How often are you asked: Where were you when (fill in the blank)? Take that question and apply it to when horizontal directional drilling (HDD) was born. Many in today’s HDD industry weren’t yet born. Or perhaps, you were in elementary school and you knew your father used handrails. Maybe, you were in high school and were familiar with the drill press in shop class.
In my case, I wasn’t that young back in 1971 when Martin Cherrington did the first HDD crossing, but I was certainly far removed from anything associated with HDD. I was chasing a management consulting career that had me involved with sporting goods manufacturing, producing fire trucks, and oddly amusement parks. However, it was through consulting, that I was introduced to trenchless technology and HDD. That was in the mid-1980s and I’m glad to say, I never looked back. Today we are all involved in a fun, exciting and innovative industry.
Most all the original HDD rigs were chain driven attached to umbilical cable vs. rack-and-pinion and self-contained as they are today. Wireline steering was used initially until the sonde and transmitter approach was developed and patented by Digital Control. There were so many HDD rig manufacturers early on that it reminded me of the plethora of snowmobile manufacturers back in the 1970s. There were some cool HDD rig names like Earthworm and Bore More.
I remember meeting Frank Kinnan in a small town over the mountains from San Francisco — Byron, California. He was in the process of developing a mini drill rig modeled after what Flow Mole was doing. I feel his small rig design is the basis for the many of the small rigs produced today.
Going back to my original question, perhaps a better question to ask would be where were you when you witnessed your first HDD crossing project? I know my first project. It was in Wooster, Ohio, in the late 1980s when Michels was doing a cable line installation with, as I recall, 120,000-lb rack-and-pinion rig, and Wellbore Navigation was doing the guidance and tracking.
To simply say that the HDD industry has advanced since its early years is an understatement. Frac outs — now referred to as inadvertent returns — are now controlled and, drilling through rock, while still difficult, can be done. Guidance systems now quite accurately project where your drill head will exit, break-out tools have replaced the dangerous use of pipe wrenches, HDD education is much more comprehensive, HDD pricing has dropped dramatically, and on and on.
Many in the industry can reminisce about the early days of HDD so read on in this issue to get some of that perspective, as well as the advances made and still being made. Safe to say that the use of HDD in construction has certainly become the preferred installation option and will continue to be a mainstay. The rapid growth of HDD in the 1990s and the big fall-off around 2000 has led to now stable, solid growth in HDD and its future continues to be bright.
Happy 50th HDD,
Bernard P. Krzys, Publisher