These dirt bags are in demand

Company's compost filter socks prevent erosion, sedimentation wherever the earth moves




When Mike Zock was involved in the Pittsburgh home-building industry in the early 2000s, he witnessed traditional sediment controls fail with each new rainfall. 

The use of sediment controls — systems designed to keep loose soil within the confines of work sites to avoid water pollution — is required for any disturbance of earth in Pennsylvania. That includes the increased activity from Marcellus and Utica shale drilling and pipeline construction occurring within the state.

Approved devices include silt fences, which are comprised of synthetic fabric attached to fence stakes; straw wattles, or woven netting filled with closely-packed straw; and vegetative film strips.

Yet Mr. Zock regularly saw the devices leak, clog, or just disintegrate. In searching for an answer, he discovered compost filter socks in 2009.

Compost filter socks consist of high-density polypropelene netting packed with pieces of aged hardwood. They‘‍re less subject to clogging or erosion than straw or geotextiles. The filtering technology has been endorsed by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which considers compost filter socks as best management practices, acting as highly efficient sediment controls.

But it was not until the advent of oil and gas drilling of the Marcellus Shale that Mr. Zock saw an opportunity to capitalize on the technology.

In March 2011, he co-founded Mazcon, a producer and distributor of compost filter socks in State College. Mazcon would later merge with an Ohio mulch producer Kurtz Bros. to become MKB Co. in 2013, the largest Pennsylvania producer of the device that has been termed the Diamond Sock.

“Our team saw the Marcellus coming,” said Jim Carlin, head of business development for MKB. “We understood how much dirt was going to be moved, and the opportunities that came with it.”

To date, Mr. Zock’s team has produced over 750 miles of compost filter sock. In the past year alone, MKB reports that its sales have nearly doubled, with 293 miles of Diamond Sock sold in the first six months of 2014 compared to 125 miles of the product in the year-ago period.

While Diamond Sock costs more than traditional sediment controls on a per-foot basis, Mr. Carlin said that a longer life span reduces total project costs. 

MKB relies on contractors such as Pittsburgh’s MMC Land Management to handle manufacturing, but the company’‍s own 13 employees take orders through a cell phone distribution network that allows them to receive work orders without sacrificing mobility. Six MKB truck drivers then deliver the Diamond Sock orders.

“What we have done is create a very shippable, palletized product that is easily distributed,” said co-founder Nelson Peachey. He said on-site distribution is particularly helpful to earth-moving workers who often find themselves in areas without cell phone coverage.

Diamond Sock receives most of its orders from oil and gas drilling companies. While the Environmental Protection Agency exempted oil and gas producers from regulation of hazardous wastes in 2005, they are still subjected to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection‘‍s erosion and sediment control manual issued in 2009.

“Anyone using over five acres of land for oil and gas activities is required to obtain an erosion and sediment control permit prior to any earth disturbance,” said Joe Adams, chief of the well development and surface activities division of the DEP. “You get a lot of credit for the water quality treatment that compost socks provide.”

MKB Co. serves a number of industries, in addition to oil and gas. Compost filter socks have been requested for home-building sites, landscaping, well pads, power lines and pipeline projects.

“Oil and gas drilling are our major markets,” said Mr. Carlin. “But we receive requests from virtually anyone moving any type of dirt.”

Moving forward, MKB Co. hopes to expand, not just beyond the oil and gas industry, but beyond state lines. It currently has competitors in eastern Ohio. 

“We’ve begun to ship to a lot of states out of Pennsylvania, and are establishing relationships with national distributors,” said Mr. Carlin. “But as we continue to grow, we will hang onto our culture with desperation.”

Rocio Labrador: rlabrador@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.

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