Career brings learning full circle

January 12, 2013
Amy Dove
Mike Ansley, Petro Barrier Systems vice-president of marketing and communications, is passionate about helping people see how easy it can be to filter harmful substances away of the water system.

Every storm drain tells a story.

Knowing that story is an important part of protecting local waterways from contaminants. Thanks to the team at Petro Barrier Systems, which includes Royal Roads Bachelor of Commerce alumnus Mike Ansley, the fine details of what is slipping down the drain can soon be added to the plot.

“Big spills make the news, but tons of little spills are happening right outside your door and we are all a part of it. People don’t really realize the magnitude of pollution that comes from storm drains alone,” Ansley says. “What we are doing can help stop that.”

Petro Barrier Systems, under the direction of founder and inventor Iain Muir, has been designing and manufacturing innovative filters for more than a decade from its Greater Victoria location. The patented filters capture oil, chemicals and heavy metals through a chemical reaction that creates a gel to trap the substance from going any further while water continues to flow. In the event of a large spill, the gel seals over the drain entirely, preventing anything from passing through. The company’s client list includes Epcore, CN Rail, Ontario Power Generation, Toronto Hydro Electric System, US Food Service and Fortis Turks and Caicos.

Campus Honda Victoria has been using the storm drain filters for seven years with success, says service manager Craig Hygh. The filters are installed in an area that sees a daily average of 70 cars drive by or park. It is a cost effective, low maintenance solution to keeping pollution out of nearby Cecilia Creek, he adds.

“The Capital Regional District tests our water and everything is just perfect,” he says.

The filters already help people stop contaminants from going down the drain, but the products are evolving to include a wireless monitoring system.

Developed by Camosun College engineering professors Will Spaulding and Imtehaze Heerah, that will make it even easier for businesses to avoid costly cleanups and prevent damage to surrounding ecosystems, Ansley says.

Dubbed the Storm Drain Alert System, it will allow clients to remotely monitor drains for clogs and spills, while gleaning additional information such as water flow levels and daily temperatures. All of the data will be delivered daily to the client’s email inbox, Ansley says.

“I believe this to be game changing,” he says. “You will be able to really see where and when oil is going down your drains.”

Royal Roads will host a pilot project to test the new wireless system. Up to eight filters will be installed in a parking lot on campus in January 2013 and the data they generate will be collected for one year. The project is a clear example of the university’s approach to lifelong learning and community partnerships, says Nancy Wilkin, director of RRU’s Office of Sustainability. The data generated will directly benefit the university and will also add important context to a Capital Regional District water flow monitoring project (part of a larger harbour monitoring project) on Colwood Creek, a fish-bearing waterway on campus.

The pilot will allow the company to test the alert system through all seasons and Ansley is happy that this next chapter involves working with the support of the university. It seems fitting as his career opportunity was born in a classroom there.

It started with a group business plan crafted for class on behalf of Petro Barrier Systems and flowed into the opportunity to help lead the company in a new direction as vice-president of marketing and communications.

The lessons gleaned in the classroom have helped Ansley walk into the business and identify ways to streamline production and financial systems, and even take a hand in building the filter units (including hammering 500 rivets into place by hand).

The hands-on approach of the job has afforded him the opportunity to really understand the business and its products, he says. He is excited to apply his skills as the company moves toward more research and development, while expanding the services it offers.

“The biggest thing (I took away from Royal Roads) was flexibility in my approach,” he says. “On top of the course knowledge, it gave me tools to figure things out. You know where you want to go, you have different tools to get you there and you just figure it out.”

Read a previous article about Ansley's work with Petro Barrier Systems.