BT crews used a Grundram Pipe ramming machine.

Pipe Ramming Proves Golden for HDD Project in Colorado: BTrenchless Beats the Bedrock

Pipe ramming and horizontal directional drilling may seem like an odd combination, but many times you can find the two trenchless methods on the same project, often being used in a most complimentary manner.  Over the years, the two methods have teamed up on countless pipeline installation projects for many different industries.  Recently pipe ramming played a key role in the HDD installation of a gas transmission main in Colorado.

In the heart of what many would consider beer country, Golden, Co, a pipe ramming HDD assist technique helped facilitate the installation of a 20-inch diameter gas main under a highly traveled roadway and adjacent to several important water sources.

BTrenchless (a division of BT Construction, Henderson, Co.) was contracted by Global Underground Corp, Colorado Springs, Co., to install a Conductor Barrel™ casing through pneumatic pipe ramming in an effort to manage drilling fluid.  According to BTrenchless Project Manager Chris Gray the installation was not without challenges.  He said, “We needed to take into consideration a variety of issues from the soil conditions to the layout of the job site itself to make this project successful. But in the end, we were very pleased with the results.”

In order to install the 48-inch diameter conductor barrel casing, BTrenchless used a 24-inch diameter Grundoram Taurus pneumatic pipe ramming system from trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies, Aurora, Ill.

BT crews used a Grundram Pipe ramming machine.

To install the two Conductor Barrel casings BTrenchless crews used a 24-inch diameter Grundoram pneumatic pipe ramming system from TT Technologies.

Multifaceted Contractor

BT Construction, Inc. (BTC) was founded in 1980 and has developed into one of the regions most respected contractors.  Over the past 35 plus years, BTC has expanded its service offerings to provide project owners, engineers, and other contractors a wide array of installation options-often in the most challenging of site conditions.

Today, BTC specializes in water, sanitary and storm pipeline construction and relocation, underground chilled and steam lines, electrical and communications duct banks, and sheet pile installation.

The company’s trenchless division, BTrenchless, provides a comprehensive range of trenchless services including vacuum excavation, pipe bursting, sliplining, tunnel augering, pipe jacking, tunnel boring, microtunneling and pneumatic pipe ramming. 

While BTC maintains a large inventory of state-of-the-art equipment, the company is very people and safety focused.  Gray said, “Safety is a top priority with everyone at BTC.  In fact, every meeting we have, whether it’s in an office setting or on-site somewhere starts with what we call a ‘Safety Moment,’ so it is literally the first thing on every agenda.  But to be successful in this business it has to be.  Employee safety is primary.” 

Pipe Ramming & HDD

Crews rammed 48-inch diameter steel casings.

Crews rammed 48-inch diameter steel casings at the launch and exit pits to seal off and prevent ground water from entering during drilling operations.

The saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and that saying holds true when it comes to using pipe ramming to assist with difficult horizontal directional drilling projects. 

TT Technologies President/CEO Chris Brahler has been instrumental in the development of these techniques.  He said, “Contractors have come to us with difficult situations and issues that they have encountered in the field.  We work with them to develop solutions to overcome these obstacles.  This is how the HDD Assist methods were first developed.  It really happened on a partnership basis with very talented and creative contractors that are willing to ask difficult questions.”

One such method is the Conductor Barrel casing.  During that process a casing is rammed into the ground, at a predetermined angle, until desirable soil conditions are met. The spoil is removed from the casing with an auger or core barrel. Drilling proceeds within the casing in the desirable soil conditions. In addition to assisting drilling operations at the start, the conductor can also serve as a friction-free section during pullback.

Gray said, “For our project in Golden, the conductor barrel was key in helping the drilling contractor prevent fluids from forcing their way into the area waterways.  In this sense, the conductor barrel acted like a containment system.”

In addition to the Conductor Barrel technique, several other pipe ramming HDD assist techniques have been developed that today, in many cases, become standard practice in the HDD industry.

