Paradox Access Solutions supports a horizontal shift

Unorthodox materials help a St. Albert-based firm thrive

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February 24, 2012

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Marc Breault, president of Paradox Access Solutions
Photograph by bluefish

For years, there was very little to think about when it came to accessing well sites. When oil and gas companies needed to enter isolated lease land, the solution usually involved a heavy truck or a bulldozer. “They used to be able to blade everything to the sub-structure,” says Marc Breault, president of St. Albert-based Paradox Access Solutions Inc. “They love to rip, tear and destroy.”

But things are done a bit differently in 2012. As government regulations become more rigid, and the penalties for breaking them more severe, producers have to access well sites using as little brute force as possible. That has led to business opportunities for Paradox. The firm entered the market in 2004, and has since evolved into a growing mat supplier in Western Canada. Its portfolio stretches from British Columbia’s Horn River basin to the southwest tip of Manitoba in the Bakken.

Breault distributes his mats from nine warehouses located around Alberta and Saskatchewan, with a total inventory of more than 30,000. His client base is quite broad, and includes heavy hitters like Enbridge Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd. and Shell Canada. As horizontal drilling practices drag producers into more isolated lease sites, Breault has watched interest in his mats swell. “They hate them, but they know they work,” he says of exploration companies. “We get a lot of companies into places they shouldn’t be able to get into.”

In 2011 Paradox tripled its revenue, up to $30 million from $9 million one year prior. The secret to its growth may be its diverse, and different, products. Unlike typical mat suppliers who use softwood lumber, Paradox’s inventory consists of matting made of rubber, bamboo, plastic and fiberglass. Paradox’s manufacturers are scattered around the globe. Breault goes to Chinese suppliers for lightweight bamboo mats, the United States for kiln-dried Emtek wood mats and to the Middle East for the mesh-like Neoweb matting.

While the products bear strange names, unorthodoxy is Breault’s mantra. Government regulation has been a major part of the company’s quirky product base, he says. Before starting Paradox, Breault worked as a site access consultant for the oil and gas sector. At these jobs he saw companies were failing to consider the increasing restrictions on land disruption and pipe crossing on site.

His first product was rubber matting made from recycled car tires. It was a tough sell. His mats cost producers $10 per day, while the traditional wooden mats ran companies about $3. Customers keen to keep capital budgets low and use mat products they are familiar with continues to be an issue for Paradox. The greatest challenge for Breault is convincing customers that he offers a long-term, cost effective product. Traditional mats retain heavy amounts of water and mud, he says, making the cost of trucking them off site far more expensive. “You have to look at the whole picture,” Breault tells his clients. He estimates trucking accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of the cost of using mats at the site.

One of Paradox’s newest and more interesting products is a highly buoyant polypropylene material made by All Terrain Road, an Edmonton-based company, capable of keeping heavy vehicles afloat on its fiberglass casing. The technology makes otherwise impassable regions passable for longer periods, Breault says. But initial tests for the floating mats didn’t go smoothly. “The first time we took it out onto the field it fell apart,” he says. Since then improvements have been made and the technology has been used by the likes of Syncrude and AltaLink for massive projects.

His latest product, which he started selling in 2010, also shows promise. Manufactured by PRS Mediterranean, Neoweb is honeycomb-shaped matting that is laid flat and filled with sand, gravel or dirt. The granules hold the matting to form while a steamroller compresses it to make an instant roadway. The technology was originally employed by the U.S. military to access hard-to-reach places (it used Neoweb in the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein with a stealthy attack on the village of ad-Dawr, Iraq).

For Breault and Paradox, providing a host of mat options for clients has paid off, because conditions can differ depending on the region operators are working in. “There is no one solution that solves all problems.”

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