In the Trenches

Resource Geoscience started out in consulting, but soon moved into field work, too. Owner Tom Lewis likes joining his team on the job site.
In the Trenches
Resource Geoscience personnel remove sludge from underground storage tanks discovered in a large excavation. (Photos courtesy of RGI)

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Take a look at this Resource Geoscience Inc. article featured 10 years ago in the July 2003 issue of Pumper magazine. We spotlight the company again in a follow-up story to see how the business has evolved over the last decade: “Remediation Work Keeps RGI Busy.”

If the stereotypical engineer is somone who wears horn-rimmed glasses and has a bouquet of pens sprouting from the pocket protector in his white shirt, Tom Lewis is a true mold-breaker.

Tom founded Resource Geoscience, Inc. (RGI) in 1992 in Colorado Springs, Colo. RGI began as a consulting firm, but Tom soon found that there was as much demand for sweat equity as for technical advice.

“Our original mission was to provide comprehensive environmental assessment, compliance and remediation services to industries, small businesses and municipalities,” Tom says. “We subbed out nearly all the actual work to established contractors. But we soon found out that many subs didn’t have the equipment, knowledge or willingness to handle the unique challenges of environmental work. So we started buying our own equipment and doing much of the work ourselves.”

Tom includes himself among the RGI employees who get their hands dirty. Though a civil engineer, he is just as likely to be running a vacuum truck as applying his expertise to a consulting job.

Tom recalls a hydroexcavating job. “We were at a site where there had been leakage from some underground storage tanks,” he explains. “So we were working in a 14- by 20-foot room, and of course there was no way to get a backhoe in there to get at the tanks, which were buried under three feet of dirt. So we were shooting water to break up the dirt and either shoveling or vacuuming to get the mud out of there. I was covered in it! As my employees remind me, ‘It’s a bitch to be in the ditch!’”

Kidding aside, Tom wouldn’t have things any other way. In the decade-plus of RGI’s existence, he has found a happy balance between using the technical training he received in college and the hands-on application needed to get the work completed.

“The engineering work gave us a great background and understanding of the overall business,” Tom explains. “Doing most of the work ourselves has made the business much more satisfying. And we’re also better able to keep our promises to complete projects on time and within budget.”

Growing diversity

While RGI is relatively small (eight full-time workers), its diversity is admirable. “We’re still known for our consulting work in environmental engineering,” Tom says. “But we’ve been growing the business steadily to include other areas. For example, we’re now one of the major providers of vacuum truck services in the Rocky Mountain region since starting that line five years ago.”

RGI has successfully marketed its vacuum truck services to the utility, construction, environmental, petroleum, mining and railroad industries. From cleanup operations to dewatering, excavation, and material recoveries, Tom has made RGI’s truck line a valued service to a growing number of regional businesses.

Shortly after adding vacuum trucks, Tom decided RGI would benefit from having its own wastewater treatment facility. “We’re fully permitted to accept sand trap wastes generated at car washes and auto repair centers, as well as contaminated water from underground storage tanks,” he says. “Colorado Springs has been growing pretty steadily in the last decade, and there was a need for such a facility. We felt having our own would be a valuable service.”

RGI also offers petroleum storage tank management services, helping managers and owners who typically run independent retail stations or bulk storage and transport facilities. RGI serves as a liaison between the facility manager and state regulators, assigning a project manager to the facility. Among other duties, the project manager develops and implements a standard operation and maintenance program that keeps the facility in compliance with regulations.

Broad range of services

Of course, RGI hasn’t strayed from its initial mission: consulting on environmental and geologic investigations and assessments. Among RGI’s services in this area are:

Geologic and hydrogeologic investigations. RGI maintains a mobile exploratory rig for assessing geologic formations and completing groundwater and aquifer studies. The rig has drilling and direct-push capacities, and RGI owns an extensive inventory of field sampling and testing equipment for subsurface assessments.

Environmental site assessments. RGI samples air, groundwater, soil and surface water and completes risk assessments for potential buyers wanting to stay in compliance with environmental regulations. After performing an assessment, RGI may be able to help a buyer or investor achieve compliance through mitigation or remediation.

Risk assessments. RGI visits sites to estimate potential health, human safety and environmental risks by identifying hazards and completing a dose-response evaluation. Using scientific, objective data, RGI assembles a risk assessment that allows managers to make decisions about how the release of a substance may affect public health. Then the company develops a risk-based corrective action outlining site-specific cleanup goals.

Remedial design and corrective action. The company helps property owners deal with contaminated soil or groundwater. Typical scenarios include petroleum spills or wells contaminated with pesticides or herbicides. RGI may employ a vacuum truck to perform a multi-phase extraction on a contaminated groundwater site.

