Over the last decade, there has been a significant surge in new gas customers in the Northeast. Even so, only 38 percent of existing structures there currently have gas service. Traditionally, much of the Northeast has preferred heating oil or electricity to heat its home and businesses. Many have never had gas hooked up to their buildings. That’s now changing due to the economic advantages of natural gas.
Bay State Gas Company of Westborough, MA, is now experiencing significant growth. because the majority of growth potential for the utility is in established neighborhoods, the problem is making the needed connections from the main to the new customer without extensive surface disruption. Obviously, surface disruption is never a problem with new construction connections. But, running a line in an established area is a different story.
Alternative To Trenching
In order to install new lines to established buildings. Bay State Gas looked for an alternative method to trenching. This led them to the trenchless technology of pneumatic piercing tools. Bay State then invited TT Technologies Product Specialist Brian Mattson to demonstrate a Grundomat reciprocating head pneumatic piercing tool at a site in Springfield, MA. TT Technologies manufactures trenchless tools and accessories in Aurora, IL.
Employees at Bay State’s western Massachusetts field location were very impressed with the demonstration and immediately bought their first piercing tool, said Bill Jeffery, regional sales manager for TT Technologies.
“With piercing tools, we have been able to reduce our cost of pipe installation by diminishing the restoration of road pavement and lawn repairs,” said Mike Knodler, a 22-year veteran employee and distribution leader for Bay State Gas Company. Direct project cost savings are just part of the benefit of piercing tools. The positive social factors are also an important consideration. Because the piercing tool travels beneath the ground, established landscaping, sidewalks and pavement are left virtually undisturbed.
“When crossing roads, we also don’t interrupt traffic by digging across,” Knodler said, adding, “We use our piercing tools for new installations as well as the replacement of smaller lines with larger pipe.”
This is accomplished by lining up the nose of the Grundomat‘s stepped-cone head with the I.D. of the pipe. The pounding action of the tool pushes the old pipe out. As it does so, the tool’s diameter provides a large enough bore to accommodate new, larger pipe.
In all, his crew has 16 piercing tools, all but one of which are Grundomat tools. The Bay State Gas piercing tool arsenal presently includes six 2.5-inch diameter, nine 3-inch diameter and one 4-inch diameter tool. Other Bay State Gas service crews have now budgeted to buy piercing tools based on the success and savings Knodler’s crew has experienced.
Procedures And Maintenance
Most bores performed by Bay State crews are about 50 to 100 feet in length, an extremely accurate range for piercing tools. Crews launch the tools from small entry pits to travel beneath streets or landscaping.
Bores as long as 200 feet have also been done by Bay State. In these cases, many utilities and contractors use an electronic tracking devise to observe the tool’s progress during a long bore.
The Grundotrack electronic tracking device is available as an integral head sonde or clamp-on hose sonde configuration.
Special Lubrication Proves Useful
To aid in successful trenchless boring, Knodler and crews also use TT Technologies’ In-Line Lubricators. The in-line lubricator provides a pre-established amount of specially formulated pneumatic tool biodegradable lubricant to properly mix with the compressed air as it enters the piercing tool.
Pneumatic piercing tools perform better and require less maintenance when the piston/cylinder combination is well-lubricated during use.
To maintain the tools’ peak performance, a Bay State Gas employee performs semi-annual routine maintenance. This is to make sure that any worn parts of seals are replaced. The tools are then cleaned, lubricated and tested before they go back into the field.
Knodler said Grundomat tools have a simple design, which provides for easier maintenance. In fact, the only two moving parts are the reciprocating head and the internal piston.
Gas companies across North America have found piercing tools to be an efficient way to install new lines and update old ones.
A San Diego Gas & Electric representative claims that use of an array of reciprocating head piercing tools saves them from $700 to $900 a day.
Couple the project cost savings with the positive social factors of little or no surface disruptions and gas utilities have both an economical and environmentally friendly solution to installation. That means growth to companies such as Bay State/
“Houses that had alternative fuels for heat are now changing to gas because it’s ideal,” Knodler said.
“For the installation of services in existing dwellings, we use piercing tools 95 percent of the time.”
Pipeline & Gas Journal, June 1996, Pages 61-62