DredgingToday.com Podcast: Global Dredging Perspective
Welcome to the second DredgingToday.com Podcast, with our host Rosie Moth of RedMeters.com.
In this episode we will be discussing the global dredging perspective with the Secretary General of the International Association of Dredging Companies, Rene Kolman, and Technical Consultant Murray Leach.
The problems that are facing dredging on a global scale, ‘environmental and sustainability issues’ as one of the major obstacles in dredging, the Jones Act in the USA, dredging regulations, etc, are just some of the topics covered in this edition of Dredging Today podcast.
Please share your thoughts and comments at our LinkedIn Group Discussion.
Rosie Moth: Welcome to the Dredging Today podcast delivering expert dredging coverage. This is Episode two, I’m your host Rosie Moth of RedMeters.com. In this episode we’ll be discussing the global dredging perspective. Joining me today is Secretary General of the International Association of Dredging Companies Rene Kolman, and Technical Consultant Murray Leach. Thank you both for joining me.
Rene, something we were talking about recently was the research that you published, related to the Ecosystem Services and one of things I wanted to cover today was some of the issues that are facing dredging on a global scale which are obviously faced at the IADC. Do you see environmental and sustainability issues being one of the major obstacles in dredging?
Rene Kolman: Now, one of the major obstacles is definitely the image of the dredging industry. We’re always seen as the ones who devastate nature and the environment, and general acceptance that we should take care of the environment including people working in the industry the dredging industry.
We are looking for ways to come over this obstacle, and that we can improve the image.
Big companies in the dredging industry, they already developed the building with nature concept that nature can support us in realising infrastructure aims. Recently we conducted research, the research was conducted by the University of Antwerp, but research on the use of Ecosystem Services in assessing marine infrastructure projects. Ecosystems Services is a, at the moment, a rather theoretical concept but regarding ecosystems everywhere, these ecosystems deliver certain services.
You have an ecosystem in your backyard, that delivers you the creation services but if you look to marine infrastructure projects, they are mainly built on the marine side of the countries. So you have their fish that’s the service provisioning on their food, you have their coastal defence delivering protection from floods.
All these ecosystems are influenced by marine infrastructure projects and the Ecosystem Services concepts deliver us the possibility to make rather independent evaluations of the impacts by marine infrastructure new marine infrastructure and impacts, not only negative but also positive.
And with this evaluation, all the influences, all the impacts, are valued on money and if you value it with money you can accumulate all the impacts and with that you have a method to look where it’s best to compensate or to mitigate certain impacts, and having this concept as a very neutral instrument it can definitely bring us something in developing and executing of these large projects because you have an independent assessment of the impacts.
Rosie Moth: OK, and the impacts you’re looking at here, you talk about it being based on money but they’re also looking at the human wellbeing and also, as you say, the positives and negatives on both sides.
Rene Kolman: Yeah, the services contribute to our human wellbeing, and for instance if there is an impact of fish in that environment where your marine infrastructure is being developed and it is damaged, for instance, by dredging activities then you can value the decrease of the number of fish, but you can also in certain cases, for instance in wind farm parks initially fauna is hurt by the construction of the park, but after the realisation and finalisation of the park you have a quick recovery of the fish because you’re not allowed to sail there anymore, you’re not allowed to fish there anymore.
So then you then get a positive impact of that wind farm, and you can value the impact but you can also value other impacts, and as it’s all valued on Euros you can make a total sum of it. And by the valuation of the individual impact you can see where you have to compensate, where you have to mitigate, with the most influence on that specific project.
Murray Leach: It sounds like you’re looking at this in terms of being able to allocate costs and benefits, and look at the return on investment on the project and by this method perhaps you factor remediation activities into something that’s considered damaging, because there’s a return on investment of doing that rather than doing it just for the sake of remediation.
Rene Kolman: No, it’s not a return on investment. You only see if I do somewhere my dredging work, what is the impact on the environment and how can I reduce the impact, or can I maximise the positive impacts? And it’s only a part of the evaluation of your project you can never decide only on the Ecosystem Services assessment, because a lot of new marine infrastructure is the result of political decisions.
