THE MERGER this year between Code 3 Environmental Services and Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc prompted immediate joint operations when the Houston, Texas, companies responded to two hazardous materials spills.
Although the first joint operations were in Texas, one at a Port of Houston warehouse, and another at a warehouse in Natalia, the merger means that Code 3 will be expanding its service area worldwide. "With the new company alliance, our network became instantly global," says Timothy J O'Brien, Code 3 vice-president and an environmental chemist.
Code 3's success after only four years in business drew the attention of Boots & Coots, a worldwide emergency response company that specializes in oil field emergencies, including oil and gas well blowouts and well fires. Boots & Coots also provides non-critical well control services through its alliance with Halliburton Energy Services, says Larry H Ramming, Boots & Coots chairman.
The control, containment, and mitigation of hazardous materials that Code 3 is known for enhance Boots & Coots' plans to broaden its scope of traditional well control and related engineering services, says Ramming. The agreement also amplifies Code 3's ability for fast growth. That growth began on the company's first day in business in 1994 when it responded to a hazardous materials incident.
"The company remains a client of ours today," says O'Brien.
The first incident response was one of thousands over the next four years that enabled Code 3 to eventually reach $5 million in annual revenue. In addition to emergency response, Code 3 provides remedial services, environmental and safety consulting, training services, and engineering. Clients range from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses. Other clients are city, county, state, and federal governments. "We are equipped to provide all services throughout our divisions," says O'Brien.
Company History The company was founded in Harlingen, Texas, by Lee Thompson, who remains president. He holds a degree in occupational safety and health engineering from the University of Oklahoma. He built the company from three employees at a single office to 60 full-time and 40 part-time employees who work in Laredo, San Antonio, El Paso, Fort Worth, and Houston, Texas, and Denver, Colorado. After the agreement with Boots & Coots, corporate offices were moved to Houston.
"Lee saw the transportation activity at the Mexican border and realized there was a niche opportunity," says O'Brien. "At the time he opened the first office, the groundwork was being laid for NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). The next year he expanded to Laredo."
Now the emergency response division, available around the clock and able to mobilize in minutes, handles spills and environmental remediation. Company strike teams have responded to more than 12,000 hazardous materials incidents in the United States and Mexico.
"Collectively, we have well over 600 years of emergency response experience," O'Brien says. "Our operations are very regimented with one person in command to initiate immediate mobilization and coordinate activities at the site."
Code 3 responds to transportation incidents, chemical spills, and industrial fires and explosions that include particularly hazardous materials, such as chlorine, ethylene oxide, sulfuric acid, poisons, and toxic materials.
Immediate Control Emergency responses account for 90% of Code 3 business, says O'Brien. Types of incidents include inland and marine oil spills, industrial fire fighting, reactive and explosive disposal stabilization, and confined-space rescue.
Certified firefighters are part of the response team, which has extensive knowledge of occupational safety and health response regulations, environmental engineering, chemistry, spill methodologies, remedial technology, law enforcement, investigation, rescue, and paramedic operations.
The team demonstrated its ability again in March 1997 when Code 3 responded to a tank trailer leaking hydrochloric acid at a major Austin, Texas, manufacturing facility. The leak was plugged and more than 2,000 gallons of the product was transferred into another tank vessel. The spill area and parts of the facility were decontaminated.
Another incident occurred in February 1997, when the team mobilized to assess damage to an overturned LP-gas truck that had forced the closing of a busy highway intersection. Unlike the leaking hydrochloric acid in the previous example, this vessel had suffered little damage from the rollover. However, the crew feared further damage might occur during uprighting. To offset the danger, Code 3 located an empty tank, transferred the product, and arranged waste disposal. The company also rented a 20-ton crane to upright the damaged vehicle. After the vehicles were moved, Code 3 personnel cleaned the site.
Companies are aware that accidents, such as product spills, can occur, says O'Brien. Many are Code 3 clients with contracts already in place that require no initial investment. Others, however, call only when an emergency is at hand.
"They aren't prepared. It's much easier if we have a contract in place so that we know the company's employees and they know us," says O'Brien. "We can be familiar with their equipment and the products they carry so that when the call comes in, our strike team knows immediately what it is dealing with.
