Brent Lane and his business partner, Steve Parker, have witnessed the ups and downs of the horizontal directional drilling business.
The friends started Parker Lane Directional Drilling in 1998 and began working on fiber projects in the Fort Worth, TX area. When the fiber industry went bust, Parker and Lane did everything they could think of to survive two incredibly lean years.
“I guess we got in the directional drilling business at the right time and that helped to establish our company,” says Lane. “A lot of contractors went bankrupt because they only focused on one area of fiber installation. We had the equipment and expertise to handle any fiber project and that fueled our transition into the pipeline market.”
For two years, Parker Lane was able to just break even, allowing them to retain all of their employees and cover their equipment payments. When the fiber to the premise work started back up, Parker Lane was back in business, but at substantially lower rates than before.
“You can’t drill sandstone in Fort Worth for $5 to $7 a foot,” says Lane. “A local equipment dealer encouraged us to explore the pipeline market with the recent expansion of the Barnett Shale natural gas fields. I spent a week driving every county road on the map outside of Fort Worth looking for pipeline projects. If I saw an excavator or a stake in the ground or truck I didn’t recognize, I stopped and gave them my business card.”
Soon the cold calling paid off and Lane received a call from a pipeline contractor. The partners first started working on some small pipeline projects for Mastec and Quanta Services and were consistently called back for additional work. So the partners abandoned the fiber projects and transitioned to pipeline installations.
“We started out installing six- and 8-inch gathering and distribution lines, then it bumped up to 10- and 12-inch and now it’s either 16- or 24-inch,” says Lane. “We had to turn down projects worth millions of dollars because we didn’t have a drill rig large enough to handle the 24-inch diameter pipe.”
That encouraged led Parker Lane to purchase a Vermeer D330x500 Navigator horizontal directional drill suitable for larger diameter and longer bore projects. Lane realized he was walking into new territory. That’s when he turned to a respected bore guidance expert to help the company.
“We’ve worked with Jason Kowalewski in the past and he helped us with our wire line bore guidance,” Lane says. “I told him we purchased a maxi-rig and needed his experience and expertise since this was our first entry into long bores. He joined our company the week the D330x500 arrived.”
With only three projects under their belt using the D330x500, Parker Lane won a bid to install 5,850 feet of 8-inch steel pipeline for XTO Energy, one of the nation’s largest independent oil and gas producers near Crowley, TX. The line was to be used to transport natural gas and became the longest bore Parker Lane had attempted with the new drill rig.
Kowalewski and Lane began developing the bore plan for the project and created a number of scenarios based on the project requirements. The bore would pass under an environmentally sensitive area, a private learn-to-fly airport on the south edge of Fort Worth, and a city street on the north side of the airport property. The team also needed to minimize the potential for frac-outs, especially in the environmentally-sensitive areas, so the bore had to be designed to minimize that possibility. The length of the bore was also a concern.
“We discussed completing the bore in one shot, but knew once we hit the 4,000-foot mark it was going to be like pushing a wet noodle through the ground and would take considerable time to complete the last 2,000 feet,” says Kowalewski.
Other concerns also arose. The drill stem Lane planned to use was a smaller diameter than what Kowalewski preferred, but this was only their fourth large-diameter, long-range bore and money was tight, so purchasing a new set of drill stem wasn’t an option. The team also had to take into account the depth of the rock shale ground conditions in the Fort Worth area. This meant they would need to bore at a depth of 60 feet or more to find ground conditions that were suitable.
“We ended up using a 6.5-inch mud motor with a 9-7/8-inch mill tooth for the pilot bore,” says Kowalewski.
The drill rig was positioned 800 feet from the south edge of the busy Dallas-Fort Worth Airport property with the intention of completing the bore in one shot. Smokey Barron, drill operator, began the bore and had just reached 100 feet when a frac-out occurred. The hole was push-reamed to open the hole so they could use the same hole as the frac-out. Mud flow was lost several times in the first 1,000 feet and the trip and push ream process proved very time consuming.
Changing ground conditions
The ground conditions at 60 feet were hard and choppy, so the operator bored down to 80 feet without much improvement. Once the bore reached below the 80-foot mark, the ground conditions started to thin out and production started to increase. However, when the bore reached the 3,000 foot point and a depth of around 97 feet, mud flow became an issue.
“We had crew members surrounding the airport looking for frac-outs,” says Lane. “But it was obvious we wouldn’t be able to complete the bore in one shot. So we modified our plan and decided to intersect the bore.”
The initial pilot bore was stopped at around 3,200 feet and an 18-inch push reamer was used to ream the pilot bore hole.
“We only needed a 12-inch hole to pull the pipe in, but decided an 18-inch hole would provide a larger target for the intersect,” Kowalewski says. “Once the ream was completed the equipment was moved to the north side of the airport.”
The second stage of the bore was problem-free, and everything was matching up perfectly until they were 100 feet out from the intersect.
“We wanted to slope in from the top and overlap the first bore by 50 feet and then just drop in, but we didn’t realize there was a rock shelf separating us from the target that we bounced off of,” says Lane.
The drill head hesitated for about 100 feet until it finally bit and began dropping, but was 12 to 18 inches left of the target.
At that point, the operator leveled the bore up and made another run at the target coming straight up. This attempt worked, but resulted in an overlap of 300 feet, The second pilot bore hole was reamed and the 8-inch pipe was pulled into place. Overall the project took 24 working days to complete.
Looking back, the company has learned a lot and takes pride in this project. “This was our fourth bore with the big rig and we went over the mile mark and completed an intersect bore,” says Lane. “Not many people in this industry even attempt an intersect bore or get over the mile mark in their entire working life.”
“We’ve made it through the tough times and know what we need to do to be successful,” says Lane. “We’re also not afraid to take a chance and that’s the attitude contractors need to have in this industry.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Parker Lane, (817) 832-5948
Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337, www.vermeer.com