But within this political decision it gives you the tools to have an objective evaluation of the impacts, and it’s always to the decision makers to evaluate all the impacts and the return on investment because that’s very often something that has nothing to do with nature, but has to do with the economic activities.
Murray Leach: OK, that’s a lot clearer.
Rene Kolman: It is a tool to become independant, and have a neutral evaluation of the impacts, and not discussing and debating impacts on gutfeelings etc. And this project of ours gives a clear example, because we assess five already realised projects, along the lines of Ecosystem Services and you clearly see the impacts, and in some cases there was even the possibility to value them on money.
Rosie Moth: Well I suppose I think that you said in the beginning of our conversation that you see one of the biggest obstacles and opportunities for improvement within the entire dredging industry, is about essentially the image of dredging amongst the rest of the world.
In our conversations we’ve heard when we’re speaking directly with dredging operators they’re looking at, of course, the bottom line of their operations, but on a bigger picture and on a global scale where we’re talking about image and the impression of dredging overall. It’s these types of projects that look at the positive and negatives, and the direct impact of what these projects do which go beyond money and the bottom line, and look more at how does this industry fit into the plans for the world and how we’re looking at things that are changing.
Especially in the US, I know that one way we see dredging, probably in the least negative light, is when we’re looking at things like flood prevention, eradicating major potential issues that are happening especially in the US – I know that dredging then went into a negative when things happened like hurricane Katrina, looking at what could have been done with dredging in the US versus what they’re doing in Holland.
If we even had a third of infrastructure that dredging has been able to have in Holland, in the US we wouldn’t have had such a major issue in the US.
Again, it’s another opportunity for dredging to not have what could’ve been a positive image then created a negative one, because not enough dredging happened in order to prevent what later became a problem.
So it sounds like these kinds of projects are trying to give more of a neutral ‘apples for apples’ comparison of what’s available when we’re talking about environmental issues, which from my research it seems like environmental and sustainability is one of the major issues, especially if we’re talking about the way people outside of the dredging industry feel about the dredging industry is that something that you’re seeing also?
Rene Kolman: I think if you look to the impacts of a dredging project on marine infrastructure, then it’s a little bit broader.
There are a lot of stakeholders involved and these stakeholders are not always involved from the very early moments, so you have to take their concerns and interests seriously from the very early beginning. But they are often unaware of what is really happening in such a process, because dredging is always in remote areas, or often in remote areas, and is always happening underwater you can’t see the impacts, you can’t see the effects of the work.
These environmental concerns are very often based on things that are not very clear to people, so you have to make that clear to all the stakeholders and that can be people that are fishing in the neighbourhood or people that are living nearby, and they suddenly have a big port in their backyard.
And if they don’t know the real impacts of that project, it’s difficult to have a clear discussion based on arguments instead of gut feeling.
Rosie Moth: And I think that that is a really interesting point for people outside of the industry. I would even say in looking at what we look at every day, is about measurement and the measurement of operations in what we do at Red Meters that is a major issue of so much of what is happening in dredging, happens under the surface.
And there isn’t really a definitive way to say before a project happens: this is exactly how much is going to be moved, this is exactly how much is going to go where, this is the level of turbidity that will happen with sediment that’s moving (especially in cases where there’s any contaminants within the water or we’re moving anything within the water).
Now there seems to be quite a bit of guesswork going on in dredging, if that’s a fair assessment?
And another issue we’re seeing, or that comes up, for example a big one being an obstacle is the Jones Act in the USA and off of the coast of Italy there’s been issues with regulations of dredging that have made it difficult for either operators to be able to dredge, or whether environmentalists have felt like dredging operators are dredging more than they should be do you see any changes in that happening or do you think that it’s something that needs to change in the future?
Rene Kolman: I want to make a clear distinction between regulations, like the Jones Act, and environmental regulation. The Jones Act has to do with a level playing field, infact the US market is a closed market due to the Jones act. And it is only open for US companies working with US vessels and US crew but that has nothing to do with the environmental issues.
