No River Too Wide, No Mountain Too High, No Rock Too Tough

When Wayne Holden left the rugged, rocky terrain of central Arkansas in 1975 on an adventure that took him nearly 2,000 miles from home to the great Alaska wilderness for a job working on the Alaska pipeline, little did he know that the move would be the beginning of a long and successful career.

“It was pretty much out of necessity that I decided to travel north to Alaska,” Holden recalls. “There was steady work, and I needed a job. It was hard work but I did what I needed to do to survive at the time, and the money was good. During the two years that I worked on the project, I learned a lot about the pipeline installation industry and saw a lot of opportunity when I returned. I guess you could say that is where it all began for me.”

Holden spent the next several years traveling the country, working on various pipeline projects until one day in October 1987, tired of running all over the country, he decided to give it a go on his own. Along with a couple of laborers he had worked with for several years, Holden landed his first installation job as a contractor with ARKLA Gas. Today, Wayne Holden & Co., based in Texarkana, Ark., has three locations, more than 240 employees and has completed hundreds of pipeline installation projects — most right in his
own backyard.

“We are located in the midst of natural gas and oil pipeline country,” Holden says. “So the work has been steady and for the most part plentiful, especially for contractors who know the business and the lay of the land. I have lived in this area since age 13 and know the terrain like the back of my hand. Having firsthand knowledge of what the challenges are have prepared me well for each job. Word spread and we just kept adding customers and growing from there.”

Pipeline installation technology has come a long way since then and Holden was right there every step of the way, eager to embrace the new technologies and incorporate them into his business. In addition to the traditional approach of using track trenchers and excavators, Holden had also adopted the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) method to install pipelines underground and his company had amassed a fleet of more than 20 HDD rigs.

So when longtime customer Desoto Gas came to him with a project that involved installing the feeder line from a natural gas well to a main underground pipeline using HDD, there was only one thing that stood in his way — the job required a larger drill than was in his fleet of equipment.

Taking a Step Up

Prior to the job offered to him by Desoto Gas, the majority of trenchless installations Holden & Co. had completed were done using smaller drills. But Holden knew that in order to tackle this one, he would need a larger drill. His present fleet of HDD rigs lacked a drill with the power and torque to pull off a project of this size and complexity. So Holden turned to Vermeer for a solution.

Having been courted in the past by Denny VanderMolen, dealer principal with Vermeer MidSouth, based in Jackson, Miss., Holden worked with VanderMolen to identify an HDD model that would be a good fit for the project. Holden also felt that adding a larger drill to his equipment fleet would provide him the opportunity to expand his business and tackle projects of larger scope. When Holden presented the project overview to VanderMolen, they determined the rig best-suited was the Vermeer D330x500. Within days VanderMolen had a rig onsite, ready to handle the hard rock and stubborn Central Arkansas terrain.

A River Runs Through It — Twice

The project involved installing a 16-in. steel pipeline that was to connect from a natural gas wellhead to a main transmission pipeline, a 1,600-ft bore that involved drilling through some of the toughest rock found anywhere in the state of Arkansas. As if the rock alone wasn’t challenging enough, the bore plan also called for drilling underneath the Big Creek River — not just once, but twice — due to the dramatic horseshoe bend of the river as its channel course hugged a huge mountain on three sides. Mike White, a Vermeer dealer HDD bore specialist who assisted Holden’s crew with completing the bore, recalls the challenge.

“The river made a big horseshoe around a mountain and the bore plan called for this to be accomplished all in one shot,” White recalls. “This forced them to go underneath the river, continuing under the mountain, then under the same river again on the other side where it made a dramatic bend that circled the mountain — all in one shot. This was necessary because the mountain was too steep for them to try an open trench on the surface. I don’t recall being involved in a bore that actually went under the same river twice with a mountain in between, and through very stubborn rock for the entire length of the bore.”

In developing the route, Holden used the ATLAS Bore Planner, a software program developed by Vermeer to assist contractors in completing complicated HDD jobs. This was the first time Holden had used a Vermeer machine and the ATLAS software in completing a job.

The program allows for inputting all the specifics of the job, beginning with the drill model and including the starting and ending points of the bore. Once all of the information is plugged in, the program prepares a detailed profile that includes all of the specifics, including plotting depths and settings used by the drill operator relative to every section of drill stem along the bore route. It also provides both 3D and linear views of the proposed bore plan and helps the operator know exactly how to navigate the machine to complete the bore in the most efficient and productive way.

“The bore plan helped us out quite a bit, especially for plotting the big radius where the river made the dramatic horseshoe turn around the mountain,” White says. “Being able to have a well-established plan in place before starting the project was critical in making sure it was actually something that would work. It was helpful in assisting the drill operator in determining the right pitch needed for each section of drill stem. It all worked like a charm.”

White further explains that the entire bore was monitored using an electromagnetic telemetry device placed at the end of the drill stem in the steering head, which tracked the progress of the bore, allowing the operator to know the precise path and make adjustments as necessary to keep the plan on course.

Slow, Steady, Sure

With the Vermeer D330x500 maxi drill rig in place and the bore plan complete, it was time to get started. Holden’s crew used a tri-cone drill bit and a wire line to conquer the hard rock that eventually sunk to a depth of more than 220 ft beneath the rugged Arkansas terrain.

“For about the first 20 ft, it was just a sand soil profile, which you only find close to the river,” White says. “Then it got down into the rock. It was rock the entire length of the bore until they brought it up on the other side of the second leg of the river.”

The rock presented its challenges, at times limiting daily production rates to less than 160 ft. But on a good day, the power and torque of the Vermeer D330x500 was able to accomplish up to 250 ft. The pilot bore was completed in less than three weeks.

Next was the pre-ream phase, which was accomplished using an 18-in. hole opener that was later stepped up to a 24-in. diameter.

“After the pilot was shot, we picked up and put on the hole opener and reamed the hole out to one size,”
White recalls. “Then we went back in through the hole and put a larger hole opener for the final shot. Once the bore was complete, the 16-in. steel pipeline was pulled back through. It all went off like clockwork.”

This was also the first onsite job project for the new Vermeer R9x12T drilling fluid reclaimer, a machine that Vermeer provided to assist in helping to complete the bore. The role of the reclaimer is to dispose of the spoil while maintaining the integrity of the mud necessary to complete the bore. Holden used Wyo-Ben mud with an Adtec motor.

“The new Vermeer reclaimer did what it was supposed to do,” White says. “Holden and crew were very satisfied with how it worked. They had to run very high volumes of mud to be able to make the Adtec motor perform, a process that extends the tricone bit through the tough rock. The goal is to eliminate as much of the spoil as possible while maintaining the integrity of the massive amount of mud needed to assist in the boring process.”

The project was completed successfully in less than eight weeks.

Randy Happel is a features writer for Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.

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