There has been extensive discussion regarding having drillers qualified or certified before they could work on a project. Find out what the industry has done in this situation.

By the time you read this article, I will have presented the following information at the UCT 2001 in Houston on Jan. 16. So even though it isn't hot-off-the-press news, you are my "guinea pigs" - let me know what you think.

In late 1999 and early 2000, there was extensive discussion regarding having drillers qualified or certified before they could work on a project. The most widely publicized player was California Department of Transportation (CALTRAN). Two years ago they initiated a series of HDD inspector training seminars which were attended not only by CALTRAN employees but by contractors and other interested stakeholders from all over the country. Dr. Mohammed Najafi of Missouri Western State College developed the curriculum and was contracted to conduct the seminars. Najafi and I co-directed the first HDD Operator Training School in August 1998.

As CALTRAN became more confident in its understanding of HDD, a mandate was announced that by a certain date (first set for 1999, later postponed to 2000 and then put on hold), HDD contractors would have to be pre-qualified to work on CALTRAN right-of-way. The manufacturers were assigned the task of verifying a contractor's ability to drill safely and proficiently.

The HDD industry became quite concerned about this action and the potential trend that was developing all over the country. So, to be a part of the process and to make sure the verification process was fair and equitable, several organizations came together in California to develop a plan.

The plan: select a third party expert to develop guidelines. In April 2000, a committee called "The HDD Good Installation Practices Consortium" selected Bennet/Staheli Engineers (Sacramento, CA) to conduct the study, with funding provided by a wide spectrum of stakeholders:

  • Directional Crossing Contractors Association (DCCA)
  • North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT)
  • Equipment Manufacturers Institute (EMI)
  • Power and Communications Con-tractor Association (PCCA)
  • National Utility Contractor Association (NUCA)

In January, the committee and a group of 16 evaluation team members discussed the first draft and "where do we go from here?" That was the topic of my rebuttal to the study and compilation of David Bennett and others of Bennett/Staheli Engineers.

I would like to briefly say three things about this on-going pre-qualification effort.

Based on my 10 plus years in this 10-plus-year-old industry I have observed that an inordinate number of HDD incidents and accidents are related to inadequate or unrealistic design of the project. HDD contractors are asked to drill in situations that often are impossible, and almost always border on breaking the rules set by damage prevention best practice guidelines. I-corridors are full; there is no safety zone left.

I hope the curriculum will address the pre-design stage of HDD installations. Engineers need to do site investigation before they draw up prints. They also need to understand the bend radius limitation -- not only of drill pipe, but also of the product being installed. Engineers should own computer-based bore planners which many HDD contractors use to design a three dimensional picture of the proposed bore.

The missing piece in doing safe and successful bores is lack of actual identification of existing infrastructure. One-call has done a good job of marking the vertical location of the facilities, but no one wants to take the time and money to find how deep the pipe or cable is prior to excavation. So, at the bottom of the food chain, the contractor is expected to find the existing utility.

I hope that the curriculum will have language saying that vertical and horizontal location of existing utilities should be provided by the owner of the utilities in order for an HDD contractor to perform the job safety. I realize the economics and the departure from traditional design build-mode. Subsurface utility engineering is quickly becoming a viable and necessary investment.

Most of the discussion about qualifications and training is focused on contractors. It has been my experience that most inspectors assigned to a directional drill job do not know how to read a drill head monitor system. That is the only way you can know what is going on underground.

I also hope that a part of the curriculum will include provisioning for owners and their inspectors who should not only know the basics of directional drilling, but also be able to run a drill head locator.

I welcome these efforts for consensus on installation guidelines. I look forward to a good curriculum that can be used by all. My only fear is that this will be a quick fix with the burden again placed on the contractor to show proof of training. Also, make the curriculum available anywhere, anytime without discriminating against contractors who don't have the time or money to travel or pay big bucks to get the training. Be realistic. When a crew is not in the field, the contractor is losing revenue. Most contractors don't attend a lot of conventions.

The first public viewing of the curriculum will be at No-Dig, which is to be held April 4-6, 2001, in Nashville, where a three-day seminar will be conducted.

As always, I welcome your feedback.