IADC is in favor of a level playing field and opposing against the Jones Act, and I think the Jones Act infact is counterproductive, because it makes dredging projects way too expensive for the US Government.
I know a clear example that after problems in New Orleans, a western european company tried to get a waiver they didn’t manage to and in the end only 20% of the sand was delivered by a US company, what was offered by the western european dredging company. Only two zero percent of that was finally delivered.
So it was five times too expensive! So if you have a closed market then there is no incentive for innovation, then in the end you are working with outdated equipment.
And the equipment, at least of the IADC members, is very much state of the art. The old equipment is being scrapped at the moment, but there are still investments in new equipment in new trailing suction hopper dredgers, in new cutter suction dredgers.
So that’s something else as environmental legislation, and I think environmental legislation is just to protect the environment, and I think you can only take that seriously also as a dredging contractor because we all want to deal in an environmentally sound way with the area we are living in.
Rosie Moth: And dredging isn’t sustainable, then you are essentially operating yourself out of a business. You are operating yourself out of a future for your industry which is shooting yourself in the foot in some ways.
Rene Kolman: Yeah. But for some projects dredging is the only possible solution. At the same time we should do it as environmentally sound as possible. And for this new concept like building with nature or the use of the ecosystems services assessment, can be very beneficial for everybody for all stakeholders.
Because they know what’s going on and, something else is that you should bring your very complex and difficult projects not just maintenance projects bring your contractor on board as early as possible, because they know the impact of specific equipment in specific situations.
And that is something unique to the dredging contractor, because they are the ones that work with the equipment every day and that is something the consultant has less experience in. So, if it’s complex, think together contractor, client, consultants, maybe financing institutions think as early as possible in your project. Think about the best way to solve the problems.
Rosie Moth: In that tone of working together especially going back to the Jones Act in the USA is interesting, because our last podcast that we had our guests were all based in the USA. So WODCON was just in Miami, so we had Caterpillar obviously a very very large equipment manufacturer and then Cable Arm and Kruse Integration, all supplying in the USA.
For them, what they had said that was so great about WODCON was that they had a lot of suppliers, and consultants, and operators, project managers, who were coming Europe, coming from the far east to come and work with them.
So they can see not only what equipment they were using, so they can talk about projects and be able to communicate with each other about what obstacles they were facing, and how they had resolved some obstacles, how they had resolved others.
And what it seems like we’re seeing in the US especially is that because some of these legislations like the Jones Act are in place (obviously being the biggest one), it means that there’s limitations to innovation a big one but also different kinds of progress and being able to work together. And I think that was one of the issues that we see as being ‘we want to see if there’s any solutions in tackling it’ seeing how we can connect these projects and suppliers and experts on a global scale. Are there any examples of how we’re seeing this? I know Murray not to leave you out Rene has great answers and he’s a natural at this, sorry!
Murray Leach: Apology accepted!
Rene Kolman: Thank you!
Rosie Moth: I know you weren’t actually at WODCON this year were you? I know you weren’t there, but you’re kind of familiar with things the US side. What are you opinions on this in terms of connecting different projects?
Murray Leach: I think this is regardless of the industry I think we have the same issue which is: wherever there is no protectionism, and let’s be real that’s what the Jones Act is, it’s just protectionism for US companies, wherever there is protectionism you have a situation where there is a complete lull in those willing to invest in innovation or competition, because there is more work than there is people willing to do the work. So they just take advantage, and everywhere else in the world the pace of change accelerates and people collaborate and compete with each other and things get better. I think the US is going to get left behind, unless they find a way around this Jones Act.
Rosie Moth: Those are some strong opinions! Do you agree Rene? Do you think that that’s a sound statement?
Rene Kolman: When the market will open, a lot of work is not of interest for the big dredging companies. So there will always remain a large part of the market, for solely regional working US contractors. But the bigger projects the marine projects yeah they will have a problem if the market will open. The dredging industry, EuDA for instance, is working on a level playing field, or to realise a level playing field, to the US.
