When it comes to a directional drilling project, no part of the job gets more down and dirty and outright abused than the drill pipe. This pipe is made to take a beating day in and day out and it is critical to any project’s success or failure.

Folks like to talk about those million-lb rigs or 6,000-ft crossings in articles — and granted they do carry the
Wow factor — but it’s the drill pipe that makes the project go. With that drill string, you are not only creating the pilot bore but you are also relying on it to pullback and help create a specific hole size for your product pipe.

“Drill pipe is probably the most abused wear item on a job,” said Chris Fontana, Vermeer’s cutting-edge technology sales manager. “But it is also the lifeline of the entire bore path and project.”

“Besides the drill rig, drill pipe is the second most important part of a project. If the drill stem isn’t adequate for the application, then either you are not going to be able to complete the job or you may have a failure in the middle of the job,” said Kris Mudge, sales manager for Superior Drill Pipe, based in Houston.

Drill pipe is undoubtedly the most expensive wear item HDD contractors will purchase, spending anywhere from $10,000 and upward to $150,000 for larger crossings. And that’s what drilling contractors are doing today — spending money on drill pipe. While the economy has slowed over the past few years, drilling projects, particularly larger crossings, have kept the drill pipe market busy.

“We are busy and we are selling a lot of drill pipe,” Mudge said, noting that Superior Drill Pipe’s customers are those who handle large HDD jobs, involving maxi size rigs. “2009 was not a particularly good year for drill pipe manufacturers. 2010 was definitely a growth year and I believe 2011 will better than 2010, mainly due to downhole applications and not necessarily trenchless work.”

Fontana concurred that the drill pipe market is on an upswing these days. “This year is pretty strong right now. There’s been a nice uptick in the market. Of course, there’s no way of knowing how long it will last,” he said.

What to Buy


For drill pipe buyers, it’s important to match the drill pipe to the machine they are using and they also need to tend to the delicate balance of cost vs. quality. Fontana and Mudge believe quality needs to win out in the end. “Most of the people who buy drill pipe, they know they need to have the pipe that matches their rig and the application that they are going to drill through,” Mudge said. “Drilling in extreme conditions, particularly for river crossings, the cost of drill pipe failure is significant so we find most customers want the best drill pipe they can get. Price is always a concern but you will find that most of the prices are rather uniform. Price may be a consideration but the quality is more important.”

To get the best and the longest use of any product means you have to take care of it. Do the little pain-in-the-butt maintenance items on the checklist and you are ahead of the game. There is no set lifespan for drill pipe, given the abuse it takes and the ground conditions it is used in. “I compare it to a car: How long does a car last? There’s no way to know. It depends on how it’s used and maintained,” Mudge said. “So it could be 18 months with continuous use or for some operators it can be three to six months.”

Some of the routine maintenance items include regular rotation of the drill string so one rod does not take the brunt of abuse. “If you have 50 sticks on the machine, then you have to continually cycle out that rod on a weekly basis,” Fontana said. “Otherwise, one rod will always take the most aggressive steering. You want to take that aggressive steering and spread it out amongst the other rods.”

He also emphasizes daily inspection of the pipe and tool joints. “Take a look at your threads,” Fontana said. “If any have gone bad or are damaged, replace them.”

Mudge added that operators need to make sure the connections are made up properly. “So when they screw the pipe together, they are made up correctly and the rig is in alignment. You also need to use the proper thread lubricant and make sure there is no debris in the thread.”

He furthered added that post-project cleaning is also essential. “Clean and inspect the threads and wash the pipe out thoroughly. Drilling fluids can be very corrosive to the pipe if not properly washed.”

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

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