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Selecting an
HDD Guidance System



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Selecting an HDD Guidance System

KNOW THE FACTS

The construction industry utilizes Horizontal Directional Drilling to install pipelines and utilities underground.  This method, commonly called HDD, saves time and money.  The owner’s liability, as to the proper installation and location, is near perpetual.  As the underground infrastructure expands, documentation and accurate mapping of each line’s location will become a more critical issue.  Failure to require the use of proper, proven guidance procedures could eventually put your line at risk.  What is the benefit of using a less accurate system?  How bad could the consequences be?  What will be the cost of a failed high pressure gas line installed with to tight a radius or hammered into place?  What will be the costs of a construction company hitting an existing line due to a bad location or inaccurate asbuilt documentation?  The only protection is requiring the most accurate guidance system and maintaining these records.  The decision to go with a low bid contractor or an easier, less accurate guidance system that doesn’t provide complete, automated reports will for ever haunt the owner, not the HDD consultant.

You need to be aware of the guidance system selected for your project.  We, at Horizontal Technology Inc. can use any steering tool and guidance system in existence.  We owe it to our clients to use only the most accurate available and that is what we will continue to do

Although there is a number of competing guidance systems, there is only one argument you will hear against DC guidance systems.  It takes longer to set up.  That’s it, there is no other reason.  Because it is the drilling crew who must assist the guidance engineer in the set up, they naturally would prefer a less tedious system.  The DC surface wire is usually a larger gage than the AC system, i.e. tougher to pull.  All projects, regardless of the system, must be surveyed.  The DC system usually requires the input of more points.  Some guidance companies refuse to do their own surveying therefore you must hire a third party survey team.  This is a built in excuse for the steering company because any mistakes will be someone else’s fault.  Yes, setting things up right takes more time but the reality is this is the same time the rig and equipment is mobilizing and setting up.  These two things are taking place simultaneously and drilling can not start until the rig is set in place.  When properly coordinated, the more accurate DC system will seldom take away from actual drilling time.  In fact, more time (not to mention money) is probably wasted re-drilling projects attempted with the Para Track (AC) system.

Many of the industries most active HDD consultants are unaware of the technical differences between guidance systems.  They have been hooked by claims of “advanced technology” or a “new product” without performing due diligence or the research to verify the facts.  Inept HDD consultants have become ground zero for bad information. Their negligence could ultimately transfer back to you.  Answers to few questions will usually reveal if the most accurate system has been selected.   Regardless of the advertising and implied claims, there is only one HDD Guidance System that uses the laws of physics to independently verify the drill path’s location.  Horizontal Technology’s DataTraX guidance system combines the HDD industries best magnetic steering tool, the only verifiable surface tracking system and automated recording of the steering data and drilling process to document your directional drills data and location.  This documentation provides documented protection for as long as your line exists.

All magnetic guidance tools utilize magnetometers and accelerometers to calculate a directional heading.  These readings are recorded at specific intervals and the data is used to calculate the drill paths location and direction.  In some areas, drills can be very accurate with the calculated data.  In some locations, usually the more congested areas, magnetic interference can affect the readings and the calculations.  To compensate, an artificial magnetic field can be placed along the surface. 

This secondary tracking method, utilizing a DC surface coil, was developed and perfected decades ago.  Tested head-to-head against other methods of artificial magnetic fields, the DC method remains the most accurate system available.  This secondary method verifies the magnetic steering tools precise location in relation to the precisely placed artificial magnetic field.  When accuracy matters, this field can be established the entire length of the drill path.  Sometimes divers are even used to place the coil wire across a river or sea bed.  The steering probes location is triangulated between two magnetic sources leaving only one correct location.  Because the physics of the method are not variable and the data is repeatable, no system can be more accurate.  Unlike any other guidance system, the data can be used as stand-alone documentation of a drill paths location.  In fact, the growth of the HDD industry is a direct result of this secondary tracking method. 

