Alternative Method

McCowien DrillingAs MarkWest Energy Partners looked to complete its Majorsville to Hopedale pipeline, the company was looking at an uphill battle on the banks of the Ohio River.

No, the battle was not a pipeline protest rather, how the 12-in. steel pipeline would connect from the river approximately 10 miles north of Wheeling, W.Va., and travel under West Virginia State Route 2 and up the mountain on the other side. The work needed to be done on time and in a way that limited the environmental impact.

Enter Pierpont, Ohio-based McCowien Drilling, known for its use of air for horizontal directional drilling (HDD) projects.

Derrick McCowien, underground specialist and son of McCowien Drilling owner Rick McCowien, says that since its beginnings 15 years ago, the company always drilled using air hammers, which have a limited range. This prompted a switch in 2009 to working with air motors instead of the traditional mud motors.

Thanks to improvements in air motor design, the use of air on this particular job — which exited the mountain at a 45-degree up angle, some 1,350 ft and 478 ft higher than it started — was the best method.
“Yeah, we do the oddball jobs, all of the time. We try to do the jobs that no one else wants,” McCowien reported. “That’s our forte, those are the ones that we usually go after.”

In all, McCowien drilled eight sections along this MarkWest project, which connects the company’s Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas liquids infrastructure.  Of those, this literal uphill battle against, what the experienced contractor estimates as a 20,000 to 35,000 psi rock formation, was the most difficult.

“I’ve drilled some hard granite and I would say that this ranks up there in the top five for us,” McCowien said.
With their backs to the Ohio River and a limited work area, the five-person McCowien Drilling crew began at the end of November.

Packing the punch needed to make it up the mountain was a Vermeer D100X140 drill using Firestick 1000 drill rod. Drilling on air required the use of an Adtech air motor, three 350- to 500-psi, 1,150-cfm Sullair compressors and a 1,200-gal Mud Technology International reclamation system to recycle the small amount of water that the crew used.    

Before the uphill battle could begin, McCowien’s crews had to open a pit roughly 30 ft away from Route 2 to set up the work area on the northwest side of the highway.

The first part of the project required the use of an auger boring machine to install a 16-in. casing under Route 2 to protect the integrity of the highway.

McCowien said that the crews started the bore at 14 ft deep on the rig side and ended 92 ft later about 36 ft deep and recessed about 2 ft into the mountain face. With the casing in place, the crew pulled the auger boring machine out and began the drilling process, with the deepest point at 252 ft into the mountain.

Using a 7.25-in. pilot bit, the drilling commenced, exiting the casing at a 1-degree up pitch and finishing at the aforementioned 45-degree angle at the top of the mountain.

“We were pretty much pushing that rod up, it wasn’t vertical, but it was pretty much vertical by the time we finished,” McCowien said of the initial challenge.

At one point, there was 200 ft of drilling rod exposed at the casing and McCowien said they used a variety of methods, including attaching concrete barriers to the rod and straps to keep it steady.

“Making that thing steer was a real big issue because of the flex in that rod,” McCowien said. “It was almost like a snake on top of the ground, it was hard to keep straight.”

Aiding in the project was the addition of a wireline probe behind the air motor, which McCowien said was both necessary and relatively new to air drilling.

“Until six months ago, people weren’t putting wireline probes behind air motors,” he said. “They are concerned about how violent and as fast as air drills, it could possibly knock your probe out but with the new housings available to house the probes it has made it possible to do Wireline air projects.

McCowien Drilling purchased its own wireline system and making sure there was constant power to the probe, even when it was at its deepest points, required the power of two Lincoln Electric 300D welders.
 It took the company seven days and two bit trips to complete the pilot bore and two weeks to complete the reaming process and four days to pull the pipe. The latter proved be an exercise in keeping the pipe controlled at the top of the mountain and keeping the drill rig from getting shoved backwards at the bottom.

Because of the location, cranes could not work at the pipes points of intersection — meaning the pipe was pulled in three-joint sections at a time.

“The first four sections went OK but after that you started adding a bunch of weight,” McCowien said. “As we were pulling and trying to control it up top, trying to hold it back, it was just getting so heavy where it would shove the rig 6 ft back. It was nasty.”

Given breaks for the holidays, McCowien Drilling finished the project on Jan. 3, which McCowien says that could not have been accomplished without the help of his experienced crew, Sunland Construction, the general contractor for the entire MarkWest project; David Salazar, the wire line technician; and Joe Paul from Canino Guidance who profiled all of the bores on the project.

“Hopefully, this will open some new doors and make gas companies , engineers and environmental companies aware of the air drilling and how far the technology has come compared to what it used to be,” McCowien said. “They drill faster, as far as reaming on air, it reams faster and it’s environmentally safer. There is less chance of inadvertent releases. There is much less disposal of drilling fluid to get rid of. Most of the times it is just water.”

He added, “In the same sense, there is a place for every tool. Mud has its place just as air has its place. It just so happens that this particular stretch, air worked out great. We didn’t have any inadvertent releases.”

Mike Kezdi is assistant editor of Trenchless Technology.
// ** Advertisement ** //
// ** Advertisement ** //

Comments are closed here.