Seeing a TerraTherm site operate is an extraordinary thing. The view of the stack, faithfully discharging clean water vapor into the air, the metallic chirping of In Situ Thermal Desorption (ISTD) heaters oscillating in their well casings, and the low frequency humming of the treatment equipment truly is a unique experience. The principals of subsurface heating with Thermal Conductive Heating (TCH) are simple, but to actually implement this aggressive source zone treatment technology is another thing altogether. It is impressive to think about how quickly a source area can be treated, when something like 15 years ago, the only other real options available included digging and hauling contaminated soil away, or slowly pumping and treating contamination which in some cases can last more than 100 years. The varying sizes of projects and kinds of applications that TerraTherm designs, builds, and operates are vast. Projects range from pilot tests with a comparatively small number of subsurface heaters, which like any project can develop complexities on their own, to large, multi-acre sites that can have over 1000 heater wells or that inject steam to depths more than 200 feet below the ground surface! There are obviously a great many other sites that fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Luckily for me, with the amount of projects TerraTherm operates and how quickly each remediation is completed, I have gained experience working on all different types of TerraTherm project, and as an added bonus I have gotten opportunities to travel all across the country.
I can’t actually say that I imagined, when starting out a few years ago, that I’d be doing this highly specialized kind of work. Regardless, I am very happy that I chose to pursue a career in operating treatment systems for thermal remediation sites. All of the operators who work for TerraTherm are highly skilled technicians and many come from diverse backgrounds. Because of this, the amount of cross training, knowledge sharing, and expertise found on-site is enormous. That is not to even mention the constant support we receive from our engineering and management team, who are available to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Typically, on a day-to-day basis, many different work activities are conducted. Tasks range from data collection and analysis, to sampling, writing reports, system troubleshooting/balancing, and performing electrical or even custom fabrication.
At first glance, the treatment systems implemented at each of our sites appear similar. Each system consists of a source for energy input into the subsurface, an extraction system, a conditioning system, and then finally an adsorption or destruction process. Once you get into the nitty-gritty details of how each piece of equipment is constructed and used, things become a lot more complicated. TerraTherm does not treat only one single type of contaminant, or even use only one single technology to “cook it out.” Due to the wide range of technologies used from site-to-site, the operators need to be able to apply diverse skill sets. We need to be comprehensive with our understanding of oxidizers, pumps, blowers, boilers, liquid treatment and vapor treatment in a real-time environment. The systems TerraTherm use are all extremely robust, well built, and improve all the time. Having seen first hand the progression of these sites over the past five and a half years, it remains very impressive to me. The fact that our entire team continues to elevate the stature of the entire thermal remediation industry makes it all the more exciting to be a part of.
A word of caution to other young potential operators out there: Operating at one of these sites is not for the faint of heart. Because we are bringing the soil up to and often exceeding 100°C, we can ill afford much down time. That means the operators need to be extremely efficient and tolerant of every eventuality. This is not your typical nine-to-five job, where one would be content doing the same thing every day. This job can be demanding, often testing one’s limits and skills. Operating at TerraTherm one can find oneself at all corners of this country and on other continents. Above all else, it is just plain awesome work to do. In the words of one of our most veteran operators, “We’re not here to look, we’re here to cook!”