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Parker Lane Finds Growth in Pipeline Market

Company overcomes challenges to complete mile-long intersect bore

Aug-2009

Brent Lane and his business partner, Steve Parker, have witnessed the ups and downs of the horizontal directional drilling business. The friends started Parker Lane Directional Drilling in 1998 and began working on fiber projects in the Fort Worth, Texas area. When the fiber industry went bust, Parker and Lane did everything they could think of to survive two incredibly lean years.

“I guess we got in the directional drilling business at the right time and that helped to establish our company,” says Lane. “A lot of contractors went bankrupt because they only focused on one area of fiber installation. We had the equipment and expertise to handle any fiber project and that fueled our transition into the pipeline market.”

For two years, Parker Lane just broke even, allowing them to retain all of their employees and cover their equipment payments. When the fiber to the premise work started back up, Parker Lane was back in business, but at substantially lower rates than before.

“You can’t drill sandstone in Fort Worth for $5 to $7 a foot,” says Lane. “Our Vermeer dealer encouraged us to explore the pipeline market with the recent expansion of the Barnett Shale natural gas fields. I spent a week driving every county road on the map outside of Fort Worth looking for pipeline projects. If I saw an excavator or a stake in the ground or truck I didn’t recognize, I stopped and gave them my business card.”

Soon the cold calling paid off and Lane received a call from a pipeline contractor. The partners first started working on some small pipeline projects for Mastec and Quanta Services and were consistently called back for additional work. So the partners abandoned the fiber projects and transitioned to pipeline installations.

“We started out installing 6- and 8-inch (15.2 and 20.3 cm) gathering and distribution lines, then it bumped up to 10- and 12-inch (25.4 and 30.5 cm) and now it’s either 16- or 24-inch (40.6 or 61 cm),” says Lane. “We had to turn down projects worth millions of dollars because we didn’t have a drill rig large enough to handle the 24-inch (61 cm) diameter pipe.”

Parker Lane made the decision to purchase a Vermeer® D330x500 Navigator® horizontal directional drill (HDD) to help them get more of the larger-diameter and longer-length bore projects. Lane realized he was walking into new territory. That’s when he turned to a respected bore guidance expert to help the company.

“We’ve worked with Jason Kowalewski in the past and he helped us with our wire line bore guidance,” Lane says. “I told him we purchased a maxi-rig and needed his experience and expertise since this was our first entry into long bores. He joined our company the week the D330x500 arrived.”

Longest bore for company
With only three projects under their belt using the D330x500, Parker Lane won a bid to install 5850 feet (1783 m) of 8-inch (20.3 cm) steel pipeline for XTO Energy, one of the nation’s largest independent oil and gas producers near Crowley, Texas. The line was to be used to transport natural gas and became the longest bore Parker Lane had attempted with the new drill rig.

Kowalewski and Lane began developing the bore plan for the project and created a number of scenarios based on the project requirements. The 5850-foot (1783.3 m) bore would pass under an environmentally sensitive area, a private learn-to-fly airport on the south edge of Fort Worth, and a city street on the north side of the airport property. The team also needed to minimize the potential for franc outs, especially in the environmentally-sensitive areas, so the bore had to be designed to minimize that possibility. The length of the bore was also a concern.

“We discussed completing the bore all in one shot, but we knew once we hit the 4000-foot (1219.2 m) mark it was going to be like pushing a wet noodle through the ground and would take considerable time to complete the last 2000 feet (609.6 m),” says Kowalewski.

Other concerns also arose. The drill stem Lane planned to use was a smaller diameter than what Kowalewski preferred, but this was only their fourth large-diameter, long-range bore, and money was tight, so purchasing a new set of drill stem wasn’t an option. The team also had to take into account the depth of the rock shale ground conditions in the Fort Worth area. This meant they would need to bore at a depth of 60 feet (18.3 m) or more to find ground conditions that were suitable.

“We ended up using a 6.5- inch (16.5 cm) mud motor with a 9.875-inch (25.1 cm) mill tooth for the pilot bore,” says Kowalewski.

The drill rig was positioned 800 feet (243.8 m) from the south edge of the airport property with the intention of completing the bore in one shot. Smokey Barron, drill operator, began the bore and had just reached 100 feet (30.5 cm) when a frac-out occurred. The hole was push-reamed to open the hole so they could use the same hole as the frac out. Barron lost mud flow several times in the first 1000 feet (304.8 m) and the trip and push ream process was very time consuming.

The ground conditions at 60 feet (18.3 m) were hard and choppy, so Barron bored down to 80 feet (24.4 m) without much improvement. Once they got below the 80-foot (24.4 m) mark, the ground conditions started to thin out and production started to increase. However, around the 3000-foot (914.4 m) point into the bore they reached a depth near 97 feet (29.6 m) and mud flow became an issue.

“We had crew members surrounding the airport looking for frac-outs,” says Lane. “But it was obvious we wouldn’t be able to complete the bore in one shot. So we modified our plan and decided to intersect the bore.”

Time to intersect
The initial pilot bore was stopped at around 3200 feet (975.4 m) and an 18-inch (45.7 cm) push reamer was used to ream the pilot bore hole.

“We only needed a 12-inch (30.5 cm) hole to pull the pipe in, but decided an 18-inch (45.7 cm) hole would provide a larger target for the intersect,” Kowalewski says. “Once the ream was completed the equipment was moved to the north side of the airport.”

The second stage of the bore was problem-free, and everything was matching up perfectly until they were 100 feet (30.5 m) out from the intersect.

“We wanted to slope in from the top and overlap the first bore by 50 feet (15.2 m) and then just drop in, but we didn’t realize there was a rock shelf separating us from the target,” says Lane. “We bounced off the rock shelf.”

The drill head hesitated for about 100 feet (30.5 m) until it finally bit and began dropping, but was 12 to 18 inches (30.5 to 45.7 cm) left of the target. Barron leveled the bore up and made another run at the target coming straight up. This attempt worked, but resulted in an overlap of 300 feet (91.4 m). The second pilot bore hole was reamed and the 8-inch (20.3 cm) pipe was pulled into place. Overall the project took 24 working days to complete.

Project builds character
Looking back the company has learned a lot and takes pride in this project.

“This was our fourth bore with the Vermeer D330x500 HDD and we went over the mile mark and completed an intersect bore,” says Lane. “Not many people even attempt an intersect bore or get over the mile mark in their lifetime.”

The tough times of the early 2000s have proven to Lane and Parker that perseverance and patience pays off. It’s what sets this company apart from other directional drilling contractors.

“We’ve made it through the tough times and know what we need to do to be successful,” says Lane. “We’re also not afraid to take a chance and that’s the attitude contractors need to have in this industry.”