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Technology for Overcoming the Natural Environment

Technology for Overcoming the Natural Environment

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) has become the premier process for installing underground applications, but to do so the HDD process has had to overcome the challenge of minimizing disturbance to natural features. In an environmentally conscious world, HDD technology must continue to perform the work of installing underground facilities, all the while protecting the natural surroundings of the jobsite. Modern HDD drill rigs are unmatched in rugged strength and design, but they continue to be engineered for excellence in jobsite performance. Such engineering is a key facet that allows HDD products to perform even when environmental roadblocks seem impossible to overcome.    

For drilling contractors, the largest barriers are often bodies of water. Formations like creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds pose numerous construction challenges. They are not just obstacles for utility installers, they are also organic structures that support wildlife, plant cultures and the well-being of the surrounding terrain. Over the years, HDD practitioners have refined the process of installing utilities in these sensitive areas.

One example of tackling the looming task of conducting HDD operation through a significant water body was conducted in 2005 by InterCon Construction from Madison, Wis.

InterCon Construction is a two-decade-old underground utility contractor with a successful track record on the jobsite. This track record would be tested through a contract with the City of Columbus, Ohio, and the local gas company. 

The contract called for the installation of 20-in. steel gas transmission line with a ½ in. wall thickness, which would cross the Hoover Reservoir.  The Hoover Reservoir, which is located in the northeastern section of Ohio’s capital city, is of substantial importance to the city, as it is the city’s primary source for drinking water, as well as serving as the leading water distributor to the city’s largest beverage manufacturer. InterCon Construction undertook the project with those parameters in mind, but also with a firm grasp on making sure that their work was done in a manner that was in conjunction with environmental acceptance.

“Both InterCon Construction and the local municipalities have rigorous requirements for guarding the environment,” said drill rig superintendent Don Masters. InterCon Construction took strong measures including having its drilling personnel who would perform the work attend a client-affiliated workshop to understand the importance of the reservoir, and also to learn about its character and service makeup. According to Masters, InterCon Construction was also required to utilize an electric mud pump and cleaning systems that required no diesel or gasoline power, as to avoid any potential ground contamination.

InterCon Construction began the HDD process with the use of an American Augers DD-1100. The pilot hole was drilled using an 8-in. mud motor equipped with a 12 ½-in. drill bit, which was mounted to 6 5/8-in. drill pipe. 

The distance of the pilot hole was 7,400 ft. Masters recalled the initial drilling process to be the company’s “longest, single-most challenging pilot hole we have ever attempted without an intersection.” The drill rig operator and steering was aided by the onboard wireline commutator hookup, which allows precise tracking of the drill pipe along a pre-determined range.

Compounding the total under-reservoir distance was the ground conditions. Masters described the adverse environment as a “mixed situation” that required the rack-and-pinion HDD rig to show its engineered muscle in an inconsistent blend of sand, gravel, cobble, shale, silt and clay.  The rack-and-pinion design of the drill rig is of extreme importance to drillers, as it gives them the comfort of utilizing a piece of machinery that operates with smoother carriage movement that grants more precise operating control, and is low maintenance in terms of extending equipment life by functioning with less wear characteristics, or having fewer complicated parts that need to be consistently replaced.

The high strength and horsepower of the rig did succeed even when underwater bed ground formations ultimately did slow the drilling process, but it was the experience of the drilling crew and the engineering of the drill rig that ultimately overcame circumstances that would hinder the project.

The total project took almost five months to complete, but as Masters summed it up “the project was a long one in terms of time and distance, but everything went well because we benefited from the performance of the rig, the experience of our operators and overall planning.”

InterCon Construction has many additional experiences in conducting successful water crossings, as prior to this project the same American Augers drill rig was used to install 30 in. steel product casing underneath Pensacola Bay in Pensacola, Fla.

During the entire three-month venture, the InterCon crew was able to have a long bore distance of 5,300 ft. In a drill depth of around 100 ft, which was below the estimated 40 or 50 ft water, the crew was able to install the product and place through the casing a 24 in. steel water line.

InterCon Construction’s water-crossing success is just an example of where HDD technology is in terms of balancing modern construction equipment and environmental sensitivity.

The project in Columbus is a prime example of this, as the erratic ground conditions were overcome because the technology was able to be equal to or greater than the challenges it faced. State-of-the-art HDD rigs can excel and be environmentally friendly because the business acumen of their manufacturers places an emphasis on producing high-output/high-torque equipment with large drilling fluid courses that is not overly burdened by the working conditions.

Shorelines can also create a very confined working area, so contractors need to have mobility and flexibility, as well as the ability to have the same power that a maxi-rig provides. So, to accommodate the smaller jobsite footprint, today’s manufacturers are producing self-contained large rotary torque HDD rigs that are driven on undercarriage excavator tracks.

In all, horizontal directional drilling will continue to be a highly sophisticated action of accurate, monitored boring and guidance of the drilling operation. HDD has the ability to avoid pre-located environmental features and minimize any potential disturbance of the environment. However, HDD maintains the sanctity of preserving other natural features during this precise/controlled drilling process. Manufacturers and operators will have the daunting task of continuing to emphasize the mostly positive effects that HDD has on existing environments and that horizontal directional drilling should be a primary choice when underground technology construction must be exercised.

Rob Foster is marketing manager for American Augers.

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