CH2M Hill’s Run as a Top Environmental Firm Dates to Rocky Flats

convert rocky flatsThere are good reasons that CH2M Hill is consistently ranked as the top U.S. environmental firm, but for those with long memories, the company’s innovative and ground-breaking involvement in the Rocky Flats nuclear waste site cleanup and closure is a great place to start.

The Rocky Flats Nuclear Production facility near Denver opened in 1952, but by 1992, when it was ordered closed by President George H.W. Bush, it was a disaster: one of the worst hazardous sites in the world. The Department of Energy estimated it would take 75 years and cost as much as $37 billion to close and clean up the contaminated 175-acre facility.

Various contractors had little success and by 1995, DOE acknowledged that a different tack was needed. Rather than continuing with the bureaucracy’s normal transaction-based project procedures, DOE sought a collaborative, innovative performance-based contract and governance structure that would drastically reduce the time and the cost of the cleanup/closure project.

Enter Kaiser-Hill Company LLC, a joint venture of CH2M Hill and Kaiser Engineers. DOE and Kaiser-Hill formed a new kind of commercial relationship in which they would collaborate for mutual success. Using a so-called vested approach, the DOE became a working partner with Kaiser-Hill to bear the numerous risks and share the rewards for achieving mutually-defined goals.

This kind of partnership, on a scale of this magnitude, had never been tried. But the results were beyond anyone’s expectations. In 2005, ten years after Kaiser-Hill started, the improbable happened: Kaiser-Hill successfully removed transuranic and other hazardous waste equivalent in size to a 65-story building the length and width of a football field. In the end, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Production site was transformed into a 6,550-acre wildlife environmental refuge. And the project came in $27 billion under the initial budget projections and 65 years ahead of initial schedule estimates. (For more on this see Vested for Success: How the Dept. of Energy and CH2M-Hill Transformed a Plutonium Site to Prairie Land.)

It was a triumph of collaboration, innovation, sharing value and the concept of aligning for mutual success.

The knowledge and experience of the Rocky Flats saga helps explain why CH2M Hill is the top U.S. environmental firm, according to Engineering News-Record’s Top 200 Environmental Firms list, and why it has held the No. 1 spot on ENR’s annual list since 2006. The company has leveraged its Rocky Flats experience.

CH2M Hill, along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young, ERM, KPMG, McKinsey, PE International and PwC, are the leading sustainability consulting firms, according to a May report from independent analyst firm Verdantix.

Earlier this month, CH2M Hill won a three-year master services agreement to support BP’s environmental efforts outside of North America in the areas of remediation, environmental compliance assurance and auditing, modeling, environmental permitting, waste management, water and wastewater management, impact assessment, environmental due diligence and mergers and acquisitions support, natural resource management, social and sustainability reporting and environmental project oversight.

The value of the contract was not announced; but maybe BP got something right, no matter the cost.

[Image: Convert Rocky Flats Poster by rocbolt via Flickr cc]

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