HDD Work In The Eagle Ford Shale Region

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | November 2013, Vol. 68 No. 11

Energy pipeline construction often brings to mind big, powerful machines moving across frequently rugged open country digging trench in which pipe is placed.

However, in the past few years, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) has played an increasingly important role in building pipelines, making water crossings, boring under highways and railroad tracks, working in environmentally sensitive areas and installing underground pipe when excavation is not permitted or surface conditions make trenching impossible.

Of course, pipeline routes also go through urban areas where HDD offers multiple advantages over open-cut construction.

In the Marcellus play in the Eastern U.S., it is well documented that directional drilling is playing an active role in pipeline construction, being utilized in a variety of situations in both developed and rural areas and mountainous terrain.

Unlike Marcellus, the Eagle Ford shale fields in South Texas are almost completely in open country. There, too, HDD makes river, highway, and rail crossings, but a growing number of HDD installations are being made in areas which trenching would seem to be the most cost-efficient method of laying pipe.

Environmental concerns are a factor, but here they are not always driven by governmental restrictions.

“Many of the HDD installations are across areas of open country that could easily be trenched,” says Boyd Simon, P.E., division manager of Digco Utility Construction, LP, d/b/a Ranger Field Services.

Livestock concerns
“The land is used for cattle and horse ranch operations,” Simon explains. “Landowners here have become aware of directional drilling and that HDD eliminates most excavation and some are making the use of HDD as a condition of allowing access to their land. Livestock can fall in open trench, and also fall when stepping into trench fill that’s settled.”

Simon says much of the work in the area is installing flow lines from wells to storage tanks. Most are steel pipe in diameters of six to 8-inches. Distances range from 2,000 to 3,000 feet at average depths of 85 feet. Soil conditions across the region are hard clay, sandstone and traces of gravel.

Simon says most of Ranger’s energy drilling is as a subcontractor for a pipeline project’s prime contractor with about 30 percent of the jobs contracted directly to the project owner.

For pipeline work, Ranger uses Vermeer D330x500 equipment powered by 426-horsepower engines and developing 330,000 pounds of pullback and 50,000 foot pounds of torque.

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