-to-dump contract with Weyerhaeuser and last season delivered 210,000 cubic metres of both hardwood and softwood. They will also use part of their logging fleet and some of their operators to harvest and transport wood fibre from oilfield leases, access roads and pipeline leases.
The owners have a keen understanding of the pros and cons of logging in each industry.
“The profit margins are not as high with a forest company—but the trade off is having a more predictable work schedule,” says Block. “The oilfield offers higher profit margins, but the majority of the work is ‘fly by the seat of your pants’.
“A consultant may be able to tell you that you’ll have about three months’ worth of work coming up, but the call to start the work generally comes the day before it is to begin,” she explained.
Established in 1999, Barmac Contracting started with Bart MacLean operating a John Deere 850 dozer, working as a sub-contractor in the Pembina Oilfield within a 100 kilometer radius of Drayton Valley. It grew to a multi-million dollar oilfield services and logging company in Alberta with 60 pieces of equipment and 40 employees in just over a decade. The owners owe a great debt of gratitude to the oilpatch. That’s despite the severe impact the current downturn in the industry has had on the company’s bottom line. Block says it has reduced their revenue and size by 60 per cent.
While Barmac Contracting has experienced a great deal of success providing oilfield services in the booming Pembina Oilfield, what spurred the company into logging for forestry three years ago was an evolving trend within the oilpatch.
The division between oilfield and logging companies was very evident five years ago, but Block says that their oil company clients began to look for complete service suppliers—essentially companies that could do both the logging and site prep on oilfield roads, leases and pipeline projects. Prior to that time, Barmac Contracting found it easier to simply contract out the logging in its oilfield work. However, having a third party do the work raised some liability issues for their clients.
“Today, you are seeing more and more oilfield service companies that have at least one set of logging equipment and the operators,” says Block. “To us, it was a natural progression. Bart had worked for several years in the forest industry in British Columbia, so he understood the difference between oilfield logging and cutblock logging.”
Once Barmac Contracting secured a stump-to-dump contract with Weyerhaeuser, it made a significant investment in a dedicated logging fleet. The company purchased two new sets of logging equipment.
Along the way, they have always built strong supplier relationships. “Businesses do not grow on their own,” says Block. “Business owners may be intelligent and skilled risk takers, but they don’t run a company by themselves. We have built excellent relationships with many of our suppliers. Brandt Tractor, for one, has been a great partner with us from the beginning. As a result, over 90 per cent of our fleet is John Deere.”
Initially, they sub-contacted out their log haul. Today, they own and operate five trucks and employ about 15 additional third party trucks.
They have also hired dedicated supervisors for both their logging and log haul operations, and have re-assigned a third supervisor to the role of “General Supervisor”, overseeing all Barmac Contracting operations. That is Shane Sanderman.
Taking on a logging contract still required a bit of a learning curve, however, to understand the different terminology that each industry used—particularly, for example, in areas such as each industry’s safety programs and also in its road building practices. Oilfield roads tend to be built for longer term use, so more time is spent building them to a higher standard. Conversely, forestry roads tend to be reclaimed earlier, so they are built to fulfill their function over a shorter lifespan.
Sanderman, who has worked primarily in oilfield contracting, says one different aspect to cutblock logging versus oil lease logging is how the wood is processed.
“The biggest change now is cut-to-length logs,” says Sanderman. “A lot of the oilfield logging used to be tree length, so a lot less work.” Now the company processes all its wood to cut-to-length. He has not noticed a lot of changes in terms of respecting boundaries and creek crossings. Work space can definitely be different, as an access road is often restricted to between 10 and 15 metres.
Today, given the downturn in the oilpatch, it is all about forest industry logging at Barmac Contracting, with about half as many staff on the payroll. MacLean and Block are both just glad to have the business opportunity in logging, but it isn’t only about being lucky. Based upon how they run their business, they understand the value of a good reputation. They have worked very hard to keep their reputation intact with all their clients, suppliers and employees.
That starts with a general pursuit of excellence in all they do, including a top drawer safety program for both forestry and oilfield employees. In fact, their safety co-ordinator, Darren Pinkoski, teamed up with another logging contractor, Roper Ventures, and Weyerhaeuser to develop a log truck safety program that is National Safety Code-compliant. Weyerhaeuser has seen great value in it.
“What we did in conjunction with Weyerhaeuser was to help contractors and sub-contract haulers develop a safety program that meets all regulatory requirements,” says Pinkoski.
Barmac Contracting also screens its employees very carefully.
“We have a strict new hire program where operators are viewed by senior managers or operators to gauge how well they run equipment and understand the jobsites,” says Block. “Pre-job orientations and site orientations are also mandatory. The other main component we look for is a good attitude.”
