14th Annual Horizontal Directional Drilling Survey: Telecom, Energy Drive Market, But Is It Sustainable?

Riding The Wave
By Robert Carpenter, Editor | June 2012, Vol. 67 No. 6

For oil, the price could skyrocket in a flash if Iran starts saber rattling, the Chinese economy shows new signs of strength or any number of scenarios play out on the national stage. The good news for the U.S. is that we’re producing more oil and our domestic refiners are importing less as the result. As for gas, to deflate the bubble several things need to happen. First, the economy must improve so that power generation demands will increase and new housing starts climb back to healthy levels. Also, the push for natural gas as a fuel for trucks and cars needs to gain traction.

The best guess at this time is that there will be an overall slowing of the oil and gas infrastructure construction market in 2013 and 2014, but far from the dramatic drop in activity typical of past cycles. Work will still continue but at a more realistic pace as dictated by the market. However, 2015 could be the start of another boom cycle. Much will depend upon the fall U.S. elections and future attitudes towards petrochemical-based energy.

Other markets

The gas distribution market also continues to be strong for HDD. In fact, several utilities have expressed concern that when the housing market starts to grow, they won’t be able to find enough contractors to accommodate that growth. Some contractors have also expressed frustration at not being able to find enough skilled laborers for their needs.

Water continues to be a good market for HDD contractors though that niche growth has slowed since 2008 due to funding restrictions. The good news is that an increasing number of water utilities have acknowledged that HDD is a powerful tool for waterline installation. However, contractors looking to expand into that niche from private utility work must learn to deal with layers of consulting engineers and tighter markets. It’s a niche that is not for everyone, but once the municipal market begins a more substantial rebound, projects for water authorities should be increasing.

Sewer work also has carved a niche for HDD applications, albeit for specific applications such as pressure pipe. Obtaining line and grade for gravity sewer installations remains an inexact – and expensive – science. Until a quicker and more cost-effective method of grade control is established, sewer will be a bit more elusive.

Suffice it to say, that until the municipal industries begin to finally realize revenue increases for infrastructure, those markets will remain stagnant or show limited growth at best.