Laney Celebrates 20 Years As Large HDD Pioneer

Throughout 2009, the Laney Directional Drilling Co., Humble, TX, has been celebrating its 20th year in business.

Laney founders Marcus, Dickey and Steve Laney, along with Robert Hamil, perceived the need for a specialty contractor to make horizontal directional drilling crossings on pipeline projects before the HDD industry had even been firmly established. Today, Laney is recognized as one of the world’s leading pipeline directional drilling contractors.

In 1989 when Laney Directional Drilling opened for business, HDD was still an unproved option for underground utility construction, not seriously considered by most project owners. For large pipeline projects, HDD offered an option for making crossings under rivers and other bodies of water, highways and areas where excavation was impossible or impractical.

An early challenge was the lack of equipment to make trenchless pipeline crossings. Laney’s solution was to design and build its own HDD rigs.

“The company’s principals had built drill rigs for others, so it made sense at the time to develop equipment that met our specific needs,” said Grady Bell, vice president of business development. Marcus Laney emphasized that having the benefit of Robert Hamil designing and building the machines greatly simplified the task.

“Rig 1 had pullback capabilities of 70,000 pounds,” said Bell. “We still have the machine, although it hasn’t been used lately because we seldom do small jobs anymore.”

Self-built rigs
Laney has built its own HDD rigs ever since, a fact that sets it apart from other HDD specialists. Laney built drilling equipment quickly got larger: Rig 4 1992 has 350,000 pounds of pullback and in 2005, the company built and still owns and operates what is believed to be the largest HDD drill rig in existence, a 1.7 million-pound pullback model. The machine is powered by two 1,000 horsepower Caterpillar engines.

However, Laney does not consider itself a HDD manufacturer.

“We first built drill rigs because of necessity,” said Bell. “Over the years, we have built 23 machines. We did sell a couple, and there were several we did not keep after completion of joint ventures. But we haven’t been interested in producing rigs for sale – we prefer that no one else in the industry have them.”

Laney has all the necessary equipment to support its HDD rigs, including fluid recovery systems, and transport trucks and trailers to transport the large machines.

Laney’s crews that operate their own custom-built drilling rigs are widely respected in the industry. Both are well known for completing long, difficult HDD installations under adverse conditions. Laney currently operates 12 drill units ranging in size from 300,000 to 1.7 million pounds of pullback, and can install pipe in diameters to 54 inches.

“In the past year,” said Bell, “we have completed a 6,700-foot crossing of the Intercoastal Waterway at Westlake, LA, to install a 42-inch steel natural gas pipe, a world record, and a crossing under the Mississippi River to install 8-inch steel pipe chemical line that contains a 30-degree side bend.”

A major project now under way is for an independent oil and gas company, Denbury Resources, encompassing approximately 70 crossings for a 24 inch Co2 pipeline from Southern Louisiana to Port Arthur, TX. The crossings pass under rivers and interstate highways and through bayous and range from 900 to 5,000 feet in length. There always are two drill rigs working on the project and depending on schedules, at times three or four. The 12 month project is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2009.

At the mid-point of the third quarter, Bell said all Laney drill rigs were being utilized on projects.

“We don’t have the backlog of work we did before the recession hit,” he said, “but we have sustained work schedules and are optimistic about the future.

New leadership
Laney begins its third decade of operations under leadership of a new chief executive officer.

Pat Tobias was appointed chief executive officer in July 2009. He has been in the pipeline construction business for 50 years, starting as a laborer, equipment operator, purchasing agent, office manager, superintendent, construction manager and project manager. Prior to joining Laney, Tobias was a superintendent for Sheehan Pipe Line Construction. He also has been a construction manager for ARB, Inc., and construction manager for Tellepsen Pipeline Services. From 1983 to 1993, he was owner and president of PJT Inc., a pipeline service company.

“I have known Laney management personnel for many years and have great respect for the company’s reputation for excellence built over the past 20 years,” said Tobias. “Laney has helped develop the horizontal drilling industry and contributed techniques that are used around the world. I am looking forward to being part of Laney in the coming years and to be entrusted with my new position in the company.”

Marcus Laney will continue to serve the company in an advisory capacity.

“I’ve been in the pipeline construction business 50 years, and it’s time to step back,” said Laney. “It’s been very hard, challenging work, and we’ve done a lot and, I think, made important contributions to the industry. Life has been good. I have made many friends in the industry which I value very much; there are a lot of really good people in this business.”

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