"Time is extremely important. Having a contract in place can save thousands of dollars, especially if the spill is contained and the area is cleaned before the hazardous material can seep into the ground or flow into waterways."
Code 3 San Antonio district manager, Don Holding, says, "The more information we can get with the initial call, the better we can handle the response. We can react faster and get the appropriate equipment to the site."
O'Brien predicts that government regulations will eventually require all shippers to have contracts with emergency response companies.
"Shippers should plan for when, not if they have an accident," says Esteban P (Steve) Alvarado, district manager in La Porte near Houston. "They not only should have a contractor, but should get to know him and build a level of trust before they have to call an emergency response team."
Sophisticated Loading To respond quicker and more efficiently, Code 3 crews learn tank specifications by studying publications from companies and manufacturers so that they recognize the equipment and its components and functions before they arrive at the emergency scene, says Alvarado.
To perform emergency response services, the company maintains a broad inventory of equipment, tools, vehicles, and monitoring devices. Diesel-powered Ford F350 trucks tow 40-ft trailers configured as incident command centers. They carry disposal drums, plastic sheeting rolls, absorbents, salvage drums, respirators and cartridges, soda ash, and various protective safety clothing.
Safety Clothing Workers dress according to the level of hazardous materials. Level A requires self-contained suits for toxic materials. Level B requires coveralls with impervious seams, full-face respirator with breathing air, hardhat, rubber boots, and rubber gloves.
Diaphragm and centrifugal pumps, air and gas compressors, and product-specific hoses are part of the transfer equipment inventory.
Patch tools and equipment include O-ring gasket kits, aqua seals, chlorine kits, gasket material, petroleum seals, and Teflon, neoprene, butyl, and rubber PVC tubing.
What equipment the company does not own, it leases from subcontractors as needed. "Even though we have a great deal of specialized equipment, no one kind of equipment works for everything," O'Brien says. "No two spills are alike."
Other Services The expertise of Code 3 extends beyond emergency response to other services, including remedial construction. Facility decontamination, media sampling, and analysis of environmental data are used for pertinent designs and actions at sites where hazardous materials have penetrated.
In a two-month project, Code 3 investigated and remediated a site where 400 pounds of nitro-based dynamite were buried. The dynamite was 500 feet from a multi-million-dollar ranch home and within one-fourth mile of a crude oil pipeline containing hydrogen sulfide.
Using ground-penetrating radar to locate the explosive, Code 3 crews developed a remedial action plan and excavated the dynamite for later detonation.
Although Code 3 emphasizes emergency response and remediation, many incidents could be avoided or ameliorated by training, says O'Brien. The company offers training to companies for support of environmental management programs and to help them meet regulatory requirements.
Field-experienced instructors provide trainees with information, technology, and hands-on experience at either the client's facility or at Code 3 offices.
Emergency Instruction Instructors teach how to respond to different emergencies, plan and organize operations, and train technicians, and specialists. Other subjects are incident command, forklift operator certification, oil spill response, confined-space entry and rescue, toxicology, field sampling methodology, air monitoring, and related information.
Code 3 provides environmental and occupational safety and health services to private and public institutions. "We assist clients with the difficult task of complying with the numerous regulations in place today," says O'Brien.
The company's engineering service section evaluates environmental and hydrogeological sites by preparing closure plans and cost estimates for solid waste management units. It conducts geotechnical investigations for industrial facilities and designs remedial action plans for industry and government.
Code 3 is certified by several hazardous materials agencies, including Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), Texas Department of Health Asbestos Consultant Agency, Coast Guard, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). TNRCC Contract
A TNRCC contract recently was awarded to the company to cover five Texas regions. The company will respond to cases where the environment is threatened.
At the border with Mexico, Code 3 works with Customs Service and the EPA. The inception of NAFTA and the subsequent increased hazardous materials traffic called for a compliance study of vehicles entering the US across the Texas-Mexico border. Code 3 was commissioned to conduct the survey.
The results indicate that a high percentage of transportation companies in the US and Mexico fail to meet compliance in several areas, including carrying proper shipping papers, hazardous materials placards, and drivers licenses for hazardous materials hauling, says Alvarado.