I think it will last a few more years because there is a strong opposition in the United States, under the Jones Act because it has to do with vessels, and when you treat dredging as a construction activity it’s no longer falling under the Jones Act, then you can work in the US. But as long as that’s not realised, there won’t be any innovation in the US because there is no need to, and when the market will open then they will really have a problem – especially the bigger companies, not the smaller regional working companies, because that’s work that’s not of interest to the big worldwide working companies.
Murray Leach: I think that that’s certainly true in the long term, but I think they’re also missing a trick in the short term, which is: if they’re not having to innovate at home, somebody else outside is doing innovation which they can’t keep up with, and they can’t afford to compete with those people outside of the US because they’re used to this very easy situation at home.
Rene Kolman: You see hardly any US company outside the US. Only great lakes is working outside the US, and their last report on the second quarter results, is not very positive.
Rosie Moth: Well this was my question, following this: do we see this being a twoway street? Especially if we look at Europe I think that is pretty well established in terms of there are people who are already have quite strong footholds in the market, of the projects happening in Europe, but specifically if we’re looking at Australia, what’s happening in the Middle East and the Far East, there’s still a lot of opportunity for market dominance and for moving into those areas but it seems like that is not happening with American companies.
Do you think that there will be growth within those territories of their own companies themselves, or do you think that European companies will kind of start expanding out there?
Murray Leach: I was going to say that I think this is already happening, European dredging is dominant, and the US companies don’t seem to have an ability to move outside of the US I guess similar to their car industry.
Rene Kolman: I agree with that. The capital intensity today is so large, you need so many specialised people in your company. If you realised that fifty percent of the four big Dutch and Belgian dredging companies has a bachelor or higher level of education more and more PhD people are working for the dredging companies, and that’s only possible when you have exceeded a certain size for your company.
There will definitely be a market for the smaller companies, but if you have real complex projects and you need a lot of technical expertise then it becomes harder and harder to get to that level.
Rosie Moth: Yeah, absolutely. I think that the concern is as we are now starting to look at: how can the dredging industry work better together? And what can we do as an industry to not only improve our image, but to look and say ‘OK socially, economically, environmentally, what can we do to be leading the way instead of waiting until people have a problem with what we’re doing?’ with this research that’s coming out of IADC, we’re looking at proactively how did we resolve these issues and what are some examples of ways that people are forging a path of being environmentally sound in what they’re doing.
Essentially if dredging companies aren’t looking towards this way, then they are going to be left behind. Which is unfortunate. So, what would you advise from both of you for dredging companies and operators, and those working in the dredging industry, what kind of advice would you give in terms of looking towards the future? What would you say that they should be doing in order to be on this next chapter of where the dredging industry is heading?
Rene Kolman: I think that you should distinguish in capital dredging, with complex projects and maintenance dredging maintenance dredging is just regular work that has to be performed and that’s going on already for many years, and will go on in the near future. But if you look to capital projects, then there’s one thing that should happen and that all the dredging companies are in favour of: work together from a very early moment in your project don’t compete on prices but compete on quality and innovative solutions. And for that you need all stakeholders involved and onboard as early as possible.
A few years ago we did a conference in London, that was on early contractor involvement, and contractors are all in favour of early involvement because then you don’t have to compete on price, and of course the price has to be right, but you can compete on quality and on solutions. And then you can also take on board your environmental concerns as early as possible and I think that’s the way forward to the future.
Murray Leach: Fully agree with that. The other point I think, is about selfregulation governmental bodies deciding what you should and shouldn’t do, and how to do it, by the time you get to that stage it’s already too late. If you can be very early in the idea of coming together with organisations, like IADC, to decide on how things should be done in a sustainable way, and a selfregulated industry will always lead to better results and a more sustainable industry.
Rosie Moth: Thank you. I think from that we might even get the theme for our next episode, because it sounds like pricing and billing, and being able to work together from the beginning of the project seem like quite a theme we can talk about some more so very interesting! Thank you both so much for being a part. Rene thank you for your time, and Murray thank you for jumping in I really appreciate it. Rene’s and IADC’s research on the Ecosystem Services is available on their website: IADCdredging.com I’ll also make them available under this post and any other resources we can get for you.
Thank you all for listening and we will speak with you next time.