Southeast Directional Drilling, Casa Grande, Ariz., recently completed 15 bores over five months totaling more than 32,600 ft as part of the ongoing $12 billion Keystone Pipeline project that will bring crude oil down from Canada to Illinois and Oklahoma.

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) is playing a critical role in this pipeline project, which is owned by TransCanada Corp. The 2,148-mile Keystone Pipeline will transport crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, to U.S. Midwest markets at Wood River and Patoka, Ill., and to Cushing, Okla. The pipeline will be further extended 1,690 miles to the Gulf Coast in 2012.

The Canadian portion of the Keystone Pipeline involves the conversion of approximately 537 miles of existing Canadian Mainline pipeline facilities from natural gas to crude oil transmission service and construction of approximately 232 miles of pipeline, pump stations and terminal facilities at Hardisty, Alberta. The U.S. portion of the project includes construction of approximately 1,379 miles of pipeline and pump stations.

The Keystone Pipeline will have an initial nominal capacity of 435,000 barrels per day in late 2009 and will be expanded to a nominal capacity of 590,000 barrels per day in late 2010. Keystone has contracts with shippers totaling 495,000 barrels per day with an average term of 18 years.

Southeast Directional Drilling completed their bores between May and September 2009, with several bores requiring around-the-clock drilling to meet project deadlines. Sheehan Pipeline Construction, which subcontracted the job to Southeast, was awarded Spreads 8A and 8B of the pipeline and decided to use HDD.

“It was a very challenging project for us. It would have been a very challenging project for anyone,” said Southeast Directional Drilling project manager Todd Barton. “The challenges we were met with on this project involved time constraints, weather conditions, safety requirements and the rock drill we encountered. There aren’t a lot of contractors that can commit the time, resources and manpower to complete a project like this.”

Even though Southeast Directional Drilling is based out of Arizona, it has done work across the United States and beyond those borders. The company, formed in 2002, has a combined 100 years of directional drilling experience. While its large diameter work gets its share of publicity, the company also does a fair amount of smaller diameter work.

Southeast Directional Drilling was originally awarded 11 bores to be done in western Illinois and eastern Missouri but three more were added. Of the 15, eight of them were water crossings. “The bores were done under various wetlands, water bodies, a golf course and highways,” Barton said. “The bores were also done in fairly populated areas.”

The bores, which installed the 30-in. steel pipe, ranged in length of 1,500 to 3,800 ft. Ground conditions consisted of everything from silty, sandy mush — which made drilling easier — to solid limestone — which tested Southeast’s abilities and equipment. Crews used five American Augers drill rigs for the bores: a 1.2 million-lb, two 800,000-lb, a 500,000-lb and a 250,000-lb rig.

Project Challenges

One of the most concerning challenges Southeast crews faced was the weather. Heavy and constant rains over the spring and summer throughout the Midwest caused numerous delays, as well as changes in approaches in some of the crossings. “It has been an extremely wet year in 2009,” Barton said. “Pipelining in and of itself is a monster. You couple that with fresh virgin soil, right of ways cleared of all the brush and now you have a mud mess. It was extremely challenging just getting to many of the locations that were in fairly remote locations. Probably half of the bores presented a challenge because of the rain. We had everything from shutdowns due to lightning to excessive rain resulting in us rutting up the right of way so badly that we were shut down for environmental reasons.”

Southeast Directional Drilling operations manager Eddie Ramos noted one bore in particular — named Hurricane Creek — that was directly affected by the rainy conditions. The original bore was to be 4,546 ft long but it was decided to split the bore in two and do a directional intersect because of heavy flooding that restricted access to the area.

“Originally when the project started, that area didn’t have any water there,” Ramos said. “Then all the rain came down, opening the flood gates and the next thing you know, the entry and centerline stakes were under 14 ft of water. There was a lot of water that inundated that area.”

There was also a time constriction on this particular crossing that had to be met — everything needed to be wrapped up by Sept. 1. This was an environmentally sensitive area inhabited by indigenous ducks so the work had to be done before the start of duck hunting season.

Because of the water, crewmembers built coffer dams where they were going to enter and exit through the flooded area and set up two American Augers rigs (one was 1.2 million lbs and the other was 800,000 lbs) for the intersect.

