Here's How Canada's Natural Resource Sector Can Conquer the Sublayer Paradox in 2020 and Beyond

By Charles Proulx
Charles Proulx
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Western Canada's energy and natural resources sectors are synonymous with the provisions of commodities across Canada and throughout the world, which is no easy feat. Large plays where valuable natural resources are sourced are often in areas that are virtually inaccessible. Unstable land foundations such as high-water tables and soft layers of earth effectively impede safe and efficient access to these regions.

The performance and demands of the heavy equipment required to operate in these regions rely on the foundations beneath them to be extremely sturdy, which presents a paradox: how to create strength where virtually none exists.

Matting

Energy, mining, and forestry projects rely on heavy equipment often situated in remote areas that depend on stable site access routes, efficient and safe operations to generate reliable yields. Geotechnical and civil engineering designs are crucial for these challenging conditions and have become more and more challenging since they must be situated on stable foundations, yet are often paradoxically situated on weak subgrades, wetlands, muskeg or high water tabled areas.

Natural resource projects often require crossing unstable terrain, weak subgrades, wetlands, muskeg, or high water tabled areas.

Access mats continue to act as an environmentally-friendly access solution for Canada's natural resource sectors. Access mats — including rig mats, swamp mats, crane mats, and the like — offer companies a budget-friendly solution to allow heavy equipment and machinery to cross unstable terrain with minimal impact to the natural environments in which they operate, and can be quickly assembled and disassembled on site.

Access mats come in a multitude of sizes and compositions, each intended to serve a specific purpose. The most durable mats are constructed using three-ply oak and can support weight loads ranging anywhere from 1,000 kg to over 4,000 kg. 

Access mats, including rig mats and swamp mats, are an environmentally-friendly way for companies in the natural resources sector to get their projects on solid ground.While access mats offer a range of durable, cost-effective, environmentally-friendly solutions, they are typically best suited for use as short-term access solutions.

Permanent access solutions — such as unpaved access roads — can be trickier to implement in remote areas with unstable terrain and building such solutions can consume significant amounts of non-renewable resources such as gravel and aggregates. Thankfully, advances in road-building materials and engineering now enable Canada's resource sector to construct permanent access solutions with a much smaller footprint than ever before.

Construction

The construction industry has historically been one of the biggest consumers of resources such as water, raw timber, stones, sand, gravel, and energy. Road construction is one of the major contributors to consumption of these materials as it requires a huge amount of resources that are costly and hard to replace.

The industry has been dealing with challenges such as sourcing and processing aggregates for long hauls to the construction site and the process of onsite construction with heavy construction equipment which also contributes to release of more emissions and other pollutants to the environment.

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Sustainable Construction

Recent advances in engineering and road construction technologies are tackling issues such as excessive use and hauling of aggregates and the growing carbon footprint of construction projects head-on.

High-performance geosynthetic solutions help to optimize aggregate usage which in turn reduces the carbon foot print of the construction project, while simultaneously maximizing the quality and lifespan of access roads.

One such geosynthetic solution is geocell technology.

Interestingly, geocell technology is not new. Geocell technology as we now know it debuted circa 1975, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began researching and developing cellular confinement systems as a solution to allow heavy military equipment to cross soft ground during strategic military campaigns. These engineers quickly learned that sand-confinement systems require less time and provide more stability in wet weather conditions compared to conventional techniques (many of which called for the use of crushed stone).

Tough Cell NPA geocells enable road construction and soil stabilization in remote areas with little existing soil strength.

Geocell technology has improved significantly since its inception in the mid-1970s. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) geocells were commonly used in load support, slope erosion control, and channel lining applications across the United States and Canada throughout the 1980s. And although HDPE geocells are still available in the marketplace today, advancements in technology and engineering have lead to the development of Novel Polymeric Alloy (NPA) geocells, which offer superior bearing capacity, stiffness, and reinforcement compared to their HDPE counterparts.

These advancements in geosynthetics mean that creating ground strength in areas where none exists is a feat that can be overcome with relative ease nowadays. Geocells makes accessibility more accessible by minimizing the amount of aggregates required to complete a project, which has a domino effect on the entire operation: less aggregate means less hauling, which means it costs less money to transport. This, in turn, means less CO2 is emitted throughout the process, and getting to your final destination no longer has to be at the cost of the environments in which you operate.

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The Path Forward

The construction industry has historically been a heavy consumer of natural resources, leaving behind a significant carbon footprint along the way. These issues can quickly amplify for companies operating in Canada's resource sector because their operations typically inherently require access to remote locations where the terrain is not always easy to work with — or on.

Luckily, advancements in technology and engineering now enable such companies to access and operate in these areas in better harmony with the natural environment.

As the exclusive Canadian supplier of Tough Cell and a trusted supplier of matting solutions, Paradox Access Solutions has taken a notable and respected positioning as a leader in reducing the carbon emissions for companies that operate in Canada's resource sector. To learn more about how your organization can reduce its carbon footprint on projects that require access and roads, download our environmental eBook On Solid Ground.

Free eBook: On Solid Ground

Originally published January 03, 2020, updated January 13, 2020

Topics: Access Mats, Tough Cell, Access Roads, Soil Stabilization

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