Clearing for Canada’s Energy Future

by | Apr 25, 2024 | 2024, Harvesting, Logging & Sawmilling Journal, March/April 2024, Steep Slope

It’s not often that a company has the opportunity to be involved with one of the largest construction projects in Canadian history—and for Jim Dent Construction (DENT), that opportunity has meant the last several years have been extremely busy, with the B.C.-based company being a key clearing contractor on the $31 billion Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project.

The Trans Mountain expansion project is seen as a critical piece of energy infrastructure for Canada, nearly tripling the capacity of the existing pipeline to 890,000 barrels per day. The 1,150-kilometre pipeline runs from Strathcona County (near Edmonton) to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C.

Through the expanded pipeline, oil and refined products shipped on the line will be able to access growing markets in Asia—and DENT was part of making that happen.

DENT has a long and rich history in B.C. construction—in fact, the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024. It actually started out in Hope, B.C., an hour east of Vancouver, doing framing and building houses. It gradually moved into the heavy/civil construction side of the business, where its focus lies today, including in the oil and gas sector. From pipeline clearing and facility preparation, to blasting, survey, concrete works, heavy civil and road construction, DENT has honed its skills to be a strong ally to the oil and gas sector.

And it has one heck of a lot of iron to do that work—it has over 1,000 pieces of equipment.

In addition to being involved with the Trans Mountain Pipeline project, the company has also worked on other mega projects in B.C., from the Site C Dam project in northeastern B.C. to the LNG terminal project in Kitimat, which, at $40 billion, is said to be the largest private investment in Canadian history.

“It seems like we’ve been involved in just about all of the major projects in B.C. over the last few years,” says DENT Chief Operating Officer Jared Neumann.

And these projects come with a full set of challenges.

“Each of the projects is demanding, with intense environmental permitting,” Neumann notes, and there is always a great sense of pride in successfully completing a project.

There is still a strong family involvement to the business, with the third generation of the Dent Family now working for the outfit. Sandy Dent, the son of Jim Dent, the founder of the company, is now president of the company, and he has two sons, Clayton and Calvin, who are also involved in the business, Clayton on the engineering side and Calvin as a carpenter apprentice.

Although the company has literally hundreds of pieces of its own heavy equipment, Neumann noted they mostly rely on local logging contractors for work such as felling trees, both manual and with feller bunchers, and processing, in doing the clearing work, and building road access for projects such as the Trans Canada expansion. It’s a formula that works, he says.

“We always have and continue to subcontract out the bunching and processing,” he explains. “Usually, there are contractors or owner operators where we are operating, and we’ve also partnered up with First Nations groups.” (see the sidebar story on the company’s relationship with First Nations groups).

That business model works best for the company, he says. “We find that is a proven method. It works much better than if we were doing the logging—there is not the continuity of work or margins there to merit us investing in specific logging equipment.”

Equipment utilization is key for DENT, Neumann says.

“If we had our own logging equipment, it might be busy for a while, doing the clearing in an area, but then it might be sitting around, waiting for the next clearing project.”

They’d also be moving the logging equipment a lot from location to location, especially with a job as big as the Trans Mountain expansion.

For the logging contractors DENT works with, they are already operating in a specific area, and have the equipment—the clearing work is kind of a bonus to the regular logging they are doing.

With the variety of projects the company has had on the go, they often find they are working with logging contractors they have worked with before, which is helpful.

“We try to do that as much as possible,” says Neumann. “Whether it is logging and clearing for a pipeline or oil and gas or a mining project, there is a learning curve there with safety, regulations and supporting paperwork.”

In addition to the Trans Mountain expansion, DENT was involved with clearing work for the $14.5 billion Coastal Gas Link project, from Dawson Creek, B.C. to the new LNG terminal being built on the B.C. Coast, in Kitimat.

In effect, it’s helpful to work with people who are already familiar with what is required. For example, they have worked extensively with Sibola Mountain Falling, of Prince George. B.C.

In addition to the Trans Mountain expansion, DENT was involved with clearing work for the $14.5 billion Coastal Gas Link project, from Dawson Creek, B.C. to the new LNG terminal being built on the B.C. Coast, in Kitimat.