“At one point, we had two 800,000-lb rigs on one of the pads — one pulling in the pipe and the other reaming at the same time,” said Barton.

At different times, a few of the bores were being drilled simultaneously in different areas. “At one point, we had three rigs running in Illinois and we had two going in Missouri,” Barton said, noting the logistics of running the equipment was trying at times, especially since Southeast crews were also working on a 36-in. pipeline project in Georgia during that period.

“One thing we do at Southeast is we build our own rock reamers and for [the Keystone Pipeline project], we specially made rock reamers from our shop,” Barton said. “We built 25 to 30 reamers, ranging in size of 24 to 42 in.”

And they were definitely put to good use, as the soil conditions crewmembers faced were more difficult than they had previously thought. “There was an exorbitant amount of tooling that we went through because of the rock. The geo-samples showed rock but we encountered much harder rock than the geotechs had reported to us. It was a challenge to meet the requirements and still keep the bores within the time constraints,” Barton said. “Coupling these conditions with those on that Georgia project, which involved drilling through solid granite, our production crew in the shop [in Arizona] were turning out reamers left and right.”

Another bore where Southeast encountered tough rock was boring under Highway 61 in Troy, Mo. “That was extremely hard, hard rock,” Barton said.

Barton also noted that three of the bores involved drilling under levees (NCC Levee, Wood River Levee Hwy 3 and Wood River East & RR), which complicated the project, presenting a slew of challenges. “The Army Corps of Engineers required an exorbitant amount of paper work and pre-planning in the design of those bores going underneath the levees,” Barton said. “The Mississippi River levees are the backbone of the safety and security of the entire area. If we compromised one of the levees during the drilling process, it would be [catastrophic]. So we spent a lot of time designing and working with the engineers to design the correct depths.”

Ramos also pointed out that for the Keystone Pipeline project, crews were required to run downhole pressure tooling during drilling, in order to monitor the annular pressure around the steel tooling that is down hole to prevent problem such as frac-outs. “We had to stay within certain parameters the entire time,” he said. “It’s something not done in our industry very often, at least not in the United States, though it is in Canada more.”

Ramos and Barton said the key to the success of a project of this magnitude is in the planning stages: Plan it correctly and the positive execution will follow. “Since the day we bid the project in 2008 until the time of construction, Sheehan and we worked hand-in-hand with TransCanada Corp. to make this project a successful one,” Barton said.

Pipeline Future

Projects such as Keystone are not that unusual in the HDD industry these days, with a notable shift toward larger diameter work, according to Ramos and Barton. “If you look at the large pipelines that are being installed and constructed today, there has been a real shift over the last 24 to 36 months where these large gas companies are going to these 36- and 42-in. diameter lines. It used to be that a 36-in. pipe was a big, big pipeline,” Barton said. “But now we are seeing a trend toward even larger pipelines. The reason for this is that [energy companies] are using the pipelines not only for transport but are using the pipeline for storage.”

Ramos and Barton said that they’ve seen somewhat of a slowdown in the pipeline market in as 2009 comes to an end but that there are some large projects out for bid now for 2010, 2011 and 2012. They also note that there are not that many contractors that can handle these larger projects on a consistent basis.

“There’s probably about four to six of us who consistently do some of the larger diameter work from 36- to 42-in. pipe and in our case, 56-in. pipe,” Barton said, noting that Southeast has done more than 90 crossings involving 42-in. pipe in the last three years.

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

The 15 Bores

NCC Levee    1,408 ft    
Mississippi River    3,718    WC
Wood River Levee/Hwy 3    1,431    
Wood River East & RR    1,478    
Interstate 70    1,027    
Kaskaskia River    1,689    WC
Silver Creek    2,776    WC
Hurricane Creek    1,886    WC
Hwy 61    2,534    
Cuivre River1 (west)    1,605    WC
Cuivre Rver 2 (east)    1,872    WC
Hwy 143/159    1,201    
Hurricane Creek 2 (west)    2,433    WC
Puraque Creek    2,662    WC
Dalbow Road    2,276    

WC denotes water crossing.

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