The clamor of power tools and hydraulic machinery in sun-swept Augusta is part of Bob Hagler’s quest for a cleaner Canada.
“It’s about turning mining mud into water and dirt,” he said. “It used to take decades – now we can do it in months.”
Hagler is president of Hagler Systems, which makes specialty equipment for clients including Suncor Energy, based in Calgary, Alberta.
Suncor mines Alberta’s vast oil sands reserves for petroleum – and invests heavily in technology to restore mine-scarred landscapes.
Hagler Systems and its local engineers build the equipment that gets it done.
“It’s a brand new process that all the oil sand companies are doing,” said Hagler, whose floating dredges help reclaim the dense, muddy “tailings” left behind after oil and sand are separated.
“Suncor is primarily using our equipment to collect this mud and reclaim the land by turning it back into dirt,” he said. “They won a major technology award a few years ago for developing this process.”
This month the company’s largest mechanical dredge to date, named “Beauty,” will be shipped from its assembly building on Sandbar Ferry Road to northern Canada aboard about 20 tractor-trailers.
Once the 2,700-mile voyage is complete, it will be placed into service with a smaller dredge, “The Beast,” which the company built in 2010.
Though The Beast featured a dredge that could extend downward 35 feet, the Beauty, weighing 450 tons, can reach down 95 feet, Hagler said.
“People ask if something this heavy will float,” he said. “I tell them, well, an aircraft carrier will float, too.”
The two vessels are also uniquely designed to be joined and operate in tandem.
“Their process changed and they realize they have to go about 95 feet now, and there is no way the other vessel could be modified to do that,” he said. “Now, when it’s all bolted together, it’s truly one thing.”
Last week, engineers carefully assembled Beauty, including its 950-horsepower Caterpillar engine and a massive pump manufactured by GIW Industries of Grovetown, for a systems check.
“We’re testing everything to make sure it all fits,” company shop foreman Coco Mercado said. “We do it before we paint it and again after we paint it.”
The 150-foot vessel is painted in Hagler Sytems’ blue and safety yellow. Custom accessories include de-icers hung at intervals along the length of the vessel.
Temperatures in the mining district, Mercado said, can drop to 40 degrees below zero, so all the machine’s systems must be designed to withstand such harsh climates.
Once the tests are complete, Beauty will once again be dismantled for its journey north.