“That was another big job,” says Neumann. “As well as the pipeline work, we also cleared the site for the LNG terminal itself.”

And they worked with the Haisla First Nation Forestry Company, Haisla Northpac, performing right of way clearing and preparation activities in the Kitimat region of the project.

Clearing work included logging, processing, hauling of timber, and additional road building for the pipeline. The work was delivered in some of the most rugged terrain in northwestern B.C., without a safety incident. Due to the remote location and constrained access, helicopters were used to support clearing in some areas.

DENT brings a lot of expertise and experience to projects, says Neumann.

“We have the management team, the systems and processes in place that the project owners can have confidence in,” he says. It’s different than working in any other sector, he notes, and you need to be on top of your game, meet all the necessary regulations, and be able to execute.

The work the company takes on is not for the faint-of-heart—much of it is in steep B.C. ground. You could easily say that working in steep ground is in DENT’s DNA—and it delivers.

“Our organization has earned a reputation for collaboration providing solutions for complex projects in the most challenging conditions,” says Neumann.

On the Trans Mountain project DENT also completed highway alignment, archaeological soil sifting, traffic control, and support work for the tunnel projects. DENT also performed access development and upgrades of roads to allow for the pipeline installation on Coastal Gas Link. Working under strict environmental regulations, crews upgraded the existing road system, built new access roads as required, and installed numerous bridges.

DENT started work on Trans Mountain in 2020 and wrapped up most of the clearing and access work in 2023.

While the majority of the logging work is done by contractors, the company initially picked up five Hitachi 370 Forester roadbuilders to assist in the clearing and road access side of projects. They have since added four Cat 558 roadbuilders and one 548 machine.

“We can use them as kind of Swiss Army knives, adding grapples and other attachments,” says Neumann. They also have two John Deere forestry pieces, a 2154 and a 3154, and a purpose-built Cat 558 log loader.

“We’re not just a Hitachi or Cat company,” noted Neumann. “With the shortage of equipment the last few years, it’s really been a matter of getting whatever equipment you can get your hands on, at times.”

To help deal with the equipment situation, they have rebuilt their Hitachi equipment.

“COVID changed a lot for us,” Neumann explained. They put a lot of work into rebuilding heavy equipment that they normally would have not rebuilt, due to the delays in getting new equipment and the tight used equipment market—but the approach has worked out well.

In terms of doing equipment rebuilds, there are not necessarily hard and fast rules about when rebuilds are done. Factors would include what is going on in the equipment market, and what jobs they have ahead of them. “We don’t really have a set rule where we do a rebuild after X number of hours.”

Managing an equipment fleet the size that DENT has is a huge task in itself. “We have a group of heavy duty mechanics and an equipment manager that just looks after our fleet of equipment,” notes Neumann.

Their head office is in Hope, about 150 kilometres east of Vancouver. Home base for equipment is a 20-acre former Interfor dryland sort in Hope, with a large four-bay shop, office, and warehouse. A lot of equipment from all over B.C. will be headed back there for a winter freshen-up, and any rebuilds. “Winter is the time of year when the company slows down a bit, and the mechanics get busy,” says Neumann.

As mentioned, the town of Hope is where the company started, and it continues to be a central location for reaching all areas of the province, with the community being at the centre of a number of major highways.

Several years back, when B.C. was hit hard by flooding, DENT was one of the “go-to” companies for doing everything from first response repairs, to dike, road and bridge repairs, much of it in the southern interior of the province.

DENT has also been involved in a number of run-of-river projects for independent power companies selling power back to BC Hydro, and the power company is their longest-term client.

There may be further run-of-river projects in DENT’s future, with BC Hydro having issued a power call, along with possible work on mining projects in B.C.’s “Golden Triangle”. Located in the northwest part of the province, the Golden Triangle is so named because it hosts some of the richest gold ore bodies in the world, as well as abundant silver, nickel and copper deposits.

A challenge DENT has had with its completed projects, and going forward, will be getting skilled labour, says Neumann. “That’s been our biggest challenge—I think that has been the case in B.C. for the last couple of years.”

The company does its best to offer consistent, year-round work. It has also made some acquisitions, such as purchasing Speers Construction, of Revelstoke, B.C. DENT was able to help Speers with its equipment resourcing—and it also got access to additional staff, both on the trades and management side.

