Support businesses see growth, need laborers

  • By KAYLEE OSOWSKI
  • Sunday, February 16, 2014 3:49pm
  • News

Alongside the increased oil and gas exploration and production in the Cook Inlet, support companies on the Kenai Peninsula have been growing, creating a strong backbone for the industry to rely on.

Kenai Chapter President for the Alaska Support Industry Alliance Al Hull said he’s seen many new support businesses come into the area in the last year and expects that trend to continue as they’re an important part of the industry’s growth.

“Without the support of the support companies, it would be difficult for the oil companies to function,” Hull said. “It would be something that they would have to furnish on their own and not only would they have to have their own expertise, it’s a lot of cost to have all that.”

A healthy base of support businesses gives oil and gas companies the confidence to come into the area knowing they’re going to get the services they need, he said.

While Cruz Companies is not new to working in the inlet, it does have a new Nikiski branch. Dave Cruz, company president, started the company in 1981 and has offices in Palmer, Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay.

The company has been active for years on the west side of Cook Inlet, Cruz said, but opened the Nikiski branch last May.

“It was the right time, we felt, with the economic forecast to make a full-time investment and be part of the Kenai-based oilfield operations,” he said.

Cruz offers a variety of services from transportation of equipment from Nikiski to Beluga, Tyonek and Trading Bay via tug and barge to taxi crane services to oilfield truck operations.

Cruz said rig moving is one of the company’s specialties.

While Cruz has been operating the Nikiski offices for less than a year, the company is already looking for a “sizeable piece of property” for a permanent location between Kenai and Nikiski.

Cruz said the company employees about 25 people out of its peninsula branch and hopes to see that number grow.

“We see the Kenai growing with the oil and gas sector and more companies coming in, which in that sense then we’ll be able to provide more jobs. More demand, more jobs,” he said.

Six years ago Chevron signed a one-year contract with a Louisiana-based company called Tanks-A-Lot. The company, which specializes in deepwater cargo containers, has see substantial growth since it first came to Alaska for that contract, JoAnn Zeringue, Alaska sales manager, said.

“Our main focus is on cargo containers and environmental, (Department of Transportation)-certified containers to support the industry in their drilling and exploration,” she said.

Tanks-A-Lot offers a variety of containers for different uses from freight containers for tools, food and equipment to cutting boxes to hold drilling waste, she said.

The drilling mud boxes are then transported to the local environmental cleaning companies, Zeringue said.

The company operates on a rental-basis, but also builds specialized equipment for customers. Most of the equipment is built in Louisiana, she said.

While Tanks-A-Lot began working in the Cook Inlet with only one player, the company is now working with about 10 inlet producers. Zeringue said the company is looking at expanding its services to other regions in Alaska.

Locally born company Ace Dragon Coatings and Foam is experiencing more business lately as well and is expecting to double its employees in June. Ace Dragon, started by owner Winston Gillies in 2009, specializes in polyurea coatings.

“It protects the assets from rusting away,” Gillies said.

The company, which has its shop in Nikiski, also does spray insulating foams, sand blasting and spill containments.

Gillies started the company by himself and said the company currently employees eight people. He said the company has contracts in place with about six oil and gas companies, and has signed a multiyear contract with ConocoPhillips on the North Slope.

Along with maintaining a spotless safety record, Gillies said the biggest challenge his business faces is finding qualified employees. The company runs a three-year apprenticeship program, and Gillies prefers training employees from “square-one,” but he said there’s a limit to how many trainees Ace Dragon can have at a time.

“Growing as fast as we are we can’t depend on our new trainees to meet that demand,” he said.

Along with Gillies, Hull, Cruz and Zeringue all see that the Kenai Peninsula is lacking experienced labor in the industry.

“A lot of good labor has left the Kenai because we had such a downturn for many years,” Cruz said. “It’s a beautiful place to live.”

Hull said while there is some classroom training available for roustabouts and roughnecks, there are no hands-on programs to prepare potential employees for those jobs.

If the job isn’t done right, Hull said it can be dangerous, and that’s why hands-on training is necessary.

“Let’s say you needed open-heart surgery,” Hull said. “Would you pick the guy that’s actually done some open heart surgery or a guy that’s sat in a classroom and studied about it? I want the guy that has hands-on experience.”

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com.

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