The company logs primarily west of Drayton Valley, with their blocks typically in the 60 per cent lodgepole pine range, the rest being about 20 per cent spruce and 20 per cent hardwood poplar, with an average diameter of between 12” and 14”. According to logging supervisor Neil Rose, they are a key player in helping Weyerhaeuser implement its mountain pine beetle control and abatement strategy. All companies in Alberta have agreed to prioritize lodgepole pine stands that are either showing beetle infestation, in the vicinity of a nearby beetle infestation, or of an age class that the beetle would likely attack.
He says the terrain they work in is rolling but not a steep slope environment. They work hard to minimize their environmental footprint, especially as it relates to access road locations.
“If I can move my road 100 metres either way to avoid any creek contamination or crossings, by all means, I do it,” says Rose.
Their fleet is carefully designed to work well in both forestry and oilfield applications. Among the biggest concerns with oilfield logging is the confined space where equipment must often work. The fleet starts with two John Deere 953K feller bunchers and two John Deere 753K zero tail swing feller bunchers.
“The John Deere 753 bunchers are designed more for tight spots and pipelines,” says Rose. “The tracks actually stick out more than the tail on the cab. They are more for oilfield work, but they are also good spares for me.”
They have two John Deere 748H skidders and one John Deere 648H skidder, again with the smaller skidder primarily dedicated for oilfield logging. Their processors consist of three John Deere 2154D carriers. Two have Waratah 622B processing heads, and one has a Waratah 623 processing head to handle the larger and heavier hardwood logs.
They have sub-contracted some of their processing to a contractor using a Komatsu carrier with a Southstar, 360 degree rotation, processing head.
“On average, the processors will do about 400 cubic metres each per day, so that determines how many processors you need,” says Rose.
Finally, they have two John Deere 2454D log loaders equipped with IMAC clam attachments that work exclusively with the forestry division. Barmac Contracting has a self-loading log truck that works well with the oilfield logging fleet to load and deliver what tends to be smaller volumes of logs from oilfield locations.
Rose says when they assign a piece of equipment from one division to the other, the operator typically travels with it.
“That’s a huge advantage,” says Rose. “He knows the machine inside out, its sounds, and its capabilities in order to work safely.” Rose added, however, that he is a strong believer in operator versatility, so that operators can work on a variety of machines, as needed.
When they shop for equipment, operator comfort is an important consideration. Barmac Contracting believes that operator comfort as well as their input on a purchase has a direct impact on production. Having a predominant brand also results in needing fewer parts in their inventory and contributes to good familiarity with the equipment from one model to the next.
While still well-equipped to service the oilpatch, Block says Barmac Contracting would definitely consider taking on more forest contracting work and even extend their work locations to include B.C. and Saskatchewan.
On the Cover:
Everything is in place for the largest live logging equipment show in North America this year—DEMO 2016, to be held at the UBC Research Forest near Vancouver from September 22-24—and the package is impressive. Read all about DEMO beginning on page 38 of this issue.
IS MEXICO RIPE FOR THE PICKING—for Canadian softwood lumber producers?
It was smiles all around at the recent “Three Amigos” Summit in Ottawa, hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with guests President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. But the summit has now got some in the industry wondering how they can expand lumber exports to Mexico.
Logging safety net
A decision by Alberta’s Barmac Contracting to diversify, and be involved in logging, is now paying off and proving to be a solid safety net, with the dramatic drop in activity in the oilpatch.
Ramping it up
Fraser Valley contractor D. Lind Logging has ramped up its equipment line-up considerably in recent years and the family operation is now a full-on stump-to-dump contractor, and able to take on more volume.
Getting back into logging
Having built a successful gravel business, B.C.’s Lincoln Douglas decided to re-enter logging six years ago, doing work in southwestern B.C., and is now looking to get into the value-added sector with a small sawmilling operation.
LSJ Show Guide --DEMO 2016
Full details on the largest logging equipment show this year: DEMO 2016, being held in Maple Ridge, B.C., including a list of exhibitors, schedule of events, site map.
Technology in the woods
With everything from IPads to drones and custom Apps, technology is hitting the woods, and it’s making pretty much everything more efficient—and safer, too.
SOLID SAFETY commitment
West Fraser Timber has a from the top down commitment to safety, which is reflected in the solid safety strategies employed at one of its operations in the B.C. Interior, its Pacific Inland Resources division.
Steep slope logging, European-style
Ponsse dealer ALPA Equipment recently demo’ed some European steep slope logging equipment to two of New Brunswick’s largest forestry operators, to help meet the growing interest in what’s available in steep slope logging technology.
Scaling back log scaling costs
Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Surrey, B.C. now has the first government certified legal-for-trade log scanner in North America, and it’s reducing scaling costs while providing more accurate log measurements.
Future forests resilient to climate change?
A forestry trial in the B.C. Interior could very well provide some clues into what future forests could look like, in the wake of the mountain pine beetle—and those forests could have increased resilience to climate change.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions and FPInnovations.