Equipment Aids Safe, Fast HDD Pipeline Installation In Billings

Pro Pipe Services, Energy Contract Services and Mears Group Inc. set a high standard in safety, design and planning on a recently completed horizontal directional drilling project.

Contracted by Pro Pipe Services (PPS), Mears installed a 10-inch steel pipeline within the city limits of Billings, MT. The 1,635-foot line replaced an existing products line to make way for a road expansion project at Airport Road. This products line connects to a major oil refinery in Billings.

The project was carefully planned by Energy Contract Services’ project manager, Derek Pfeifer. “Energy Contract Services worked with the owner to bring a unique blend of expertise and construction savvy to the table as this project came into fruition,” stated Ron Marsh of PPS. “Without their due diligence and commitment to the high expectations set by management, this project would have not been such a smooth and enjoyable project to be a part of. Up front planning of a project before the bid process is key to the success of any project.”

The project commenced on Jan. 9 when Mears, using the new equipment and unique safety features that it had added to their already large fleet of HDD equipment, set-up the million-pound rig in a constricted area along Airport Road overlooking the industrial area of Billings. Installation of the new product line required careful consideration of the proximity of the existing line.

During pilot hole operations, Mears drilled along the designed alignment within two feet of the existing line and then navigated a 37-degree curve towards the exit on the north side of Airport Road.

Transferring drill pipe can be extremely hazardous without the right procedures and equipment in place. The project team factored safety procedures into every aspect of the project. Using a LaValley Industries Deckhand to maneuver drill pipe on and off the rig, Mears’ trained staff moved drill pipe with perfect precision. The Deckhand allows the operator to place and remove drill pipe with full rotation of 360 degrees and allowing movement laterally. It also permits the drill pipe to be loaded at varying angles, depending on the rig set-up and configuration.

“Having the right people and right equipment are key components to any construction project, and this crossing was no exception,” commented Ron Halderman, project manager for Mears Group. The new rig that Mears commissioned on this project, although more than large enough for a project of this size, has many safety features that are integral to its design such as handrails and ladders strategically placed to assist the crew during operations.

The only one of its kind in North America, the rig was built by Prime Drilling in Germany. This rig features a non-restricted mud course inlet and includes a unique sliding mandrel option. The drill frame has a tubular construction rather than the more typical I-beam configuration, making the drill frame stronger and more structurally sound. The carriage is equipped with a sophisticated bearing system with precise tolerances between the drill frame and carriage. Factoring safety into its fleet, Mears specifically required a pipe loader be incorporated in the design of this new rig.

The pipe loader eliminates the need for any manual assistance on the drilling rig and the associated possibility for errors during drill pipe loading and unloading operations. It allows the drill operator to maintain full control of the drill pipe while it is being loaded in to the rig. This produces safer work stations for the wire splicers during pilot hole operation while they connect the steering wire through the drill pipe. Equipped with a smart system, which is able to prevent any incorrect movement of the carriage during pipe loading operations and the pipe loader eliminates such hazardous situations.

The power plant that accompanies the new rig contains unique features. Weighing in at 78,000 pounds (which includes all components: tractor, trailer and power plant), the overall sound level of the entire set-up is half that of a similar-size rig. The unique sound suppression system keeps noise levels to a minimum during drilling operations.

“Acquiring a larger rig with the strength, precision and safety elements to keep complex and large projects on schedule was a key factor in the configuration of the design,” stated Karl Quackenbush, asset manager for the Mears Group. “When we acquired the rig, along with its pipe loader, we strategically selected the equipment components to optimize safety and be suited for complicated and large projects.”

In preparation for drilling operations, Mears used its new vibratory foundation driver that drove steel piles in front of the rig to provide solid anchorage. On this crossing, this state-of-the-art system installed the sheet piling in just 15 minutes. All the drilling operations, and in particular the pullback operations, benefited from this set-up that gave outstanding stability and holding capacity. Mears’ personnel believe the vibratory system for installing and removing the drilling rig’s anchors is not only more efficient than other more typical methods, but is infinitely safer and more controlled.

The product pipeline string was fabricated in 800-feet lengths due to the limited space and then welded together halfway through the pullback operation. “Pullback went extremely smooth. We had a perfectly clean bore that made it very easy,” said Gale Sarkozi, superintendent for the Mears Group.

The project was completed Jan. 31, on schedule, benefitting from the teamwork of all parties.

Mears Group, (800) 632-7727,
LaValley Industries, (281) 444-3030,
Prime Drilling,; (800) 533-2078,

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