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Environmental profile: VRCA.

Riding the boom in environmental services, VRCA has grown into one of the giants of the industry.

Mother always said if she had a nickel for every time she cleaned up after her kids, she would be a wealthy woman. Well, Mom had a pretty good idea.

Taken on a national scale, oil spill response and hazardous waste cleanup companies are making profits that would make any mother proud. And these companies are not only cleaning up after industry -- they are teaching industry how to avoid making messes in the first place.

VRCA (originally Versatile Response Co. of Alaska) Environmental, based in Anchorage, is one of the largest environmental services companies in Alaska. VRCA recently gained attention when it won three major spill response contracts: the Alaska Clean Seas contract; the 17th District Coast Guard contract; and the CISPRI (Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response Inc.) contract.

Only Martech USA outdistances VRCA in revenues. "Martech is rated No. 1, but their revenues are based on worldwide operations, and they do a lot of underwater construction. We believe their environmental revenues in Alaska are less than ours," says VRCA president Rex Lumpkin. "We like to think we're No. 1."

The environmental business is booming, Lumpkin adds. "This is one of the most promising industries in Alaska and nationwide at this time," he says. "There have been so many environmental mistakes made in the past that now we realize we have to go back and clean up. That includes everything from mom and pop dumping waste oil in the backyard to massive waste dumps."

The need for such companies is reflected in state and federal environmental regulations that seem to change on a daily basis. VRCA devotes one full-time staff position mostly to keeping track of environmental regulations.

The company started out five years ago in the $2 million to $3 million category and has grown to between $15 million and $18 million in gross annual revenues, Lumpkin says.

VRCA also draws clout from its parent, Natchiq, a Native-owned subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. (ASRC), one of the largest companies in Alaska. ASRC purchased the company, formerly known as ESL Oilfield Services, in 1988.

Today, VRCA has about 120 employees and a fleet of vans stocked with oil spill response equipment at each of its branch offices in Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay, Kenai, Kodiak, Anchorage and Valdez. Officials say the equipment and branch offices are strategically located to allow rapid deployment to spill sites. Their claim is to have personnel on-site anywhere in the state in less than a day.

The company also has eight 140-foot by 40-foot self-propelled flexifloat barges, two at Prudhoe, four at Cook Inlet and two in Valdez. The barges are made up of individual small sections pinned together and may be quickly broken down and shipped worldwide.

The company also boasts a fleet of 16 "Super Sucker" industrial high-volume vacuum trucks. The trucks, famous during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, have become standard equipment at most clean-up sites throughout Alaska. VRCA engineers have modified the pump trucks to lift wastes 90 feet vertically.

Much of the company's equipment was used during the Exxon Valdez cleanup, including its barges and Super Sucker trucks. VRCA employed about 400 people under their contract, which totaled about $26 million, according to company figures.

The largest job to date under the Coast Guard contract was finished in December. The $3.5 million task involved cleaning 14 50,000-gallon underground fuel storage tanks. Cleaning the underground tanks yielded 400,000 gallons of hazardous liquids, which were secured and shipped to a disposal facility in Seattle. The shipment was one of the largest bulk barge loads of its kind to ever leave Alaska, Lumpkin says.

The company also was awarded a Coast Guard contract to clean the abandoned M/V LaPoncena and salvage and clean the M/V Incentive to prevent contamination of Kodiak harbor. The vessels contained about 46,000 gallons of contaminated bilge water. But with a process called "electrocoagulation," VRCA workers reduced the amount of waste to a manageable 600 gallons of sludge.

"That was about 75 percent cheaper than disposing of it otherwise," Lumpkin says. "Normally, we would have had to ship it all out of the state to dispose of it at around $4 a gallon. With the electrocoagulation process, we did it for under $2 a gallon."

VRCA works closely with its sister corporation, Entech. Engineers at Entech research more efficient means of reducing domestic and industrial waste loads through incineration. The latest research in the area focuses on establishing an incinerator in Anchorage, Lumpkin says. A test model, began operating in January.

Only a few companies in Alaska, including VRCA, are working with bioremediation, Lumpkin says. The company's first bioremediation project took place at Anaktuvuk Pass. A fuel spill under the school and a generator building required removal of large amounts of soil contaminated with diesel fuel.

"We were faced with three choices. We could ship it out and incinerate it, wash it, or we could bioremediate on-site," Lumpkin says. "We chose bioremediation as the least expensive solution."

In bioremediation the contaminated soils are basically inoculated with a bacteria or "bug." The bug feeds on hydrocarbons. As long as there are hydrocarbons, bugs continue to work. "The bugs will degrade hydrocarbon until they are virtually gone," Lumpkin explains.

At Anaktuvuk, the soils were placed into a double-lined pit, then blended with water and a little fertilizer. The bacteria was then introduced. The job was completed in less than a year.

"The latest research with electrocoagulation and incineration is all part of waste minimization," Lumpkin says. "It is a program to find out what can be reduced here without shipping it to the Lower 48. We hope through programs such as these to eventually reduce the volume of what we ship for clients by 70 to 80 percent."

The company always will work toward what Lumpkin called the real answer to the country's waste problems: To learn more about disposal of wastes, and "to dispose of them safely and permanently."
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Title Annotation:VRCA Environmental Services Inc.
Author:Bostian, Kelley
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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