Trends in underground construction: from fiber to oil and gas

Although many underground construction crews install a variety of products, there’s also a lot of specialization in the industry. That can make it so someone who works primarily in the fiber market, for example, doesn’t have a strong sense of what’s happening with oil and gas, and vice versa.

Vermeer, however, is in touch with people across the industry. Our diverse product lineup — everything from small horizontal directional drills to maxi rigs, microtrenchers on up to large trenchers and rockwheels, plus support equipment, tooling and more — has put us in a unique position to keep up with markets across the underground industry.

Here’s a look at some of the trends we are seeing. These are primarily focused on North America, unless otherwise noted.

  • Telecom — Just about everyone knows that we’re in the midst of another fiber boom. This is expected to continue for the next several years. The driver is the race among service providers to get 1-gig internet to communities.
  • Gas distribution — The natural gas market is several years into a 15-year replacement cycle for gas distribution pipelines. Also, coal-to-gas conversions are leading to more pipeline installations. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has forecast that 2016 will be the first time natural gas generation for electricity exceeds coal generation in the U.S.
  • Electric distribution — Speaking of power generation, the electric distribution market is in a replacement cycle that closely mirrors gas distribution. The work has started on the East Coast, where older infrastructure is in place, and will spread west.
  • Oil and gas — There’s a growing awareness that it would be better if oil and gas were moved by pipeline instead of by rail and over the road. Another trend is for larger-diameter pipelines, growing from the 20- and 24-inch (50.8 and 61 cm) lines that have been common to ones that are 36 inches (91.4 cm) and larger. This is happening not just in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, but also Europe. You can read more about oil and gas pipeline trends in this Underground blog from earlier this year.
  • Water and sewer — Really, this one could be classified under “aging infrastructure.” There are pipes in the U.S., particularly on the East Coast, that date to the 1800s, and they are failing. For example, there are 240,000 water main breaks each year in the U.S., according to the federal government. More than $1 trillion is needed by 2035 for underground drinking water infrastructure alone, according to the American Water Works Association.

This is just a quick glance at some of the trends Vermeer has observed that affect underground construction contractors. What are you seeing on your jobsites? Let us know on the Vermeer Underground Facebook page

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