Founded in 1942, Gabe’s Construction Co. Inc. celebrates its 75th year in continuous operations since being founded in 1942 by undertaking a project that — though it may lack the flash of high profile HDD record setters— exemplifies the steady consistency that Gabe’s has proven in its 15 years in the HDD maxi rig market.
This particular project is one that was completed safely, on time and on budget.
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The project involved installation of 2,595-lf long, 24-in. diameter steel pipe, up to 135 ft below the grade of multiple tollways, roadways and wetlands in eastern Ohio. The 42-in. entry casing hammered to bedrock was utilized to limit potential IRs in the wetland areas immediately in front of the rig. Ground conditions consisted of minimal soil cover over 70 lf of shale over consolidated sandstone. Gabe’s used an American Augers DD625 rig, Dual Mud Pumps (Tulsa Rig Iron TT 660 and TT 680) and Dual 1,000-GPM Mud Cleaning Systems (Gabe’s manufactured). As wire for wireline steering was not allowed to be installed over the tollways, Gabe’s subcontracted steering services to SlimDril International Inc., Katy, Texas, which used Drillguide GST Gyro Steering Tool and downhole pressure monitoring. Pilot tooling consisted of a single 10 7/8-in. HDX bit from INROCK, Houston. Two-stage pre-reaming tools consisted of a single 24-in., five-cone HDX Reamer with five 10 1/8-in. front corebusters, with TCI enhancements from INROCK and a single 36-in. Gold Series Hole Opener with five 22-in. Cones w/C27 Conical Profile from Century Products (Sussex, Wisconsin. Pullback occurred with internal pipe water buoyancy on custom rollers.
As with any project, there are always challenges to overcome; some challenges are industry wide and some are project specific. Thankfully, the challenges on this project were primarily industry-wide and were, therefore, known and the Gabe’s management team was able to account for them upfront. These challenges included:
- Contract Structure: As is being encountered somewhat more frequently, Gabe’s contract was direct with the pipeline operator and not with the pipeline general contractor. This resulted in need for three-way communications between the operator, the pipeline general contractor (InfraSource Construction LLC, Ann Arbor, Michigan) and Gabe’s. Gabe’s added nightshifts during the reaming process to assist the overall project schedule as the HDD was a critical path activity for the entire pipeline project and original contract schedules were slightly misaligned.
- Skilled Labor: As the oil and gas and infrastructure markets as a whole rebound from the 2015 and 2016 slowdowns, Gabe’s joins the rest of the specialized construction world in the struggle to obtain operators and laborers, skilled or un-skilled. Contractors want to take advantage of increased workload, though that increase directly exacerbates the skilled labor shortage. A shift in labor pool mentality needs to occur so that labor forces realize that construction work is a high-paid, high-skilled and rewarding occupation. It takes a lot of brain power in addition to muscle power to be a construction worker now-a-days. Complex geometry and mathematics (mud flows, volumes, pressures and forces) and the constant synchronization require a change in how our industry recruits and keep construction employees.
- Disposal of Mud and Cuttings: The contract was set up such that Gabe’s handled mud and cuttings onsite and the operator paid for the hauling and disposal. In the world of manifested loads, permitted disposal sites dictated by the operator, and difficult to pin-down rates, this set-up was desirable and worked to everyone’s advantage. It reduced the already high risk on HDD work and saved the operator money in the end.
- OQ Covered Tasks: The covered tasks were known ahead of time, though all employees had to be “re-trained” as there were no “Common Covered Tasks” shared between this operator and other operators that Gabe’s had worked for in the past. Project savings could have been realized if operators and training companies coordinated and combined covered tasks that were more easily transferable from one project to the next. The same crew has no been on four consecutive projects, each requiring new OQ training due to slight changes in similar tasks.
- Ground Conditions: Four soil bores were provided. The soil bores all extended below the proposed running line and even though they only covered 0.026 percent of the measured length (8 in. over 2,595 ft) and obviously offset from the running line, the actual conditions encountered were as close to those indicated on the geotechnical report as Gabe’s has ever seen. This allowed our tooling and mud program to remain relatively unchanged even as the HDD progressed down through, and back out of, three distinct subsurface layers.
- Estimating and Pre-Planning: Utilizing the combination of the science of historical production and crew data with in depth market knowledge, clear and concise bid and construction documents — even though this was the operator’s largest HDD project it had ever attempted —months of pre-planning, outstanding teamwork and communications, the major project metrics results (such as labor hours, subcontractor and material costs) all came in within 5 percent of original budgets, with final overall project costs within 3 percent of the original budget.
This core reason for successful projects is the direct result of continuous communication and support between all involved parties, including Gabe’s (Steve Huibregtse, director of HDD operations; Matt Baumann, foreman operator), InfraSource (Matt Ranson, operations manager), the pipeline operator and each party’s various field and office support personnel. It leads to the outcome all HDD contractors strive for: a clean hole, no inadvertent returns, the safe return of all employees to their loved ones, a happy customer and a seamlessly smooth pullback. In fact , the pullback maxed out at 60,000 lbs.
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In addition to Maxi-Rig HDD services, Gabe’s is a market leader in the telecommunications, fiber optic cable, underground electrical ductbank, wireless engineering, installation and maintenance throughout the United States. As the third quarter of Gabe’s 75th year comes to a close, we continue to look forward to the continued successes of their clients, customers and industry as a whole. Cheers to another 75-plus years!
Nathan Eastway, P.E., is vice president of HDD operations and specialty projects at Gabe’s Construction Co., Inc., Sheboygan, Wisconsin.