The industry grew thanks to the accuracy of DC surface tracking.  That growth triggered increased competition along with an influx of inexperienced participants.  HDD trended away from doing things the right way to just getting it done.    Less knowledgeable HDD consultants and contractors have been sold on a rip-off of the DC tracking system that utilizes an AC current.  Marketed as a single wire system that is quicker and easier to set up; this is not advanced technology.  In reality, the grounded single wire idea never worked. A complete circuit is required, complicated because the AC current in the return wire interferes with the software’s locating ability.  Less accurate at greater depths and distances this system’s tracking shots can be as far off as that of the calculated surveys; therefore it can not be depended on.  Any HDD “Expert” that specifies a Para Track like system is ignorant of the facts or worse.  AC tracking is a resurrection of a discarded, less accurate, method trashed years before.  While better than drilling with calculated data alone, the AC system is far less accurate, usually isn’t any quicker, costs more and depends on user assumptions to calculate a steering tool’s location.  When these assumptions are wrong, so is the drill path’s location.  The physics can not be repeated, due to the need for user assumptions, therefore the location data is useless as a verification of the steering tools location.  In fact, when using the less accurate AC tracking method, it is common practice to discard the tracking surveys after seeing where the drill bit exits.  The exit location is then used to backtrack and calculate the drill paths more likely location.  If you find yourself in court, is this the tracking system you want to use to protect your company?

Some contractors have started trying the gyro as an HDD steering tool.  As it stands today, the gyro is less accurate than the DC tracking systems currently in use.  Used for years in the Oil & Gas Industry as a tool to side track through a cased hole where magnetic steering tools can not operate, the gyro is rarely recognized, over distance, as an accurate drilling option.  In most cases once the pilot hole moves away from the casing, the gyro is tripped out of the hole and replaced with a magnetic steering tool.

As a tool to map existing pipelines, the gyro has a relatively high error factor.  For mapping the user has the advantage of knowing the precise location of the start and stop point.  The longer in the hole and the further the distance from documented locations the greater the error. 

Yes, a pilot hole can be drilled, usually in softer formations, using a gyro instead of a magnetic steering tool.  But what are the advantages?  The gyro is more expensive to operate than a magnetic steering tool.  Far more expensive if damaged or lost in hole.  The promoters claim that the gyro, unlike standard guidance systems, is not limited by depth.  This is misleading in that the magnetic steering tools are not limited by depth.  They also claim the gyro doesn’t require a surface coil.  Neither does a magnetic steering tool but the reality is that a secondary surface tracking system to verify the gyro’s location isn’t available.  A gyro will not be affected by magnetic interference but has other issues that will affect its accuracy.  If accuracy matters, take the time to set up a secondary tracking system and use the DataTraX.  Without a way to verify its location, using the gyro in congested areas or around other pipelines isn’t practical.  The gyro reportedly does not hold up well to rough drilling such as that usually encountered with rock drilling.  There is a definite future for gyros in the HDD industry and Horizontal Technology, Inc. will continue the research and development of more accurate guidance systems.

In conclusion, there is no HDD guidance system more accurate than a DataTrax.  Years down the road nothing could be more important than the guidance records and survey information from the completed steer package.  As the owner you need to know what type guidance system will be used and the answers to the following questions. 

  • What are the tolerances of the planned bore path?
  • What are the current and future right-of-way issues?
  • What other lines will be crossed or are in the area and how are their locations verified?
  • Will my lines location be properly documented?
  • Will any records be altered or thrown away?  If so, Why?
  • Will my contractor use a secondary tracking system and if so is it the most accurate
    (DC) or a less accurate (AC)?

The number of HDD incidents is on the rise and the continued use of less accurate steering systems will continue this trend.  The ability to accurately verify the location of HDD installed lines exists.  Foregoing this documentation in exchange for cheaper installations will result in higher costs and increased regulations.  The best way to protect your investment and to ensure the future success of the industry is to insist on the most accurate guidance, best documented and surface tracking system available.

 





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