“We’ve had sites that recorded 2,000 parts per billion of benzene go down to non-detectable levels in only eight visits,” Tom notes. “The process is known as enhanced fluid recovery, where you hook a truck up to a contaminated well, pull up contaminated water into the truck, and pull fresh water back into the plume area.

“The process releases petroleum from the soil, while the fresh water introduces oxygen back into the system. People are beginning to realize that vacuum trucks are a legitimate tool in these situations.”

Top-notch employees

Though running RGI is a challenge, Tom finds his work vital and exciting. “Perhaps our greatest strength is our fantastic employees,” he says. “From our receptionist to our operators and engineers, we’ve been lucky to hire and retain quality people. We try to treat our employees well and work around their individual schedules and lifestyles.

“Some of our people want to work early in the day, others late, and we try to work around those needs. And we don’t have set vacations. If someone needs to be gone for an event, we try to let them do that and just schedule other people to take up the slack. At the end of the year we inform them of our profits and share any company success in the form of bonuses.”           

Tom has developed a keen sense for people who will fit into the RGI system. “I was placing a classified ad in the newspaper for a computer-aided design (CAD) system operator awhile back,” he recalls. “The gal at the paper who was taking the information started talking with me about the position, and she expressed interest in the work. So I invited her down for an interview and we ended up hiring her and training her in on the machine. She’s become just a phenomenal operator.”

RGI’s environmental work requires that Tom receive assistance from similarly trained engineers. But even when hiring for such a position, he insists that the candidate demonstrates a willingness to sweat a little. “You might be working on an assessment one day, then running a drill rig the next,” he says. “I’d rather have an engineer who notched Bs and Cs in school but is willing to work in the field, than a straight-A guy who wants to stay behind a desk.”

Identifying needs

Environmental work is full of regulations that intimidate many small-business owners, but Tom has found that his willingness to understand and deal with regulations has led to more business.

“The environmental end of the business is still an immature one, and the ability to adapt and change is important,” he says. “Keeping abreast of the regulatory changes has kept us fairly weatherproof. Like everywhere else, the economy in Colorado Springs is not the greatest, but we’ve been able to maintain consistent growth because we’ve been willing to see that work as an opportunity rather than a hurdle.”

Clients like that attitude. “It’s a service that’s valuable to them,” Tom says. “We’ve left the frustration behind and have reached a level of acceptance. If we stay abreast of the regs and keep our clients in compliance, it saves them money in the long run. And we get along really well with regulators because we communicate with them constantly; we’re open to inspection and do our best to understand the changes. We have a history of cooperation instead of evasion and it just makes things simpler for all of us.”

Diversity also has helped RGI prosper. “One of our vacuum trucks might be idle for a week, but the other one is running nonstop, the drill rig is busy and we’re working on several assessments,” Tom says. “So we focus on being diverse but limit that growth to areas within our expertise. There are a lot of opportunities out there, but you have to be willing to stay up a little late at night and figure out if you have the equipment and knowledge to meet those needs.”

Finally, Tom and his colleagues emphasize the building of a solid reputation. “Establishing a good reputation and solid relationships is not only more satisfying, it’s more profitable,” he stresses. “So we don’t go into one job looking to make a profit, but we may make it on the job after that, and the job after that. We’re hoping for the type of slow-but-steady growth that will keep us around for a long time to come.”


After 10 years as owner of Resource Geoscience, Inc., Tom Lewis has developed some strong ideas about what it takes to succeed. Here are his 10 keys to success:

1.     Establish an identity. Design a recognizeable and attractive logo for the trucks, employees’ shirts, letterhead, etc.

2.     Establish a corporate philosophy. Hire a phone-friendly receptionist, always return calls immediately, be available for customers.

3.     Under-promise and over-perform: Make only promises you can keep. Don’t take on jobs that are beyond your capabilities or expertise.

4.     Educate yourself, your employees, and your clients. Know the regulations. Train your operators well and get them the proper credentials. Give clients the services they need – not what they think they want.

5.     Be flexible. Consultants are stuck between their clients’ needs and regulatory requirements. Adapt to make their jobs easier.

6.     Treat employees well. Be flexible with work hours and vacation times. Keep workers informed of company growth and reward them accordingly.

7.     Treat subcontractors right. Pay bills promptly. Establish good relationships; you never know when you’ll need a favor returned!

8.     Buy the best equipment you can afford. Compared to employees, equipment is cheap. “We pick up a lot of jobs because other contractors’ equipment failed or was in poor shape,” says Tom.

9.     Always look for new opportunities. Diversify clients and job types while you expand your core business.

10.   Treat competitors with respect. You never gain an edge by bad-mouthing your competition.


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