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 minimising environmental disruption.
As a 15-year veteran of horizontal directional drilling (HDD), Fast Forward HDD has spent more than 90% of its work hours on oil-pipeline jobsites. Over the years, the company has earned its stable growth by providing exceptional underground construction service. Furthermore, with a dedication to consistently exceeding customer expectations, it is always on the search for advanced technology to get challenging jobs done more efficiently.
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 optimising steering and all other machine functions.” said Rick Grass, drill supervisor with 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.”
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 m of underground pipeline.
A Canadian-based integrated energy company found two of its wells in northwest Alberta had reserves beyond what was expected. The company needed new pipelines to integrate the two wells into its existing network so it could efficiently move the oil out of the region.
Due to its exceptional reputation in the oil and gas industry throughout Canada, Fast Forward HDD was engaged to help with the project. First, before breaking ground, the company reviewed the jobsite and a few specific conditions stood out.
The crew 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, 30 m 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 including:sandstone, coal, shale and other mixed rock.” said Rick. “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.”
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 m, whereas the longest included two 650 m bores, both in a portion of the jobsite with very mixed underground conditions.
“Thanks to the 100,000 lb (445 kN) of pullback and 12,000 ftlb (16,300 Nm) of torque, the Ditch Witch drills are built for this type of difficult terrain, and for the long bores.” said Rick. “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 manoeuvre 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 40m 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.
“The drill simplifies the training process and operability and provides a comfortable environment for our operators.” added Rick.
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.