Montana HDD Project Benefits from Custom-Built Rig

Pro Pipe Services, Energy Contract Services and Mears Group Inc. set a high standard in safety, design and planning on a horizontal directional drilling (HDD) project in Billings, Mont.

Contracted by Pro Pipe Services (PPS), Mears installed a 10-in. steel pipeline in the city limits of Billings. The 1,635-ft line replaced the existing product line to make way for a road expansion project at Airport Road. This product line connects to a major oil refinery located in Billings. The project was carefully planned by Energy Contract Services project manager Derek Pfeifer.

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“Safety came first and foremost in the design and was visible throughout the course of this project,” states Ron Marsh of PPS. “Energy Contract Services worked together with the owner to bring a unique blend of expertise and construction savvy to the table as this project came into fruition. Without their due diligence and commitment to the high expectations set by management, this project would have not been such a smooth and enjoyable project to be a part of. Up front planning of a project before the bid process is key to the success of any project.”

The project commenced on Jan. 9 when Mears, using the new equipment and unique safety features that it has added to its large fleet of HDD equipment, set up its new million pound rig in a constricted area along Airport Road, overlooking the industrial area of Billings. Installation of the new product line required careful consideration of the proximity of the existing line.

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“By bringing Mears Group on as a part of the construction team, it was evident that the direct and professional approach that PPS and Mears employees displayed would result in success. Working together with the owner’s project management and field representatives, meeting those high expectations of safety and performance would not be a problem,” explained Marsh.

During pilot hole operations, Mears drilled along the designed alignment within 2 ft of the existing line and then navigated a torturous 37-degree curve toward the exit on the north side of Airport Road. Transferring drill pipe can be extremely hazardous without the right procedures and equipment in place. The project team factored safety procedures into every aspect of the project. Using a Deckhand to maneuver drill pipe on and off the rig, Mears’ trained staff moved drill pipe with perfect precision. The Deckhand allows the operator to place and remove drill pipe on and off the drilling rig with full rotation of 360 degrees, rotational control of the pipe and allowing movement laterally. It also allows the drill pipe to be loaded at varying angles depending on the rig set-up and configuration.      

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“Having the right people and right equipment are key components to any construction project, and this crossing was no exception,” comments Ron Halderman, project manager for Mears Group. The new rig that Mears commissioned on this project, although more than large enough for a project of this size, has many impressive safety features that are integral to its design such as handrails and ladders that are strategically placed to safely assist the crew during drilling operations.

The only one of its kind in North America, Mears’ million-lb rig was built by Prime Drilling in Germany and specially custom-designed for Mears. This rig features a non-restricted mud course inlet and includes a unique sliding mandrel option. The drill frame has a tubular construction rather than the more typical I-beam configuration, making the drill frame stronger and more structurally sound. The carriage is equipped with a sophisticated bearing system with precise tolerances between the drill frame and carriage. Factoring safety into its fleet, Mears specifically required a pipe loader be incorporated in the design of this new rig.

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The pipe loader eliminates the need for any manual assistance on the drilling rig and the associated possibility for errors during drill pipe loading and unloading operations. It allows the drill operator to maintain full control of the drill pipe while it is being loaded in to the rig. This produces safer work stations for the wire splicers during pilot hole operation while they connect the steering wire through the drill pipe. Equipped with a smart system that is able to prevent any incorrect movement of the carriage during pipe loading operations, the pipe loader eliminates such hazardous situations or fatal errors. Keeping employees out of harm’s way, the pipe loader keeps the operation of the rig running safely and smoothly.    

The power plant that accompanies Mears’ new rig spread contains features that make this million pound rig unique to the industry. Weighing in at 78,000 lbs (which includes all components: tractor, trailer and power plant), the overall sound level of the entire set-up is half that of a similar rig of this size. The unique sound suppressed system keeps sound levels to a minimum during drilling operations.

In setting up the rig in preparation for drilling operations, Mears used its new vibratory foundation driver that drove steel piles in front of the rig to provide solid anchorage during its drilling operations. On this crossing, this state-of-the-art system installed the sheet piling in just 15 minutes. All the drilling operations, and in particular the pullback operations, benefited from this set-up that gave outstanding stability and holding capacity. The vibratory system for installing and removing the drilling rig’s anchors is not only more efficient than other more typical methods, but is infinitely safer and more controlled.

The product pipeline string was fabricated in 800-ft lengths due to the limited space and then it was welded together halfway through the pullback operation. “Pullback went extremely smooth. We had a perfectly clean bore that made it very easy,” commented Gale Sarkozi, superintendent for the Mears Group.   

The project was completed on schedule, ending Jan. 31. “It’s really good to see this level of safety commitment and professionalism exhibited by everyone who participated,” stated Daniel D. Pfeifer of Energy Contact Services and chief inspector for this project. Setting high standards was the key component in the success of this project.    

“My hat is off to not only the owner and Energy Contact Services’ management, but to the entire construction team. This includes Mears’ and PPS’s management together with their drilling and pipeline crews. The combined working relationship with PPS supervision, safety and pipeline crew members was instrumental in completing this highly visible and technically challenging project,” stated Marsh.

Cheryl Marks is with Mears Group Inc., a Quanta Services Company.

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