TT Technologies pipe ramming specialist Rick Melvin explained, “It’s very common now for HDD contractors to have pipe ramming equipment on site, ready to go on their HDD jobs.  Probably the most common HDD Assist technique we see is during pullback, Pullback Assist.  We can often overcome hydrolock during pullback by putting a rammer on the back of the product pipe and add some percussive action.  This tends to loosen things up and assist in completion of the bore.”

Pipe rammers can also be used to remove a stuck product pipe (bore salvage) or remove stuck drill stems (drill stem recovery). In these situations, the pipe rammer is attached to the end of the partially installed product pipe or the end of the stuck drill stem in a way that it can be used to assist in pulling the pipe or drill stem out. In many cases, the percussive power of the pipe rammer is enough to free the stuck pipe and allow it to be removed from the ground.

The ramming pits were excavated to meet the slope requirements of the drilling angle.

The ramming pits were excavated to meet the slope requirements of the drilling angle. The first Conductor Barrel casing totaled 190 feet in length, the second, 184 feet.

Ram, Remove & Repeat

According to Gray, the bore path for the gas main installation was designed to travel from a bore pit on the south end of the project, under railroad spur for the local brewery, a creek and Highway 58 to an exit area on the north end, approximately 2,400 feet away.  Before the pilot bore could begin, BTrenchless crews needed to install the 48-inch diameter conductor barrel casing.  Gray said, “The intention was to install the casing and seal it into the bedrock approximately 50 feet below grade. So we set up to ram the steel casing at a 12-degree angle, 23 percent slope, which was the predetermined bore angle, and began ramming the casing.  If it worked, we would essentially seal off the ground water in the area from entering the casing.”

The ramming pit was excavated to meet the slope requirements of the drilling angle.  Crews utilized the tracks from an auger boring machine to create a ramming platform at the proper angle of attack for the installation. This would also allow crews to use a 60-inch boring machine with 48-inch augers to clean the spoil from the conductor barrel.

Once the platform was complete, the first section casing was moved into position and the 24-inch diameter pipe rammer was connected to casing.  For the pipe ramming operation, BT used three air compressors of various sizes. Gray said, “The elevation of Golden Colorado is approximately 5,500 feet above sea level.  For every 1,000 feet in elevation, you lose a percentage of your air compressor capacity.  In order to compensate, additional compressors are sometimes needed.  We wanted to make sure we had plenty of power for the rammer on this project.”

Ramming operations progressed to a point where crews thought they had reached bedrock.  Crews cleaned the spoil out with the auger system and encountered several large boulders, which required individual retrieval from the casing.  A soil analysis, however, determined that the casing had not yet reached bedrock and additional ramming would be required.  Crews continued ramming to a point of 190 feet until the desired bedrock formation was reached.  Little did Gray and his crew know the whole process would need to be repeated again on the same project.

Encore Performance

Initially, the project only included one casing installation, however BTrenchless was later called back to the site to install another one at the exit pit.  Gray said, “Global Underground contacted us again after the HDD process began.  Once the pilot bore cleared the bedrock on the north end of the project, the bore pit was inundated with ground water that had traveled back along the HDD route.  The objective here was to ram a casing down to bedrock on the north and encapsulate the drill head.  This took some careful planning, calculations and execution.”

According to Gray, not everyone was convinced that this method would solve the ground water issues or that BTrenchless would be able to hit the location of where the HDD drill head exited the bedrock. Using the same type of set up used on the first Conductor Barrel, BTrenchless crews rammed 184 LF of 48-inch steel casing on the north end of the project for the exit pit.

Ultimately, it was determined that the casing on the north end of the project entered the bedrock within a couple of tenths of where the center of the HDD drill head exited the bedrock and sealed off the ground water.

Melvin said, “This was a very impressive project from a pipe ramming point of view.  Hitting the target on that second Conductor Barrel alone takes the right contractor and obviously [Chris] Gray and BTrenchless was more than up to the task.”