Directional drilling continues to be a viable and useful technology in many sectors. The water, gas and electric industries utilize the technology in a variety of areas. In fact,”last mile” installations and “street to the house” utility installations are proving to be a growing market for compact directional drills in North America.
An abundance of service installations of less than 200 feet has prompted interest in smaller drill rigs. These smaller drills have impressive capabilities and can operate in tight working conditions and sensitive areas.
Since the 1970s, deregulation in the natural gas industry in the United States has created a highly charged competitive atmosphere. Utility providers continue to seek means to lower costs and find more ways to satisfy the customer. This push for greater efficiency has resulted in dramatic changes in the structure of natural gas utilities and the way utilities approach the various facets of day-to-day business.
This marketplace has also made gas utilities leaders in the development and usage of new field technologies, specifically trenchless technology. The natural gas industry in Europe has also focused on the creation of trenchless technologies such as horizontal boring and pipe bursting.
The development and use of smaller directional drilling equipment for service installations, however, appears to be a new world phenomenon. New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG), Binghamton, NY. is an example of one U.S. company utilizing the technology. The company is experiencing success using a compact Grundodrill 4X from TT Technologies, Aurora, Ill. (part of the Tracto-Technik group of companies) for electric and gas service installations.
NYSEG provides electrical service for approximately 830,000 customers and natural gas service for approximately 250,000 customers across 40% of of upstate New York. NYSEG celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2002. The company has been consistently recognized for its outstanding customer service, reliability, safety record and strong commitment to charitable causes and community involvement.
In terms of field operations, utilizing trenchless technology is one way NYSEG extends its commitment to reliability and service to its customers. NYSEG has employed various types of trenchless technologies over the years and recently began incorporating directional drilling with a compact directional drill rig.
TT Technologies directional drilling specialist Brian Mattson said, “Field operations are a good place to see how gas companies are improving their efficiency. As a trenchless equipment manufacturer, one way we help contribute to that efficiency is by continually trying to improve the reliability and accuracy of the trenchless equipment, like the Grundodrill, that we provide.”
According to Allen Peterson, NYSEG R&D Coordinator, the energy provider is able to utilize directional drilling on both sides of its utility offering. He said, “We’ve used it, not quite fifty-fifty. It’s primarily for the natural gas operations, but we’ve also used it for underground electrical installations, like underground road crossings and rehabilitation of existing electric underground service. We did approximately 50 installations with the drill during our first construction season.
The underground environment is a key factor in determining the efficacy of directional drilling.”
Directional Drilling Capabilities
According to Mattson, the development of smaller drills is something that the US and North American market has recently put into use. He said, “With a lot of the long range, medium diameter drill work dissipating, it seemed natural for the industry to shift toward shorter, smaller diameter installations. The technology put into today’s smaller drills has given them greater capability and made them easier to use.”
With some “mini” drills offering as much as 9,200 lbs. of thrust and pullback, the machines are able to accomplish a wide range of installation tasks. At NYSEG the Grundodrill 4X is being used to install services, pipes and conduit up to 4 inches in diameter and lengths up to 300 feet. According to Peterson, higher efficiency, lower costs and greater customer service are achievable at various levels. He said, “Depending on the circumstances directional drilling can be less expensive than open trenching and less disruptive for customers.”
According to Mattson the drill offers its operator some efficiency in terms of its vice cycling system. He said, “The computerized Smart Vice system simplifies the drilling process by automating the drill’s vice cycling operations. The operator has single push button control of the function. That helps improve efficiency and speeds up drill times. The vice is also self-centering, reducing wear and tear. The operator can return to manual control with a flip of a switch. The whole system is very user friendly.”
Mattson continued, “These mini-drills work well in residential or commercial areas. They’re lightweight. They can be transported on a trailer pulled by a pick up truck and require minimal crews to operate. The 4X’s special steel track with bonded rubber pads offers excellent traction and durability while minimizing potential damage to concrete and turf which is important in residential settings.”
According to Peterson residential areas are prime targets for using the Grundodrill. He said, “We had an instance where we had to replace the existing underground electric service in a private development. Instead of open cutting all through this development, which had a lot of black top, we were able to effectively use directional drilling.
“On the gas side, in addition to avoiding open cuts in roads, we have been able to do several long bores parallel to roads in developed areas. We didn’t have to do multiple cuts of driveways, disturb mature shade trees, tear up sidewalks or disrupt traffic.”
According to Mattson, this scenario could become more common. He said, “As the utilities continue to discover the benefits of mini-directional drill rigs, we could definitely be seeing mini or compact directional drilling out there, replacing services and small mains in residential or commercial areas. The method is well suited for that type of work.”
by Jim Schill
No-Dig International, April 2003