Horizontal directional drilling can be a challenge under ideal conditions, but when you get projects that have a number of environmental agencies on both the state and federal levels involved, things can get quite interesting and expensive. The added expenses alone need a thorough examination when bidding a project.

On a recent project in Santa Barbara County, Calif., a number of such issues existed. The project consisted of a number of borings that crossed under a few streams, a major highway and a series of railroad tracks. The streams presented the most difficult obstacle, as they contained protected species of fish and other aquatic life. Preventing any drilling fluids from entering the stream was of the utmost concern.

All necessary precautions needed to be taken; plans and materials needed to be in place prior to doing any work. If there was a loss of fluid returns or a frac-out at any time, the drilling operation immediately would shut down, and the source of the problem found and corrected. For any frac-outs, the drilling fluids must be 100-percent contained and monitored, and the drilling operation adjusted to correct the problem. Pumps, storage tanks, Brady/frac barrels, sand bags, barrier materials and all other necessary containment materials had to be on-site and ready for use. (See figure 1 above.) Along with the containment supplies, a 5,000-gallon to 8,000-gallon vacuum truck was required on-site or on standby at all times while drilling, in the event any fluids surfaced or, more importantly, were released into the streams.

At the drill site, all stationary equipment (drill rig, fluid tanks, recycling unit, mixing systems) had to have heavy plastic material placed under them, with a berm around it, to contain any drilling fluid leaks or spills. (See figure 2 above.) A minimum 10,000-gallon frac tank was on-site to contain or store any mixed or contaminated drilling fluid. Roll-off open tanks were used to contain the spoils off the fluid-recycling unit, and were to be monitored for any contamination. If earth pits were used to contain the spoils, they also needed to be lined with a heavy plastic material. During the fueling of any equipment, a catch basin was placed to contain any fuel that may have spilled. In addition, any oil leaks – regardless of how small – needed to be addressed immediately. Every time the drilling operation was shut down, any open pits needed to be covered and sealed to ensure no protected frog or other animals could fall in. The open pits were monitored closely in the morning to ensure no protected species wandered on-site. Several environmental inspectors were on-site at all times to monitor the area and to ensure operations were in line with their requirements. They were very specific in awarding the special permits for the project. Along with inspectors, the project required a qualified drilling-fluids specialist on-site while any drilling was going on and to monitor the drilling fluid.

Another requirement on one of the sites was a wash area that required any vehicle that entered the site be washed off before leaving the site. They wanted to ensure that anything on-site, which was next to an avocado grove, would not be carried onto another grove. The wash-down site was set up next to the road, and required a fresh supply of water and a pressure washer to meet the requirements, which added additional costs and time to the project.

Drilling fluids for a project with such a high level of environmental concern also need to be considered very closely. Some projects only will allow for food-grade bio-degradable fluids, which can add greatly to costs. This project only allowed for drilling fluids that were NSF/ANSI Standard 60-certified. In order to use a product on this project, all products needed to have a complete submittal package submitted. The submittal package contained complete technical data and MSDS. Complete records were maintained on the drilling fluid viscosity, weight, pH and grit content during the drilling operation.

As you can see, there are many added considerations when looking at an HDD project that has a number of environmental concerns. These projects need a complete review before bidding, and all the added expenses need to be considered. These projects also can carry some large fines for not adhering to the specific requirements. Overall, the projects can be quite profitable when done properly, and can open the door to your company for other projects of this nature.