ALPHA Technical Services (ATS) has to be one of the most diversified and specialized operations in the Quala portfolio. It also is one of the largest in physical size.
Acquired by Quala in mid-2017, ATS occupies a roughly 30-acre site in Pasadena, Texas. The facility cleans a wide variety of transport equipment, including tank trailers, ISO tank containers, rail tankcars, rolloff and vacuum boxes, and frac tanks. Most importantly, the ATS facility is the only one in the Quala network that cleans high-hazard products such as cyanides.
“Over the years, ATS added a broad range of services to meet customer demand,” says Steve Martin, ATS vice-president of sales and marketing. “We’ve become sort of a supercenter with a wide range of services for a diverse variety of bulk transport equipment. Although tank cleaning is a big part of what we do here, we have a lot more to offer. Services for tankcars include general maintenance and some wreck repair, lining testing and repairs, HM216 tankcar qualification, safety valve and air brake testing, and heating coil testing. We offer transloading between tankcar, tank trailers, ISO tank containers, and intermediate bulk containers.”
Terry O’Brien, Quala president, adds that the ATS operation was a perfect acquisition for North America’s leading industrial tank cleaning specialist. “ATS offers us huge opportunities to expand Quala’s railcar service model and specialty cleaning. It makes us more diversified in serving the petrochemical industry.
“There is growing demand in the Houston (Texas) area for the wide range of cleaning services offered by ATS. Equipment used for high-hazard products is being sent from all over the country to be cleaned here. Since acquiring the operation last year, we’ve already increased the general tank trailer cleaning capacity, with more still to come.”
Handling difficult projects is what ATS has been doing since it was founded in 2001 by Mike Howerton as an environmental services and tank cleaning company. Early on the company earned recognition for its ability to handle challenging clean-up and remediation projects at a number of federal government facilities and industrial Superfund sites.
In 2003, ATS was named New Contractor of the Year by the Defense Logistics Agency for the clean-up work on Guam and wastewater disposal at a chemical weapons site in Utah. ATS also gained a solid reputation for storage tank cleaning services provided to chemical companies in the Houston area.
Government services were discontinued in 2017, and the storage tank cleaning services were transferred to Pioneer Waste Services, a Quala subsidiary.
2003 was also the year that ATS began cleaning ISO tank containers and tankcars at the Bayport Chemical Complex in Pasadena. By 2004, the facility had been expanded to include a 17,000-sq-ft building housing rail and container bays, a 50-ft air-assisted flare, multiple scrubber systems, a carbon adsorption unit, and a wastewater treatment system. Capabilities included 15 railspots for cleaning, repair, or transloading as well as six spots for cleaning tank trailers, ISO tank containers, roll-off boxes, and frac tanks.
ATS was permitted to clean and manage over 1,500 chemicals at the expanded facility and was specializing in difficult-to-clean materials such as those that are toxic inhalation hazards, reactive, hazardous wastes, or halogenated chemicals.
In 2015, ATS acquired 5.9 acres of land adjacent to its Pasadena Specialty Cleaning Facility and negotiated a long-term lease for an additional six acres of land, 25,000 square feet of warehouse space, and a 30,000-sq-ft facility in order to launch a new business line—ATS Express Services.
The new additions brought the total ATS Pasadena footprint to approximately 28 acres, enabling them to build a state-of-the-art tank wash to service the high-volume, commodity cleaning market. ATS also bought a wastewater pipeline connected to the Gulf Coast Authority wastewater treatment plant, which handles all of the wash rack wastewater.
Express Rail was launched in November 2015 as the first new business line for ATS Express Services utilizing the new facilities acquired earlier that year. A new “Express” track allowed ATS to perform commodity and general purpose tankcar cleaning, as well as hopper cleaning and light repairs, in much larger volumes than was possible in the ATS Specialty Cleaning Facility.
The Express track added 15 operating spots to the company’s rail service capabilities. In all, the facility controls about 80 carspots. In total, the Bayport terminal has room for about 800 railcars.
Construction of the ATS Express container cleaning facility was completed in March 2016, enabling the company to store and clean over a thousand tank trailers, ISO tank containers, frac tanks, and roll-off boxes per month. The facility added approximately 30 new jobs to the Pasadena area in its first year of operation.
Best in class
According to Martin, the addition of the new facility leveraged ATS’ best-in-class work process, safety and compliance systems to help consolidate and better serve the largely fragmented frac tank and roll-off box washing business while adding a new high-profile player to the Gulf Coast region for tank trailer and ISO tank container cleaning.
In May 2016, ATS concluded a successful certification audit for the International Cyanide Management Council (ICMC), a critical achievement in light of the operation’s focus on cleaning high-hazard products. The audit targeted areas such as security, training, emergency response and operational management, and ATS passed with no deficiencies, according to Martin. As an ICMC- certified company, ATS can legally manage cyanide-containing products as part of the approved supply chain.
More changes and growth have come with the transition to the Quala system. Express Services now operates under the Quala brand, while high-hazard cleaning and rail tankcar activities are still under the ATS Specialty Cleaning Facility umbrella.
More bays are being added to the facility, along with more sophisticated tank cleaning systems. “We’ll have eight tank cleaning bays, as well as four bays for washing out roll-offs and frac tanks when we finish this expansion by the end of the summer,” O’Brien says.
ATS manages the vast array of mixtures and pure chemicals cleaned with the aid of a custom designed IT work order process system that provides the managers and technicians with detailed technical information specific for each job. This assures that tanks are cleaned safely and emissions and all residues removed are handled specifically to their individual regulatory requirements. This approach to safety and compliance competently reduces the liability and risk to the customer.
Every chemical, chemical mixture, or waste material that ATS manages undergoes a thorough Health, Safety, and Environmental review process to ensure that the material can and will be managed in compliance with all permits and in a manner that ensures employee safety. Detailed procedures and quality control help ensure that every ATS customer receives consistent quality service.
“We use advanced computer-based systems in all aspects of our operation to ensure the best safety and quality,” Martin says. “Our ATS Workorder System is designed to organize each key element of our operation, providing real-time access to information, reports, tracking, and documentation. Cleaning tickets have detailed information on the product to be cleaned and safe-handling instructions.”
It takes more than 150 employees to operate the ATS facility. Martin says the company has had good success in finding the workers it needs. ATS follows to comprehensive employee training program to ensure that workers can perform their job functions safely.
Managers work with each employee to chart advancement to various “progression levels” within the ATS system. Elements of employee training include: OSHA Basic Orientation, plus confined space entry at the Houston Area Safety Council; ATS Health and Safety Program Training; field training under a supervisor for 90 days; forklift and equipment operator training; required Department of Transportation training; and RCRA training. Workers also participate in regular refresher training.
A well-trained workforce gives the ATS facility the ability to clean about 250 tankcars a month, as well as roughly 500 tank trailers, ISO tank containers, roll-offs, and frac tanks. The facility handles at least 10 transloads a month.
“As a part of Quala now, we hope to do more tank cleaning and transloading in the future,” Martin says. “We believe this facility is ideally positioned for growth.”