Traditionally, large and maxi horizontal directional drills (HDDs) have been used for mainline oil and gas infrastructures. As global and domestic needs change, so do the jobsites these drills are used on. With more utilities and pipelines being put in the ground, that makes installing new utilities and pipelines even more complex.
Open-cut trenching methods are typically not the preferred option for most pipeline or utility installation projects. Trenching through sidewalks, yards and even streets can be a major disturbance in residentials areas — and especially large cities. Not to mention how creating large, invasive trenches can affect wildlife habitats. Instead, using an HDD can install those same utilities and pipelines efficiently with minimal residential and environmental disturbance.
Andy Bremner, Pipeline commercialization sales manager sat down with experts in the construction and drilling industries. Gary Castleberry and Mark Miller both work at GeoEngineers Inc., an employee-owned engineering and earth science consulting firm. As a senior construction consultant for GeoEngineers, Castleberry is a member of one of the leading teams of trenchless engineers in the country. With his many years of experience working on HDD jobsites in a variety of roles, Castleberry has a deep passion for the industry and those who support it.
Miller is a principal geotechnical engineer and specializes in serving energy clients across the country. Miller said, “At GeoEngineers we have the field experience to understand HDD as a construction process, and we also have knowledge of the subsurface. To determine how the subsurface and drill may interact, we look at the project holistically.” For HDD projects that need to be installed around obstacles — like roads and rivers — Miller can evaluate what is needed and create a plan to execute the project efficiently.
Exploring other jobsites
In recent years the teams at Vermeer and GeoEngineers have seen increased utilization of large and maxi HDDs on jobsites other than mainline gas and oil infrastructure.
Some of these alternative jobsites that are being seen more frequently are:
- Offshore wind
- Carbon capture
- Renewable natural gas
- Water infrastructure
Changing government initiatives have played a role in the increase of alternative maxi rig applications. Carbon capture projects are a prime example of how government entities can impact the HDD industry. “In a recent spending bill the federal government increased the tax credit for capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide,” Miller said. “It went from $50 per metric ton, to $85 per metric ton. With that increased incentivization CO2 pipeline projects are financially viable.” With more public interest in environmental issues around the world, these government initiatives will likely continue in the future for HDD work.
Another reason that many government entities are striving for infrastructure to be installed with HDDs is to help preserve environmentally sensitive areas. If contractors are working in a wildlife area with an endangered species, for example, trenching through beaches, forests or fields could be extremely disruptive to the wildlife. With HDD, the ground and surrounding areas experience minimized disruption compared to open-cut trenching methods.
Machine changes for an evolving industry
With an industry that is constantly evolving, equipment designs need to adapt along with it.
A key design element that has changed in the HDD industry is creating a powerful machine with a smaller footprint. As the global population grows that means more farms, houses, streets and businesses that contractors need to avoid disrupting. Yet, there is the same desire for increased hole making capabilities and overall machine capacity within a smaller machine footprint.
The reality of having less physical space to drill does not mean that projects can slow down. Instead, contractors are looking to use maxi rigs to complete large-scale pipeline or utility installation projects. “In the past, contractors could have performed open excavation for many of their projects. Now, they must avoid overhead power lines, underground power lines or other pipelines,” Castleberry said. “That means we need to go underground — performing longer distances with larger pipe.”
In the drilling industry, working with government regulations and permits comes with the territory. Although the permitting and design process seems to take longer, project deadlines are still the same. The amount of tedious paperwork means contractors are looking for ways to increase efficiency on their jobsite. Because of jobsite deadlines, contractors are utilizing drills with increased hole making capabilities, increased machine capacity or running two rigs at once to increase productivity.
On all HDD jobsites, the primary goal is to successfully complete an installation with the least amount of disturbance to those living nearby. Bringing consultants like those at GeoEngineers not only helps the contractors make key decisions to their jobsite but prioritizes environmental stewardship and overall sustainability. Experts like Castleberry and Miller — along with the contractor or owner — analyze the jobsite to look for potential risks and can assist in making jobsite adjustments.
This article contains third-party observations, advice or experiences that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vermeer Corporation, its affiliates or its dealers. Testimonials and/or endorsements by customers in specific circumstances may not be representative of normal circumstances experienced by all customers.
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