HDD: An Environmental Home Run

The Last Word
By John English | December 2010 Vol. 65 No. 12
John English

EDITOR’S NOTE: The ‘Last Word’ is an occasional column featuring comments from various industry personnel. The purpose of this opinion article is to provide an open forum for candid discussion of various industry issues and concerns, and to explore solutions to these needs.

In just a few short decades, the use of horizontal directional drilling, as a method to install pipelines and utilities, has become common place.

The advantages of HDD are two-fold. HDD has already saved billions if not trillions of dollars in bottom line construction costs.Whether it is the avoidance of road, highway and railway closures or allowing multi-faceted use of the same property, the benefits of HDD to the construction industry are tremendous. More than that, HDD is the construction industry’s contribution to the environmental movement. In the context of real benefits, HDD is an environmental home run. Thanks to the development of HDD, trenching and open cutting through environmentally delicate areas have all but been eliminated. There is no longer a need to stir toxins settled in bay and river bottoms, killing fish, wildlife and poisoning the water down steam. Because of HDD, wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas remain virtually undisturbed. Even so, current environmentalists are failing to recognize HDD is not the enemy. In fact, HDD is their very best tool to protect the environment.

From day one, everyone understood HDD was an added expense and financially, very risky -- not just because of the unknowns of what would be encountered below ground, but because of the sheer complexity of what the HDD contractor was being asked to accomplish. Somewhat of a construction enigma, where greater quantities usually reduce the price, the opposite is true with HDD. Gravity itself opposes the idea of creating a horizontal hole a larger the diameter and longer drill increases risk. The stress to the equipment needed to drill and remove the vast amounts of formation, while keeping the resulting hole (more accurately described as a tunnel) from collapsing, are far greater than that placed on the same equipment when used in vertical drilling projects.

The concept was simple: those involved discussed, analyzed and calculated costs based on all the potential risk. The environmentalists and HDD contractors were on the same team. If the benefits to the owner exceeded the risks, the HDD project would proceed. Although none of these risks (nor the complexity of what HDD contractors accomplish) has gone away, neither have the enormous environmental benefits.