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

Alternative market niches continue to be discovered on a regular basis. Alternative energy has begun to play a more significant role in the HDD marketplace, particular geothermal installations. One contractor indicated that as much as 55 percent of his business was now centered on geothermal. Several other survey respondents noted that geothermal work was a growing part of their business.

HDD challenges

Four areas clearly were on the mind of contractors responding to this survey:
• Price-cutting and poor work by irresponsible contractors;
• Crossbores and damage prevention;
• Mud disposal; and
• Lack of skilled labor which remains an unfortunate constant for much of the HDD industry.

This Northeast contractor stressed that “incompetent competition is giving the HDD business a bad name.” Along the same train of thought, a Midwestern contractor said “the biggest challenge for HDD is the competition from inferior contractors that continue to put out inferior work and give quality drillers a bad name.”

A contractor from Iowa raised the question “do we need state licensing to curb fly-by-night contractors?” Another contractor suggested that “we need to bring the price back up to where it was at the birth of our industry. People have forgotten that this is a specialty business not made for convenience.”

This Mid-Atlantic contractor believes the industry’s biggest challenge is “thinning out the competition and getting prices back to a decent level. “There is a definite lack of knowledge,” added this Virginia contractor. “Everybody thinks they are a driller. The jobs have to be done right or else we are going to get a bad name and ruin it for all drilling contractors.”

A Northwest contractor expressed anger at “cowboys who just like to ‘blow and go’ with no regard to the conditions of the site.”

The influx of inexperienced HDD contractors in busy market sectors has essentially meant that while many contractors are busy, they are not really making money.

Damage prevention
As the HDD market accelerates in several areas of the country, installing pipes/conduit in already densely-packed areas is a source of frustration and concern for many survey respondents.

“There is such a large amount of underground facilities that it now requires a very skilled drilling crew with high quality locating equipment to avoid costly damages to existing structures,” observed this Texas contractor.