PW Trenchless Construction:
A leader in a carbon-free future
CORK-BORN David O’Sullivan the owner of PW Trenchless is at the forefront of an innovative technology providing an alternative to traditional cut-and-cover construction and allowing excavation in impractical and even impossible areas.
By CATHOLINE BUTLER
VANCOUVER – Trenchless technology is the way to a carbon free future for the aging sewer and water pipe infrastructures in our cities and PW Trenchless Construction is a leader in this innovative technology.
Since the mid-Nineties, PW Trenchless Construction Inc. – owned by Cork-born David O’Sullivan – has been involved in the promotion of trenchless technologies. This is a method of construction that reduces the carbon footprint as compared to cut-and-cover construction.
Trenchless actually reduces carbon dioxide (CO²) emissions and minimizes the amount of excavation required to bury pipe and cable, reduces damage to surface structures, causes less disruption to traffic, and other activities on and around job sites, and allows installations to be made in areas where excavation is impractical or impossible.
I recently spoke with David O’Sullivan and asked him to provide more insight about this innovative method of trenchless construction.
He said, “I’d like to go back a little bit before trenchless construction and talk about utilities in general, which are those underground sewer and water pipes that exist through all developed countries.
“They are the pipes that bring the clean water into your house and take out the soiled water after we have polluted it. It was the provision of that clean water, starting in the 1850s in the U.K. and spreading all through the western world, that created essentially what we call the first world.
“Granted that existed back in Roman times and other civilizations but this tended to disappear about the year 200 or 300 AD and into the Dark Ages and didn’t really reappear until the 1850s in the U.K.
“Without the provisions of clean water and sewers, our civilization would not exist as it does today.”
Recently the British medical magazine The Lancet conducted a survey of their readership asking what was the most important item in the last 150 years that contributed to the longevity of people of this society.
The answer that came back was not penicillin, not surgeries, not medicine.....but the provision of clean water and sewers.
“So we can see that probably the most important thing that allows us to live from the average life span of 30-40 years – as you would do if you were in a third world country – to 80-90 years in a first world country is clean water,” said O’Sullivan.
Laughing, he said, “......Sorry Tommy Douglas, but all that money that we’re spending on health care really isn’t warranted, when you consider that the real money should be spent on the provision of clean water and clean sewers.”
Since a lot of our sewers were installed either 50-60 years ago – just after the Second World War or in the previous boom times of 1900 to about 1928 – a lot of them have come to the end of their life span and they need to be replaced.
To do that, said O’Sullivan, “we need to spend about $30 billion dollars in Canada and about $300 billion dollars in the U.S. and similar amounts of money in the rest of the world.
“To do that kind of work now would create a lot of disruption because, as we all know, sewers and waters were installed under roads.
“For instance, in 1910, Hastings Street wasn’t a very busy street, in fact there probably weren’t any cars on it at that time. Now, we’re getting about 60,000 to 70,000 cars a day.
“Same with Granville Street, same with all the different streets in the Lower Mainland and throughout British Columbia. So, to get in there now would cause tremendous problems to society and business in the area.”
Construction of the new Canada Line (originally called the RAV Line) along Cambie Street in Vancouver is a prime example.
He said, “We have all recently seen the instances of Cambie Street being uprooted to install the RAV Line. A little known fact about the RAV Line is that it was installed by what we call conventicle open-cut or open digging from Second Avenue South. But, from Second Avenue North it was installed by trenchless technology or tunnelling.
“I defy anyone to point out where the RAV Line is north of Second Avenue. It went through under False Creek and all through downtown. There was some evidence of it by the Opus Hotel and by Granville Street by the Waterfront Station, but other than that it’s very hard to find because it was done trenchlessly.
“That method of construction can be taken and brought into the repair and new installation of everything down as far as from your main to the house connection – a 3/4 connection – all the way up to a pipe the same size as the RAV Line, which is just a tunnel. This method of construction is called trenchless technology.
“If you take the pure forms, tunnelling has been around for thousands of years, but in reality the methods of replacement and rehabilitation have been around since the 1970s and are growing very strongly.
“These methods are now about 10 percent of the overall market and growing rather rapidly. They allow us to replace the sewer and water lines with minimal or no excavation and at a much faster rate.”
PW Trenchless Construction is involved in the installation of these utilities and O’Sullivan said, “we came to the conclusion a number of years ago that in using trenchless technologies there is a lack of disruption to business and the public.
