Servicing Alberta’s Oil Sands

Written by Robert Hoshowsky

With a history going back over two decades, Acden has proven itself to be a highly successful service partner to oil sands producers in Alberta. Proudly owned by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Acden is active in a number of areas.
Acden works closely with customers in the fields of waste and recycling management, fleet maintenance, janitorial and facility management, and ultrasonic equipment cleaning, and is active in a range of engineering services, machining and metal fabrication, civil contracting, land reclamation, aviation and more.

Since it was formed in 1994 by Tony Mercredi, then-Chief of the AFCN, Acden has greatly expanded its service offerings to oil sands producers across the province. Seeking to explore economic development, Chief Mercredi worked with Syncrude Canada to develop a business relationship that initially utilized a pickup truck to gather waste through a labour service in Fort Chipewyan.

The initial company was named Denesoline Environment, and as the number of companies continued to grow, they became known as the AFCN Business Group in 2005, rebranded as Acden in 2013.

Adding a host of services over the years, Acden now stands at 18 businesses and plans to grow in the future. “If the enterprises are compatible with our existing businesses and the desires of the First Nation, we will expand into new ventures,” says Garry Flett, President and Chief Executive Officer. Acden today has approximately 3,000 fulltime staff members including labourers, truck drivers, equipment operators, janitors, skilled tradespeople, mechanics, welders, machinists, HVAC technicians, accountants, safety officers, professional engineers, and more.

As one of Canada’s successful Aboriginal business enterprises, Acden supports the administration of the First Nation and programs for its membership. “It further certifies that we are a local business,” comments Flett, a veteran of the oil industry. “It is a nice thing to offer, and we are able to provide benefit to the local economy, whether that’s people who live in Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan, or members of the First Nation.”

Diverse Services
Through strategically calculated growth, Acden continues to expand by offering new services which complement existing ones, and which are often intertwined so they can be offered in a single package. One example is the company’s ultrasonic cleaning process, whereby Acden is able to clean away contaminants and bring equipment back to the bare metal. A complementary service to this is machining and welding, whereby metal items can be repaired or restored. Complimentary to these lines is engineering, whereby the company can ensure products are up to specifications. From here, Acden can provide the logistics to move items from oil sands sites to their maintenance facilities and back again, thereby eliminating the need to have multiple companies to handle one job.

“From the initial client call requesting, ‘we need this fixed,’ Acden can undertake a number of services for our customers,” explains Bryn Botham, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Highly coordinated and efficient, the company is always looking to expand its services while maintaining a simple structure to best meet the needs of all clients. A proven strategic service provider, Acden’s service offerings fall under a number of different areas — including aviation, environment, production, fleet and facilities.

Much of the company’s success comes working with its customers as partners. With an extensive range of service offerings, Acden is able to custom-tailor its work for all customers as their businesses evolve, and can devise and foster strategic solutions for these changing requirements. To meet the highest of standards, the company has achieved a number of ISO certifications over the years, including ISO 9001 – Quality Management System, and ISO 14001 – Environmental Management System. Proud of its commitment to safety and quality, Acden is able to manage its processes and services so that its business activities meet the company’s objectives, which include satisfying customer requirements, meeting environmental objectives, and complying with regulations. Striving to not only satisfy customer requirements and comply with regulations, quality management also means Acden focuses on continual improvements to its performance, while environmental management sees the company doing whatever possible to minimize harm to the environment.

Respecting the Environment
With the objective of providing services that are safe, responsible, respectful, innovative, and best serve the needs of customers, staff, and shareholders, Acden’s offerings are wide-ranging. Under the waste management and recycling services umbrella, the company provides equipment, waste bins, and waste stream management and transportation. Complementary services include reclamation, civil earthworks, infrastructure, oil sands site construction, upstream and midstream oil and gas operations, decommissioning and demolition, and environmental reclamation and remediation. With a division focusing on Environmental Consulting (with venture partner Navus Environmental Inc.), Acden Navus is able to successfully coordinate and manage small to large-scale environmental projects that fall within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Acden Navus is able to meet the needs of all customers professionally and responsibly from research to reclamation, including upstream oil and gas, aggregate mining, in-situ and thermal heavy oil, oil sands mining, and peat harvesting.

Among the company’s many environmental reclamation intermediation services, Acden provides disposal of contaminated soil, soil excavation, washing and on-site bio-treatment, mine site reclamation and re-vegetation management, oilfield, pipeline and site reclamation, the installation of leachate collection systems, flare pit remediation, and more. This commitment to the environment is about much more than business: it is about upholding the respect of the First Nation for the planet and its future.

LEED Gold Headquarters
One of Acden’s greatest testaments to respect for the land is its own corporate headquarters. Back in 2007, the company’s executive team came together and made the decision — along with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation — to create a new headquarters which would not only serve the company and its clients, but stand as a testament to the environment. Soon, construction was underway on a three-storey structure situated in Fort McMurray’s Taiganova Eco-Industrial Park. Driven by a commitment to LEED standards and environmental sustainability, the building was able to achieve LEED Gold status through numerous well-planned construction initiatives. Sourcing regional wood, more than 25 percent of construction products used were recycled materials. Solar panels, the use of rainwater, a reflective membrane on the roof to reduce solar heat in summer — thereby minimizing the use of air conditioning — recycling wash bay water, and utilizing as much natural light as possible makes the building not only energy-efficient, but one of the most attractive facilities in Fort McMurray.

“Since the environment is so important to the First Nation, we undertook this construction process to a LEED certification,” says Flett. “Platinum is hard to achieve in Fort McMurray, but the gold standard was achievable. Benefits that come from it in terms of employee retention are tremendous: this is the nicest building in town, maybe even in northern Alberta.” Completed in June of 2012, Acden’s corporate headquarters is situated next to its massive, 21,000 square foot fleet service facility, used for the maintenance of Acden’s 170 vehicles along with third-party client vehicles and equipment.

Strongly connected to its First Nation heritage, Acden’s rebranding incorporates its Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation heritage and the legacy of Denesoline, and remains a testament to the team’s commitment to oil field customers. “When we had a variety of companies with an equal variety of names in the marketplace, it was difficult to describe all of the interrelationships within the business group. In order to eliminate the confusion we undertook a rebranding exercise that led to establishing Acden,” explains Botham. Working with a professional marketing and branding group out of Calgary to come up with an appropriate name, the executive team whittled down the potentials to five and finally deciding upon ‘Acden,’ which is a contraction of Athabasca Chipewyan Denesoline. Working with a local artist to develop their branding, the company logo incorporates a dual chevron, which represents an element of the building’s construction, and an eagle in flight, and utilizes the color purple, which ties into Dene traditions.

With 18 companies, a wide range of services, and tremendous respect for safety initiatives and the environment, Acden looks forward to working with oil sands customers long into the future.



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