HDD: An Environmental Home Run

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

Environmental confusion
Why have environmentalists become confused about HDD? The economic and environmental benefits have contributed to the unprecedented growth of HDD solidifying its permanent position in the pipeline and utility industry. There is no question that the growth has produced a severe shortage of HDD related experience and created critical positions without a pool from which to acquire knowledgeable personnel. HDD contractors were once an important part of the planning team, working closely with project managers and environmentalist to be sure proper procedures were followed. This interaction, during the planning and drilling stages, established the inter-vocational cross-training needed to maintain adequate experience levels at key positions. The structure has changed as breed of self-proclaimed HDD consultants have inserted themselves between contractors and project owners. This added layer separates knowledgeable contractors from those who need the benefits of horizontal directional drilling, stunting the education, skills and experience level of construction managers and environmentalists, while at the same time creating a situation that can favor more inept HDD contractors. The risk of incidents is increased due to filtered communications and problematic project designs. The more HDD educated the construction industry becomes, the true added value of the consultant is exposed. Most owners and project environmentalists may not even know the problem exists but HDD contractors must accept the contracts as written or risk submitting an alternative bid which will likely be rejected.

Because directionally drilled crossings help preserve rivers, wetlands and reclamation areas, everyone understands the permitting authorities are concerned about protecting the area. That is why the owners are going to the extra expense, plus an added risk of utilizing HDD. As they join the industry, today's environmentalists are losing sight of the overall HDD benefit, failing to learn the details and skills involved; instead they are focusing on miniscule, mostly temporary, cosmetic intrusions upon the areas in question. The concept that provides green jobs is dependent on the idea that progress and the environment coexist. It is similar to endoscopic surgery, far less invasive but that doesn’t mean there is no scar and that there are no risks. HDD is the environmentalist's tool used to minimize impact on the area.