Overcoming Challenges on Long HDD Installation

Ditch Witch

For many contractors, working on a fiber-relocation project spanning more than 1,500 ft might seem like an intimidating task. And, when you add in both volcanic and clay ground conditions, a tight deadline and working on an environmentally protected jobsite, it becomes even more challenging.

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This was the task for Jerry’s Trenching Service in October 2019. The underground construction contractor was called to Clear Lake, California, to move an existing AT&T intercontinental fiber line, which was responsible for transferring vital information to companies throughout the United States, for a bridge expansion to take place.

“When I think about jobs that rely on efficient and creative solutions to problems, the Clear Lake job is at the top of the list,” said Jerry Berlin Jr. CEO of Jerry’s Trenching Service. “We knew it was a long drill shot going in, but as we got to work and found out about the additional factors, we knew it would be difficult.”

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A Long Shot and A Long List of Challenges

The crew, led by Jose J. Sandoval, arrived on-site in Clear Lake and quickly realized the challenges that came with the project.

First, the jobsite was an environmental reserve – eliminating the possibility of excavation or potholing to provide visibility or relief. It was also full of poison oak, forcing the crew to wear personal protective equipment from head-to-toe to protect themselves. The good news was that there weren’t any existing lines in the area outside the original AT&T line that they were splicing over to, so they could trench in the last 15 ft of the job to ensure the splicing process was safe.

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Second, was the challenging ground conditions. HDD jobs of this length are commonly through dirt, and this job was through hard volcanic rock with scattered pockets of clay along the route. The rock would test the horsepower limitations of any machine, but the clay pockets complicated matters further.

Each time the crew found clay, they needed to completely pull out of their established hole, clean the hole and then mix new mud to drill through the new conditions. Then they would need to retool and repeat for the hard rock once they returned to those ground conditions.

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And lastly, the clock was ticking for Berlin’s crew. To accommodate scheduled downtime for the existing intercontinental fiber line, the team had to work against an extremely tight deadline. The downtime had been planned months earlier and missing the mark would be extremely costly financially and operationally to the businesses that depended on that fiber line.

“The jobsite was a challenge,” Berlin said, “but, once we fully realized the challenges of the conditions, we got on the phone with Ditch Witch.”

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Unreliable Conditions Require a Versatile Solution

Jerry’s Trenching Service turned to the Ditch Witch AT40 directional drill for the project. Designed for increased control and productivity when drilling in hard rock conditions, All Terrain technology would limit the impact of the ground conditions on the job.

“We’ve always used AT30s, but we really wanted the AT40 for this job because the larger 15-ft bore rods, which would help us on the longer shots,” Berlin said. “Also, the AT40 has an inner pipe that we could get air through, so we could run an air hammer with it.”

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The AT40 and its All-Terrain technology opened up the opportunity to use much less drilling fluid than is needed with typical mud motors. The compact size of the AT40 also minimized the overall footprint of the job – an important benefit due to the environmentally sensitive nature of the jobsite.

“We knew the AT40 would help us out,” Berlin said. “It got to the point where we were counting days and shipping hours until the AT40 would arrive.”

With the use of All Terrain technology and the crew’s expertise, they hit their mark in just over three weeks. The 1,540-ft bore was a new record for Jerry’s Trenching Service, beating out the previous mark by over 300 ft – a mark that had been set two decades ago in dirt, not volcanic rock.

Starting a Rock Group

Experience on complicated rock drilling jobs and with All Terrain technology have become valuable assets for Jerry’s Trenching Service, so the company recently started taking them on the road. Since many cities don’t have an abundance of rock jobsites, Jerry’s Trenching Service created a traveling rock drilling team to support rock drilling jobs across the region.

“We’ve always had All Terrain technology on site for when we were faced with rock, but now we’ve seen how it can help on difficult, unpredictable rock drilling jobs,” Berlin said. “And we have an experienced, energetic crew that wants to travel. Now we can find and conquer any rock drilling jobs.”

This article was contributed by Ditch Witch, a NUCA Bronze National Partner.

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