Five Questions With:

Mike Burns has been involved with the drill pipe market since 1993 and has experienced its ups and downs. Burns created UTI — a wear parts manufacturing company for the underground construction industry — with Tim Passon and Jamie Lindahl in 2003.

1. Describe the state of the drill pipe market as you see it?

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Relatively speaking, the drill pipe market is going well in 2010. Coming out of the last calendar year of 2009, it was a very soft year for the drill pipe market — totally based on what the overall economy was doing. This year we have seen a pick up in the drill pipe market, domestically. Internationally, it wasn’t as bad last year and it has stayed pretty much the same. We are seeing some markets overseas that are in high demand for drill pipe. The market is very unpredictable because people are still apprehensive to start projects and jobs aren’t being let out like we thought they would be by now. I believe this year it’s going to kind of level off. What we are hearing is that next year we’ll see an increase in demand. All in all, the state of the drill pipe market is better than 2009 but it’s still not where it was in 2008 and hasn’t rebounded back yet as far as I’m concerned.

2. Is today’s drill pipe readily available to customers?

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For the most part, drill pipe is readily available. A few years ago, oil prices were high and so was the rig count and that caused backlogs at the manufacturer level that were way out there. That’s not the case right now. Drill pipe is something that nobody likes to buy. It’s a very expensive consumable. Everybody, especially these days when everyone’s pocketbooks are tight, they are going to wait until the last possible minute to buy their drill pipe. In today’s market, they can get away with it because the lead times are short and the supply is there. For the bigger rigs, a lot of that supply is dependent on the oil and gas market because they use that same type of drill pipe for oil and gas exploration as they use on the maxi rigs. If the rig count is high and the demand for that type of pipe is high, you are going to run into a supply problem. Right now, the oil and gas is on the softer side so there is plenty of supply and it is readily available. For the mid-size and smaller rigs, it’s readily available, too. We’re coming out of a slower time and things are just starting to pick up so manufacturers were sitting on a lot of inventory and it is readily available now.

3. What are the latest trends involving drill pipe?

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There has been a little trend in recent years involving the power of the drill rigs and drill pipe. It starts with the design of the drill rig, as everything is based off of rotary torque and push and pull. You take your rotary torque and you have to design a drill pipe that will withstand the rotary torque of these machines. And even though some of the drill rigs are still the same footprint, the rig manufacturers are making them more and more powerful every year. And that’s the trend we’ve seen — we need to get more rotational torque rating out of our drill pipe. So the trend is bigger drill rigs, which equals stronger drill pipe. You can do that a few different ways. Every thread has its own properties and specifications on the torque load it can carry. Bigger outside diameter dimensions on the shoulders of these drill pipe will help carry more rotational torque… if there’s any trend, it’s that.

4. How can contractors get a longer service life out of their drill pipe?

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They need to have some type of maintenance program. A big problem with drill pipe is thread damage. They need to keep their threads clean. You don’t want any debris in the threads before you are making it up. You need to make sure they are using enough thread compound; if you don’t have enough thread compound on the pipe, you have galling problems — that’s where a thread will be damaged by rolling over. The thread compound also helps control the friction when you are putting metal to metal together, creating high heat. The compound also provides a good seal. That’s three major things just by coating your pipe threads properly: You won’t gall, won’t overheat from friction and it provides a good seal. Contractors should also rotate the pipe in their basket. If you have 500 ft of pipe in your pipe loader and you frequently just do 200-ft shots, that means you are using the same 20 pieces of pipe every time. If you use the same 20 every time, that part of your string will wear out first.
5. Why is drill pipe the wear part no one wants to buy?

It’s not a cheap wear part and you know it’s going to wear out. The key to it is to make it last as long as possible through a maintenance program. It’s a very important part of the HDD process but it’s an expensive wear part. You pay a lot for a drill rig but it’s not going to wear out as fast as the pipe. They need to do daily maintenance to increase that service life. Over the years, we’ve seen a great increase in the education of the operators. That goes a long way. Back 10 to 15 years ago, people didn’t know better and they didn’t have the good practices that they have now. They’ve come a long way and not just because of the economic situation but the continued education of these operators has really paid off. As the HDD market went through some bad times, it thinned the population of a lot of these operators and that makes everyone stronger. The strong ones are the educated ones who following the right practices — making their company more money by maintaining their pipe properly.

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Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

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