Battling Below Zero Temperatures

Company Heats Up on Horizontal Directional Drilling Pipeline Installation

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Challenging horizontal directional drilling (HDD) projects are nothing new for Michels Corp. in Brownsville, Wisconsin. The experienced, multifaceted utility contractor has taken on projects in almost every conceivable condition, in every part of the country. But that doesn’t mean the jobs get easier, as crews recently discovered on a wetland crossing in the frigid temperatures of the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, near the city of Berglund.

For the major gas pipeline expansion project in the UP of Michigan, Michels used the latest addition to its massive HDD rig fleet, a Prime Drill 80/45 acquired through trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies.

TT Technologies’ HDD specialist Bill Brennan said the project was significant in terms of the conditions. “The weather really put the Michels crews to the test. Brutally cold, sub-zero weather always makes things more difficult, but there’s a reason why Michels is considered one of the most respected contractors in the world, and it showed on this project,” Brennan said.

Contractor Background

Michels has been involved in the construction industries for more than 50 years. During that time, the company has grown into a national conglomerate and expanded into numerous other industries. With more than 30 locations throughout the US and Canada, Michels is supported by a fleet of 84 drilling rigs of all sizes, including the largest fleet of 1.2 million pound thrust/pull force capacity rigs in the world.

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The Prime Drill rig provides some 180,000 pounds of pull force. It offers compact design, minimal setup time and lightweight profile, and weighs 44,000 pounds.

Michels has successfully completed HDD crossings in all 50 states, Canada, along the US-Canada and US-Mexico borders, and internationally. Michels’ HDD staff includes some of the most knowledgeable professionals in the industry and is responsible for numerous industry records, as well as the development of new methods and equipment.

According to Michels’ bore manager, Wayne Nelson, the company continues to push the boundaries of what is possible through the horizontal directional drilling method. “We are always looking to expand the possibilities for using HDD in increasingly challenging situations. We explore new methods, many we develop on our own, along with new equipment designs. We have the capability to fabricate them ourselves and that has allowed us to achieve a lot in terms of drilling success,” Nelson said.

Prime Drill

TT Technologies began offering the latest line of Prime Drilling, HDD drill rigs several years ago. Manufactured by Prime Drilling GmbH, Wenden, Germany, the drills have been available in Europe for more than 15 years. The availability of Prime Drilling HDD rigs in the US market, however, is something that has occurred during the past few years.

TT Technologies’ President/CEO Chris Brahler said, “It’s really been over the last five or six years that we decided to bring these drills over and make them available to the US market. They’re considered the best in the world and they fill a need in the large diameter pipe installation market, which is growing. These drills are the highest German quality, precision manufactured rigs available. They are a long term investment for companies that think long term. And that’s why they’re gaining popularity here. The response to them has been great.”

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Manufactured by Prime Drilling GmbH, Wenden, Germany, the latest line of Prime Drilling, HDD drill rigs was made available several years ago to the US market through trenchless equipment manufacturer, TT Technologies, Aurora, Ill.

And Brennan said, “All drills feature an open center hydraulic system with 100 percent of the oil filtered before it returns to the tank. An onboard high-pressure pump is specially designed to basically eliminate vibration and provide exceptional working life. The units are powered by liquid-cooled, turbo-charged CAT diesel engines. The units provide 100 percent of push, pull, rotary and flow simultaneously, which is unheard of in the industry.

“The rig provides about 180,000 pounds of pull force. Its compact design, minimal setup time and lightweight profile, only 44,000 pounds, give the contractor a lot of flexibility. The unit is capable of drilling lengths up to 3,200 feet with diameters up to 40 inches, and this one is equipped with a semi-automatic drill rod magazine with five rod, 100-foot capacity. The heated control cabin was a popular feature on this project.”

On The Job

The project in Michigan included installing a 16-inch steel gas distribution main under creek and wetland area. After the initial site survey and project write-up was complete, Michels’ crews completed a topographical survey and developed a more comprehensive bore plan. After the bore plan was in place, Michels’ crews began clearing roads, putting down miles of vehicle mats and mobilizing equipment.

To limit disruption, HDD was chosen for the project. Temperatures approaching 30 degrees below zero made the progress challenging, however, pushing equipment and crew to the limits. The project began in late January 2015 and was completed in March.

“We kept heaters going around the clock and it snowed just about every night. We didn’t run the drill 24 hours a day, but we had to keep the site manned with the heaters running. We didn’t enclose the job site like we do occasionally. I would say this was the coldest drill job I’ve been on, but considering all the places that Michels operates in, I’d say it’s probably not the coldest job site ever, company wide,” Nelson said.

Michels crews began with a 9-inch pilot bore, under the creek and wetland area on its way to the other side, some 2,000 feet away.

“That’s about as small as we could go for the initial pilot bore. The knuckle diameter on those drill stems is over 6 inches, so we really couldn’t go smaller. And we only encountered several hundred feet of difficult cobble. Not bad. It took us about four days to complete the pilot bore,” Nelson said.

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The Michels project in Michigan included installing a 16-inch steel gas distribution main under creek and wetland area. Temperatures approaching 30 degrees below zero made the progress challenging, however, pushing equipment and crew to the limits.

Each 5-inch diameter drill stem used on the 185,000-pound rig is some 20 feet long.

After the pilot bore, crews focused on reaming. According to Nelson, push reaming was chosen to maximize bore mud reclamation.

“The idea on the push ream is better control of the mud and reclaim it more efficiently. In a situation like this, most of the mud will come back to the rig side of the bore, which is preferable, rather than trying to reclaim from the other side and truck it back. If you’re pumping 500 gallons a minute, pumping a lot of volume, it doesn’t take too long to get backed up with a lot of trucks running back and forth,” Nelson said.

Several reaming passes were made over the course of the next week and a half. With the reaming and swabbing finally complete, the Michels crew could turn its attention to getting the 16-inch steel pipe installed. Crews attached the first section of 16-inch O.D. product line for pullback. The entire 2,000 feet of pipe was pulled back in at one time.

“We only had one weld to complete on the pipe and that took about two hours. But other than that, the pipe went in smoothly and the entire process took a total of eight hours to complete,” Nelson said.

And Brennan said, “Wayne and his crew dealt with some difficult conditions on this bore, but that’s why they’re considered the best. They pushed their Prime Drill and everything made it through. Good project. Quality team.”

Once the pipe was in the ground, the Michels bore group broke camp and gave way to the Michels pipeline group to do the tie-in work and get the pipe in service.

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