HDD: An Environmental Home Run

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

The expansion of HDD is creating a below ground labyrinth. Because the worst case scenario involves a driller hitting an existing underground pipeline, the most important environmental aspect of HDD is accuracy. HDD contractors have the ability to know the exact position of the drill bit at all times. In fact, this tracking ability is what allowed HDD to expand from remote to congested areas. This precision allows better use of existing right-of-ways. Pipelines and utilities can service more people while disrupting less land. Although HDD contractors have the ability to know the precise location of the drill head at all times, a high percentage of today's engineering firms and environmentalists are unaware or misinformed of just how the guidance system works. Through ignorance or more sinister reasons, they allow and sometimes dictate contractors use less accurate systems.

When it comes to steering tools and guidance systems, there is nothing more accurate than direct current surface tracking, yet HDD consultants routinely recommend other less reliable methods. This trend has resulted is an increase in re-drills and HDD related court cases. Because communications between contractors and owners is discouraged, most are unaware steering system recommendations are being made by those who haven't performed the research and due diligence required. When the line is installed improperly, the person or firm who wrote the specs, nor the environmentalist, will accept responsibility. The cost of the re-drill falls directly on the owner and/or HDD contractor.

Without understanding how steering and tracking systems work, environmentalist are restricting access to areas and limiting the contractor’s ability to properly set up and verify the underground movement of the drill head. The environmental damage of a track hoe driven to the river's edge is in the short-term minimal at worst and long-term non-existent. The environmental impact of a line being in the wrong spot or struck by another contractor is extensive and in some cases permanent. By understanding how steering systems work and making sure they are used in the most accurate manner possible, environmentalist can do far more to protect the environment than limiting a contractors access; especially when the local hunters and four wheelers have unabated access to the same land.