Marwest Utility Services Ltd

The primary service provider in the interior for British Columbia’s largest utilities
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

Since 1987, in the interior of British Columbia, Marwest Utility Services Ltd (Marwest) has been the infrastructure-building backbone behind Canada’s major gas and utility companies. As the exclusive anchor-point company for Fortis Inc. (Fortis) within British Columbia’s interior, Canada’s largest investor-owned gas and electric distribution utility serving more than 2.4 million customers, Marwest paves the way for mains and services lines throughout British Columbia.

While Marwest dates back to the late 1960s, the company started to take on more pipeline, civil and heavy construction in 2007 when Rocky McLeod, owner and CEO of Marwest, purchased the firm. With a background in transportation, McLeod set out to shift Marwest’s scope of work and diversify.

“We’re a utility service provider in the natural gas industry with a 40-year history,” shares Jim Keyes, chief operating officer of Marwest. “In 2007, we formed strategic affiliations with four resource sector service companies – Muskwa Construction and Environmental, DTL Leasing, Sikanni Chief Logistics Ltd and Darlen Transport – and we now provide a complete range of construction and maintenance of natural gas utilities; pipeline location, maintenance and installation and pipeline construction.”

Exclusive relationships

Since diversifying, Marwest has taken on some big-name clients in addition to Fortis. “Fortis controls the vast majority of the natural gas in British Columbia,” says Keyes. “We are their exclusive service provider in the interior. When there’s a new development, say a subdivision, a pipeline, they come to us for infrastructure, the grid, main lines and installing lines directly into homes.”

Marwest remains based in Kamloops, B.C., but working directly for Fortis has allowed the company to expand throughout the province. “Our home base is in Kamloops, covering central to the southern interior and a yard and crew in Prince George, in the dead center of British Columbia,” details Keyes. “We also have a crew based out of Kelowna, which is farther south. Overall, we cover an extensive geographic area, from Hope to Kootneys and all the way to Fort Nelson.”

To cover such a substantial footprint, Keyes says Marwest runs anywhere from 36 to more than 100 crew members. “We expand and contract based on the size and scope of the project, but for the most part we maintain a 36-person core crew,” he adds.

Big projects, big responsibility

Over the last seven years, as the company has continued to work with major industry players and big responsibility comes in the package deal. “We’re working on bigger projects in highly visible arenas,” explains Keyes. “This makes working in compliance and upholding a strong safety record even more important. We hang our hats on being able to deliver these projects on time and on budget in demanding situations.”

Marwest has played a role in natural gas developments in the Horn River Basin to the lower mainland. A recent job of significance consisted of 4.6 kilometers of 42-inch and 2.3 kilometres of 48-inch reclaim HDPE water pipeline for the Highland Valley Cooper mill optimization project. “We completed this project last year in 2013 with a 38 -man team,” notes Keyes.

The optimization project also involved grading, bedding, coating, pond discharge, installation of mechanical components in a pump station, the installation of 24-inch and 32-inch gate valves, air release valves, rupture disks and anticipation valves, along with the fabrication of supports and appliances.

Keyes notes Marwest has also worked for Teck Coal and participated in the Gateway Pipeline project. “Gateway was a major undertaking in the lower mainland as a high-profile urban pipeline,” he recounts.

The 2014 season got off to a great start with the addition of projects in Alberta for ALTA Gas. “We are pleased to be able to add such a substantial company to our list of clients,” Keyes explains. “It is great opportunity to get involved in the Alberta market.”

Down the pipeline

As Marwest pushes forward into pipeline expansion projects, Keyes says there’s also a sustainability factor. “A lot of the lines are older and need to be replaced and we’re working on that with Fortis,” he says.

The company is also looking to get more involved with another major contestant; Kinder Morgan Company (Kinder Morgan). “All of the Alberta oil that travels to the West Coast goes through the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, which is owned by Kinder Morgan,” explains Keyes. “There’s a proposal to up that line from 300,000 barrels a day to 700,000 and we’re hoping to be involved in that project.”

The problem is getting these major projects off the ground amid opposition says Keyes. “We share industry challenges in terms of getting major projects launched,” he shares. “In British Columbia there’s a division between an environmental stance and the industry. There are many communities that are not interested in the projects that have been presented.”

Nonetheless, Marwest is well-connected in the community as a 100 percent aboriginal-owned company. “We’re members of good standing in the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business,” details Keyes. “Marwest was even awarded the prestigious All Nations Trust Company ‘Aboriginal Business of the Year’ award in 2012.”

“We have a great working relationship with our aboriginal community,” assures Keyes. “As an aboriginal-owned company, we’re working to build the capacity to be more involved with projects happening around them. Our goal is to continue to develop these relationships so they can have greater participation.”

Operating in the big leagues, Marwest Utility Services Ltd remains connected to the community while serving as a primary utility service provider for some of western Canada’s largest companies.

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