“The other benefit is the lower carbon footprint because trenchless technology does not remove and replace the vast amount of material required to get down to the pipe zone. The carbon footprint is vastly reduced and the reduced impact on traffic also creates a large reduction in the carbon footprint.”
In order to confirm this information about how trenchless technology can reduce the carbon footprint, O’Sullivan approached several universities in North America in 2007 to conduct a study on the subject.
The university of Waterloo, confirmed that from a traffic viewpoint, there was a reduction of about 70 percent. That combined with another study that was done at the University of British Columbia gave trenchless technology a 90-95 reduction in carbon footprint.
Arizona State university did a similar study and came to the conclusion that by using trenchless technology, the carbon footprint was reduced anywhere from the mid to high 80's, which confirmed O’Sullivan’s theory.
“We are a leader in trenchless technology,” David said, “and for the past five years I have been promoting this concept through various conferences throughout North America and the U.K.
“Cities which use trenchless technology will actually reduce their carbon footprint. Although they are not mandated right now, they will be mandated within two years to be carbon neutral, and they will need to strive to achieve carbon reductions.
“At the present time, I am working with the City of Los Angeles on a paper for a conference in Washington next year. The thrust is that the City of Los Angeles replaces about 60 miles of sewer every year – which is about a $25 million project – and about 60 percent is done by trenchless – which is about $12 million worth of trenchless technology. This amounts to about a 12,000 ton savings of carbon every year.
“The Lower Mainland in B.C., according to Metro Vancouver numbers has about $13 billion worth of sanitary sewers underground. Overall about $45 billion of infructure in place of which most will have to be replaced within the next 20-30 years – which has a replacement value of about one to two billion dollars a year.
“When you take those numbers, the amount of carbon that will be emitted in replacing all those sewers......it will be enormous. But, through the use of trenchless technology, we can reduce that carbon footprint.”
In 1974, when the Irish Government opened the first regional college in Cork, David O’Sullivan was among one of the first graduates of its entry class in civil engineering.
He credits the foresight of the Irish Government at that time for realized that by educating its people it would be able to advance Ireland, faster than anybody else. And it was that expenditure of funds in education, that helped Ireland to boom.
In 1986, David O’Sullivan emigrated to Vancouver and started working for PW Baratta Construction, a general utilities company and since 1989 directed the company but he was always of the opinion that the company should get away more from the common market.
In the middle of the 1990s, the company started to get into trenchless technology, which was something new and not a lot of people knew about it, but there was good money in it. However, the company wasn’t so sure about this new kind of construction.
O’Sullivan was convinced that trenchless technology was the way of the future and so he approached PW Baratta Construction and told them that he wanted either to start his own company and run it with their company or that he wanted to go off on his own. Pat Baratta, the owner, asked David to stay with the company and PW Trenchless was launched January 2000.
Within three years, the company was doing up to three million dollars in volume and within another two years it was decided to shut down PW Baratta Construction as Pat Baratta, the owner was in his seventies and wanted to retire.
PW Trenchless is now the sole owner of that group and all the staff transferred to O’Sullivan’s company.
It has been said that out of terrible disaster some good can often come about, and it was under similar such circumstances that David O’Sullivan first met Monica, his wife to be.
“In 2005 my mother’s family was having a family reunion and relatives from all over were returning to Cork for the celebration,” said David.
“I arrived in Dublin at 8:30 AM, just as the Air India flight exploded off Cork. Little did I know at the time that Monica, my wife to be whom I hadn’t met yet, had been called in to the hospital where she worked as a radiographer to be on emergency standby as a lot of casualties were expected at the hospital.
“My mother was also called in since she also worked as a radiographer alongside Monica. As we all know now, no survivors came off that flight, it was all bodies.
“While I was still on holidays, my mother introduced me to this beautiful woman called Monica O’Brien. Because of the lack of employment in Ireland, hospitals were encouraging staff to take a year off and go travelling.
“Monica and another friend decided to travel to Canada. They landed in Montreal and decided to take the train across Canada. They stopped off in Winnipeg for a few days, but decided that the 30 below temperatures wasn’t for them.
“So, they got back on the train and finally ending up in Vancouver where we met up again and I haven’t let her leave since. We returned back to Cork to be married in Clogheen parish church on the north side of Cork City.”
The O’Sullivans now call Delta, B.C. home along with their five children: Conor, Mark, Rory, Brian and Maeve.
For more information about PW Trenchless Construction Inc., call (604) 580-0446, or visit their website at: www.pwtrenchless.com.