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Powerful, Easy-to-Use Drills Conquer Challenging Underground Pipeline Project

Fast Forward HDD improves jobsite efficiency, tackles hard rock with Ditch Witch JT100 Drills

Crude oil is often called “black gold” thanks to the combination of global demand, scarcity around the globe, and the ongoing rush to get it out of the ground as fast as possible. Worldwide, there is a constant stream of this rich liquid flowing from wells through pipelines and to the consumer. To remain one of the larger producers and suppliers of oil, Canada relies on its oil companies to efficiently deploy pipelines while minimizing environmental disruption.


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A 15-year veteran of horizontal directional drilling (HDD), Fast Forward HDD has spent more than 90 percent of their workhours on oil-pipeline jobsites. Over the years, the company has earned its stable growth by providing exceptional underground construction service. And, with a dedication to consistently exceeding customer expectations, they’re always on the search for advanced technology to get challenging jobs done more efficiently.

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Ditch Witch drills have been part of the Fast Forward HDD equipment fleet since the beginning. Each machine is replaced every few years to keep up with the latest technology, and currently the company’s fleet includes five Ditch Witch JT100 drills.

“In northern Canada, the ground conditions can be difficult, and to efficiently install oil pipelines we need powerful HDDs that can conquer the terrain while still optimizing steering and all other machine functions,” says Rick Grass, drill supervisor, Fast Forward HDD. “As HDD technology becomes more complex, that power is often paired with electronic systems that make some machines difficult to service. Ditch Witch earned a place in our fleet by providing dependable, mechanically-driven systems that are easy to service and use.”

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On one recent project in the hills of northern Alberta, the company had an opportunity to put the Ditch Witch equipment to the grindstone when deploying nearly 2,900 meters of underground pipeline.

Fast Forward HDD on the JobDiscovering Difficult Conditions Underground

A Canadian-based integrated energy company found two of their wells in northwest Alberta had reserves beyond what was expected. They needed new pipelines to integrate the two wells into their existing network so they could efficiently move the oil out of the region.

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Due to their exceptional reputation in the oil and gas industry throughout Canada, Fast Forward HDD was tapped to help with the project. First, before breaking ground, the company reviewed the jobsite and a few specific conditions stood out.

They would be working in a very steep valley, with severe drops in elevation. Above ground, rivers obstructed the landscape, and trees hampered visibility. Below ground, thirty meters of clay rested on the bedrock along with a multitude of other mixed conditions.

“Even after hitting bedrock, the ground still presented challenges because there was a little of everything down there: sandstone, coal, shale and other mixed rock,” says Grass. “We knew we needed HDDs that could handle long bores in these diverse conditions, and that could operate fast and effectively, even in some hard rock.”

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To tackle the vast and tough conditions, two new Ditch Witch JT100 drills were selected for the job. While one of the units had only 150 operating hours, this job was the first for the other machine.

The Right Drills for the Job

Fast Forward HDD planned to deploy the 2,900 m of pipeline using ten bores. Because of the terrain and setup location, some bores were as short as 200 meters, whereas the longest included two 650-meter bores – both in a portion of the jobsite with very mixed underground conditions.

“Thanks to the 100,000-lb of pullback and 12,000 ft-lb of torque, the Ditch Witch drills are built for this type of difficult terrain, and for the long bores,” says Grass. “Operators could easily control the machine and effectively respond to ground conditions as they changed.”

The machine’s raw power is what helped Fast Forward HDD effectively bore and maneuver in the mixed underground conditions. When moving from soft formations to hard rock, operators monitored the gauges, pressures, and returns as indicators to detect when adjustments to drilling mud and HDD tooling were needed to be most productive.

In a valley with drastic changes in elevation, it was also important to know precisely where the drill was underground. Even though the two JT100 drills operated simultaneously, one was started a day earlier. By having a 30- to 40-m lead, the Fast Forward HDD crews reduced the chance that the trackers would pick up a wrong signal, or that excessive underground vibration would impact the integrity of the bores.

After less than three weeks of drilling, product was pulled through the two 650-m bores, meeting the company’s expected timeline. The crew was able to operate efficiently and consistently, in part, because of the JT100’s power and its controls.

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“The drill simplifies the training process and operability, and provides a comfortable environment for our operators,” says Grass.

With the longer bores wrapped up, the Fast Forward HDD crew could work to complete the final portions of the jobsite. The jobsite conditions remained a challenge, but the Ditch Witch drills provided Fast Forward HDD the ability to effectively tackle whatever they met underground.

Seth Matthesen, is HDD category manager at Ditch Witch.