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Applying Technology to Horizontal Drilling

Author: Don Chaddock

Over the past few years technology has been advancing by leaps and bounds. It is hard to find an industry, company, or individual who has not been affected by the many advances in technology in one way or another. The horizontal directional drilling industry is certainly no exception to this trend. 

When this type of drilling was introduced, the bores were generally straight bores performed in areas that were devoid of utilities and other subsurface obstructions. Single-shot steering tools from the oilfield that gave an azimuth and inclination were the first tools used for this type of application. The use of this type of tool required many trips out of the hole to retrieve the survey data.

An alternative to this method was a wireline steering tool. This type of tool eliminated the need to come out the hole for data acquisition because an interface unit received data via the wireline that powers the tool. Although this was more efficient because it eliminated trips out of the hole for data acquisition, it still relied solely on an azimuth for direction. Borepaths guided solely by azimuth can be corrupted if magnetic interference occurs.

Once a bore was punched out, the azimuth could be corrected to guide the bit to its intended target. The contractor pulled back, kicked out of the old hole, and redirected to the corrected heading. To punch out 100 feet to the left or right of the intended target was not uncommon in the early days of horizontal directional drilling.

A surface tracking system for these wireline tools was introduced in 1989. This tracking system consists of a rectangular grid constructed on top of the ground using six- or eight-gauge wire. The coil is energized by a current from a DC power source. This creates a magnetic field, which the steering tool senses. A series of equations is performed in the software program which gives the location of the sensor. Optimum performance requires that the coil be as wide as the desired depth. This means that a bore with a true vertical depth of 40 feet requires a coil with a width of 40 feet. The length of the coil is directly related to the resistance, but an average length for a coil is approximately 800 feet. Corners are placed at elevation changes or in areas where the path deviates from a straight line, and each of these corners must have a precise XYZ coordinate to obtain a correct closure for the tool. Because the majority of the bores being performed were on cleared pipeline right-of-ways, it was simple to use a conventional transit for elevations and a tape measure for stationing and left/right coordinates. This secondary system allowed contractors to correct the magnetic heading prior to punch-out.

With this newfound freedom, contractors and engineers began to tackle projects that were unthinkable in the past. Borepaths with lateral curves, restricted right-of-ways, and bores in close proximity to other lines and obstacles were planned and executed with improved precision. With these changes, the standard conventional transit and tape measure were replaced by EDMs. This method of surveying had a tremendous advantage over its predecessor, and is now the standard for the industry.

Technicians at Horizontal Technology, Inc. (HT) of Houston, Texas—a service company that provides guidance services to the horizontal directional drilling industry—realized early-on that an EDM alone would not be enough to properly manage the amount of survey information taken in on the bores of today. I took on the task of finding a data collector that could be used by HT technicians in the field. We first examined a system produced by a major manufacturer, which was good, but the emphasis was on collection. Since HT performs design and engineering in the field upon collection, we needed a system to compute the data immediately without delaying the customer. Prosurv 2000 is that system. It has enabled the HT technicians to improve communications with professional land surveyors.
One such example of this flexibility was a pair of shore approaches in Morro Bay, California, performed for Environmental Crossings of Conroe, Texas. The project consisted of two bores, starting on land and exiting in the Pacific Ocean. Each line would house a bundle of fiber optic cables servicing a route between San Diego and San Francisco. The north bore was named Segment D and was planned to be 2073.95 feet in length. The south bore was named Segment E and was planned to be 2025.36 feet in length. When HT technician Mike Streams arrived on location to perform the work, there was only one control point remaining from the original survey. Not wanting to waste time, Streams set up on the control point and began mapping the topographical features of the area. A Northing of 10,000 and Easting of 10,000 were assigned, and the area was accurately mapped. When the original survey company arrived and set new points for the bore entry, Mike was able to survey the points. He then used the Prosurv 2000 Translate and Rotate routine to move each of his points on to the State Plane coordinates. Mike stated, "Without that routine I would have had to resurvey the entire job. It saved me a lot of time and got me on the same page with the surveyors and the engineering company." In the past, it was not possible to translate and rotate the surveys onto any coordinate system. Even when a drill was plotted accurately, tie-in information with its surroundings was lacking. The speed of this system allows a technician to gather more information in the same amount of time; which, in turn, will help all concerned to locate this particular drill in the future.

The HT Planner and Asbuilt software package was created to speed the design process and to save the gathered information for the customer, so that information does not have to constantly be re-entered. With these systems working hand-in-hand, drill path design problems can be readily resolved. Each technician goes into the field fully prepared and carries a handheld magnetometer compass, a GPS unit, and software which allows a map to be created showing the drill as it relates to the surrounding area. Prosurv 2000 is an integral part of HT's quest to deliver a comprehensive package of information to its customers.

Don Chaddock works in the day-to-day operations of Horizontal Technology, Inc. He has been involved in heavy industrial construction since 1972, and in horizontal directional drilling since 1993.

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