First Columbia’s Investment Company Sabre Carves our Fracking Business Outside NY

The hydrofracking boom has bypassed New York thus far, but one local company is cashing in on the controversial gas drilling technology.

First Columbia has been known within the market as a prominent player when it comes to investing in real estate. However, First Columbia for many years has invested in and developed many opportunistic capital projects.

One of those companies is Sabre Technical Services LLC in Slingerlands. The company has rigs that clean and recycle millions of gallons of water needed to extract natural gas from deep rock formations in Texas, Arkansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma and other states. Sabre Technical Services LLC in Slingerlands operates five $1 million rigs that purify water contaminated by hyrdofracking.

Sabre has contracts with Occidental Petroleum Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp., Apache Corp., Exxon and other energy giants, creating 100 jobs, about 20 of which are at the company headquarters. “We have 20 years of history with hydrofracking,” said John Mason, chairman and chief technology officer. “It’s the biggest market opportunity now.”

The opportunities are not in New York, however, as the state continues to study whether to allow drilling in the Southern Tier, where the Marcellus Shale rock formation contains huge deposits of natural gas.

The privately owned firm, which is one-third owned by real estate developer First Columbia LLC in Latham, isn’t the only company in the U.S. that purifies water contaminated by hydrofracking, but its patented method is in demand because it can be done quickly on a large scale. The technology also is mobile and executives say it does not create carcinogens or other byproducts harmful to the environment.

Shale gas development has taken off in the U.S. over the past five years as new technologies enabled energy companies to drill horizontal wells in deep rock formations.

The industry supports 600,000 jobs, and is expected to reach 870,000 jobs by 2015, according to IHS Global Insight, a consulting firm whose 2010 study was commissioned by America’s Natural Gas Alliance, an industry trade group.

Sabre has five rigs, each costing about $1 million, that pump chlorine dioxide gas into drilling holes.

The rigs can generate up to 250,000 pounds of the gas daily. By comparison, it takes 500 pounds a day to purify a typical municipal water system.

The gas cleans water extracted from drilling wells, enabling it to be recycled on site and reducing the amount of fresh water needed for fracking. The bacteria killed by the gas also improve how the drilling equipment runs in the field.

Chlorine dioxide gas is volatile but non-toxic. It has been used since the 1940s to treat municipal drinking water in the U.S.

Sabre is building three more rigs to handle the growing demand from hydrofracking. About 80 percent of the company’s revenues are from fracking, but the application has other uses, too.

The company’s big break came just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when someone mailed an anthrax-laced envelope to the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington.

Sabre was called in by the federal government to use its chlorine dioxide gas treatment to decontaminate the building. At the time, the rigs were in Texas and on an oil field in the Middle East. They were flown into Washington on C-5 military cargo planes.

“It was all hush-hush,” Mason said. “Nobody wanted to say who cleaned it or how.”

Sabre’s other contracts included a former weapons depot in Russia; a 1 million-square-foot pharmaceutical plant in Colorado; cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina; and Catholic Healthcare West in Los Angeles, the second-busiest hospital in southern California, which was filled with mold shortly after opening.

“It was a crazy period for us,” Mason said.

In 2004, Mason partnered with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and another investor on a joint venture called BioONE to respond to biological and chemical contaminations.

Mason bought out Giuliani just prior to First Columbia’s investment in the company three years ago. Now, with a focus on hydrofracking, the prospects for continued growth are strong. New employees are being added regularly.

“We’re going to end up being one of the largest tech companies in the area,” Bette predicted.

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