Even in private practice as a lawyer in Edmonton, Frac Shack CEO Todd Van Vliet had an entrepreneurial bent. He liked the idea of building something, of a business that was scalable, so in 2005, when his father invited him to join a remote helicopter refuelling business being developed for the oil sands, he made the leap.
They created a company called Environmental Refuelling Systems and patented a “really cool gas station on skids” that could be loaded into an airplane and dropped anywhere. But when they got a call to bring their system to some hydraulic fracturing—fracking—work being done in northern British Columbia, Van Vliet quickly surmised the risks inherent in refuelling machines while they were still running. “People die doing this.”
The team went to work on a solution and created the Frac Shack, an automated refuelling system for hydraulic fracturing pumpers. While initially developed to increase safety, the industry’s desire for efficiencies gave the business an additional advantage: Frac Shack promises to reduce labour and monitor fuel usage, while also reducing the likelihood of spills, explosions and fires. “We’re now working for all the majors who are doing hydraulic fracking that requires constant operation,” says Van Vliet.
“A big part of our strategy is ignoring how things have always been done and instead asking how they should be done,” says Van Vliet. To do that, Frac Shack is purchasing technology to complement its core business.
In the spring, Frac Shack acquired a platform designed to be pulled into a well site then moved up and down to access different parts of the well head, some of which can be 20 feet above the ground. That was a real improvement on the commonly used scaffolding, which can take a full day to erect.
Van Vliet’s dream of a scalable business has been realized. Frac Shack doubled its business in 2016 and again in 2017, and the company’s calculated five-year growth rate is over 1,000%. They now employ about 275 people in Alberta, British Columbia and seven U.S. states, and they offer a comprehensive three-to-six-month training program that includes hard and soft skills, including leadership coaching.
The company has developed a Natural Gas Unit to accompany the diesel Frac Shack—and that’s where Van Vliet sees even more opportunities. “The future is natural gas and renewables,” he says. “And Canada is sitting on some of the biggest reserves in the world.”