DENT COO Neumann joined the company seven years ago, when they took ownership in a company, Westpark Electric, which has done power line construction for many of the power projects DENT built.

While there may be challenges ahead, the company is still looking forward to what’s to come—and starting the next 50 years as a business.

“We’re excited to see what the next decade is going to bring,” says Neumann.

 

DENT takes pride in First Nations partnerships

Jim Dent Construction (DENT) takes pride in the relationships they have with First Nations groups.

“We have 12 partnerships throughout B.C. and the Yukon,” says DENT Chief Operating Officer Jared Neumann. “We take pride that we are a long term partner with First Nations groups—it’s not just a one-off.” That was a good fit with the work the company did on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Trans Mountain worked to identify aboriginal, regional and local capacity, and had the objective of maximizing economic opportunities that came from the project. The company created an Aboriginal Procurement Policy, Training Policy for Aboriginal Peoples and Aboriginal Employment Policy and worked in partnership with aboriginal communities and construction contractors, such as DENT, to achieve those commitments. For more than 40 years, DENT has actively engaged with Indigenous groups resulting in a history of Indigenous collaboration, partnership, and inclusion. DENT says it is committed to respectful engagement with Indigenous communities when working within traditional territories, and endeavours to build long-term impactful relationships.

Trans Mountain expansion will help Canada get more bang per barrel

The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline—and the work that Jim Dent Construction (DENT) and other contractors did—will help Canada get full value for its oil.

While some oil was already being transported to the west coast previously, most of the oil from Alberta was heading south, to U.S. markets.

Currently, nearly all the oil produced in Western Canada goes to the U.S. Midwest. However, there’s a limit to how much oil this market needs. For much of the last decade, Canada has been selling into the United States at a discount to the world price for similar oil products.

Canada’s oil will fetch a better price now that there is the option of shipping more of it via Trans Mountain’s Pacific tidewater terminal on the B.C. coast. Canada will now earn more on every barrel of oil that’s piped west, compared to those sold to existing customers in the U.S. Midwest market. The end result: more oil revenue for Canadian producers, and more oil royalties for governments.

And with oil sands production expanding in Alberta in the years ahead, new markets and new opportunities are emerging. As countries in the Asia Pacific region continue to grow, they need to secure sources of energy. Canada is a natural trading partner for these countries, and with an expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline system, Canada is now in a position to provide for their growing needs.

The original Trans Mountain pipeline was built in 1953 and continues to operate safely today. The expansion is essentially a twinning of this existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline between Strathcona County (near Edmonton), Alberta and Burnaby, B.C. It will create a pipeline system with the capacity of the system going from approximately 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day.

Some quick facts about the expansion:

  • It will be approximately 980 kilometres of new pipeline
  • 73 percent of the route will use the existing right-of-way, 16 percent will follow other linear infrastructure such as telecommunications, Hydro or highways and 11 percent will be new right-of-way
  • It will include 193 kilometres of reactivated pipeline
  • 12 new pump stations will be built
  • 19 new tanks will be added to the existing storage terminals, in Burnaby (14), Sumas (1) and Edmonton (4)

 

DENT manages logging debris trap with First Nations partner

Related to the forest industry, Jim Dent Construction (DENT) also manages the Fraser River Debris Trap, working with a local First Nations Group, Shxw’¯owhámél First Nation.

Working with the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, the joint venture is responsible for the set of floating booms near Agassiz, in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, that captures thousands of logs during spring runoff and preventing blockages and damage further down the river.

The booms were established in 1979 as a joint venture between the federal and provincial governments, and the coastal logging industry. The ministry took over in 2011.

As much as 100,000 cubic metres of woody debris—about 2,000 logging truck loads—is intercepted annually, mostly during the high-water period of the spring runoff and during periods of excessive rainfall.

The joint venture had its hands full dealing with debris after the atmospheric river events of November 2021. Items captured in addition to woody debris included recreational vehicles and large portions of residential sundecks. This was in additional to thousands of cubic metres of silt that had to be dredged, to keep
the trap operational.

Paul MacDonald

Author

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