Editor's Log: HDD Initiatives At UCT

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | September 2013, Vol. 68 No. 9

There was a time, back in the 90s, when the horizontal directional drilling market was a huge segment of the annual Underground Construction Technology International Conference & Exhibition. Since then, UCT has grown to truly encompass all aspects of the underground marketplace with construction and rehabilitation of sewer and water systems topping the list.

Mix in heavy doses of gas distribution, telecom and electric along with various underground utilities technologies all receiving their fair share of attention.

The introduction of the RehabZone almost 13 years ago was one of the most important events for not only UCT, but the entire rehabilitation market. This generic program replete with interactive, informative displays, live demonstrations and hands-on activities provide learning activities like no other available in the industry today.

One of the early drivers in UCT’s rise to relevance was the horizontal directional drilling explosion in the late 90s. Factories were churning out drilling rigs at an amazing pace and support companies were cropping up and flourishing in every niche of the HDD market. Every contractor had to have an HDD rig. As fast as a new rig was introduced, it was just a matter of months before a major technology improvement made the rig obsolete. But in 2000, the bottom fell out of the telecom market – the principal driver of HDD’s incredible prosperity. Subsequently, HDD’s meteoric rise to prominence made an even faster dive to despair.

But the technology was proven. Applications to virtually all underground markets were established and HDD’s niche was forever carved into the marketplace, albeit at a much slower pace to recovery.

That recovery has arrived. The HDD market is currently enjoying unprecedented levels of popularity and status as the favored construction method for telecom (again), electric, gas distribution and water. It has even gained a significant foothold in the sewer market. Various niches are discovered and developed on a regular basis. It seems like every week I hear of a new, innovative use for HDD.

Of course, the primary diver for the boom in mid to large HDD work has been the energy market. It has been well-documented how the shale gas/oil markets in often rugged, inaccessible terrain have come to rely upon HDD as the best construction solution for pipeline infrastructure and transportation.