OIL & WATER: Burnaby company in the business of disaster response

Workers at Versatech weld strips of PVC to create oil booms that are deployed to contain spills around the world. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Workers at Versatech weld strips of PVC to create oil booms that are deployed to contain spills around the world.

When Saeed Javadi's phone rings, he knows there's likely bad news somewhere in the world.

Two years ago, his phone as well as all the incoming lines at his south Burnaby factory were ringing off the hook as clean-up crews tried to get as much oil containment and recovery equipment they could muster to deal with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Javadi's company, Versatech Products Inc. manufactures oil booms, the floating orange PVC plastic and polyester structures that are snaked around spills to confine them and allow skimmers to clean them up. For the months-long effort to contain the oil gushing from the blown-out drilling rig, Versatch produced about 60 km of booms that were loaded onto trucks and transported to the Gulf as soon as they slid off the long assembly tables of their Burnaby plant.

"We had phone calls before we even knew what was happening," said Javadi, who brought in extra shifts of workers for four months to meet the emergency. "We've never done anything as big as that before."

He's confident he'll never have to initiate such an effort should an oil disaster occur closer to home, like the Burrard Inlet or the B.C. coast. That's partly because a tanker contains a finite supply of oil and an overland pipeline can be shut off in case of trouble. It's also because of lessons learned from that Gulf disaster that polluted hundreds of kilometres of shoreline and closed valuable fishing beds for months.

"When a disaster happens, it puts it on everybody's radar," says Javadi, who speaks from experience. His company was founded in 1968 and produced booms for the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989 and supplied crews responding to the 2007 Kinder Morgan pipeline break in North Burnaby. "There's more awareness and companies are being more proactive."

Companies that move oil or clean it up are keeping more equipment on hand, rather than waiting for an emergency, explains Javadi. For instance, ships that ferry supplies to offshore rigs are now equipped with booms so they can be enlisted immediately in case of trouble.

But, if past experience holds true, that attention will fade in seven to 10 years, says Javadi. Until the next disaster snaps everyone from their complacency.



A Black Press series exploring the logistics, risks and politics of Kinder Morgan's proposed oil pipeline expansion.


How safe are oil tankers travelling southern B.C. waters?

Notable accidents involving oil

Boaters concerned about more oil tanker traffic coming to Burrard Inlet

Airlines pursue Richmond pipeline to satisfy growth


What happens if there’s an oil spill in B.C.?

‘People of the Inlet’ oppose Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion


Is B.C. destined to be Alberta's oil superport?

Burnaby company in the business of disaster response

Series team members on Twitter: Jeff Nagel, Wanda Chow, Todd Coyne, Sean Kolenko, Matt Hoekstra, Mario Bartel, Tom Fletcher & Chris Bryan


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