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Mark Holley

Sheridan grad Mark Holley

Faculty of Applied Science & Technology

Degree: Chemical Engineering Technology

Year of graduation: 1987

Underground science: How Mark Holley uses chemistry to save utilities millions

The next time you turn on the tap, think for a minute about the vast network of pipes, reservoirs and tanks that bring the water to your kitchen. Then consider what would happen if problems in those systems dried up the supply.

As the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice-President of Calgary-based Pure Technologies, Mark Holley spends much of his day thinking about just that, and helping his clients, who are mainly municipal utilities, avoid problems. Pure also provides monitoring services for oil and gas pipelines, as well as for infrastructure like bridges. But as the lead for the water business, Holley focuses on spreading the message about inspecting and managing pipelines. It’s information that can save millions. According to the International Water Association, the failure of a large pipe can cost a utility between $500,000 and $1.5 million. 

Pure develops and maintains technology that can inspect and also monitor pipelines remotely, providing important information on the pipeline's condition. Smart Ball, for instance, rolls through the pipe detecting leaks and pockets of gas. Pipe Diver, meanwhile, is a long, narrow probe that searches for damage so one portion of a pipe can be replaced instead of undertaking a major construction project to replace an entire pipeline after it fails.

“It’s akin to finding a weak link in a chain,” Holley explains. “What we're trying to do is find the weak pipe sections which allows the client to target and rehabilitate individual pipes, thereby reducing the overall risk of failure and increasing the remaining useful life of the entire pipeline.”

The technology has already met with success. In Colorado, for instance, water utilities used Pipe Diver to inspect pipes running through the Rocky Mountains in hours, instead of months, while keeping crews out of dangerous sections of the alpine terrain. Holley also works with many utilities in Florida, and after Hurricane Irma devastated the state in September, he helped them manage their maintenance operations so they could continue to provide safe water after the storm passed.

Whether he’s working with storm-ravaged cities or helping towns manage decades-old pipes, Holley says the knowledge of electro-chemistry he gained at Sheridan is still valuable because he needs to be able to understand the science behind corroding pipes, particularly in aging infrastructure. His role also allows him to exercise his entrepreneurial muscles, another skill he learned while at Sheridan when he spent his evenings and weekends running a business installing residential windows, doors and siding. After graduation, he worked for startups in Western Canada before joining Pure in its infancy. He spent 14 years getting the American branch of the business up and running before moving to the Calgary office in 2015. While the results of most of his work go on deep underground, he says it's rewarding to know he is helping municipalities keep taps running.

“Countless times we are working with companies that, if a pipeline had failed, the impact on business, and residents, would have been catastrophic,” he says.  “Every time we find a problematic pipe section and it can be addressed proactively, it makes me feel good about what we do.”
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