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Experience and Equipment make Louisiana River Crossing a Breeze

Lone Star Directional Drilling completes 4148-foot crossing for carbon dioxide pipeline


Starting a new horizontal directional drilling company in the current economic conditions can be challenging, but John Dagenhart has seen the ups and downs of this industry during his 18-year career in the trenchless industry and is using this experience to help guide his newly formed company.

Dagenhart formed Lone Star Directional Drilling, located in Clarksville, Texas, in March 2009 after spending most of his career with Laney Directional Drilling. He worked in every facet of the business at Laney Directional Drilling ranging from surveying, drilling and finally supervising. He hopes his experience — along with that of partners, Steve Raulston and Paula Higgins, who have a background in distribution and procurement — will help guide the new business. So far the strategy is working well.

“The biggest change I’ve seen in my career is that the process has become much faster,” says Dagenhart. “Technology has allowed us to speed up the surveying, drilling and installation process, while offering more accuracy. It’s been a great ride, but it’s also a challenge keeping up with the new advancements.”

These advancements are playing into Dagenhart’s hand as the company focuses mainly on the installation of large-diameter pipelines, and new technology is more prevalent in this aspect of the industry than any other. With that in mind, Dagenhart set out to purchase his first drill and didn’t look much further than Vermeer. He purchased a Vermeer® D1000x900 Navigator® horizontal directional drill from Vermeer of Texas.

“I was familiar with the HRE product line that Vermeer acquired,” says Dagenhart. “In fact, we used those machines when I worked for Laney. I was always impressed with the HRE design and machine reliability and really liked the enhancements Vermeer made to the product line they acquired. This maxi-rig is built ready to go to work, and that’s what I needed as a startup.”

One of the recent projects completed by Lone Star Directional Drilling was the installation of a 24-inch (60.9 cm) steel pipeline under a river. The 320-mile (515 km) Green Pipeline, stretching from Donaldsonville, La., to Houston, Texas, is being installed by Denbury Resources to transport both natural and man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) that will be injected into oil reservoirs to recover additional crude oil from depleted fields. The pipeline will have the capacity to transport up to 800 million standard cubic feet (22,650,000 m3) of CO2 per day.

The carbon dioxide is used to help extract additional amounts of oil from reservoirs in mature, depleted oil fields and is often referred to as tertiary or enhanced oil recovery. Carbon dioxide acts like a solvent, removing the oil from formations in the rock, helping to recover previously unattainable oil from existing fields. Denbury Resources obtains the majority of its carbon dioxide from the Jackson Dome, located in central Mississippi, which was once associated with an old volcano. The company currently has more than 400 miles (643.7 km) of carbon dioxide pipelines in place, with plans to add hundreds more in the coming years.

Dagenhart was hired to install 4148 feet (1264.3 m) of the 24-inch (60.9 cm) pipeline under the West Fork Calcasieu River just off of Highway 27 north of Sulphur, La., which is located near Lake Charles, La., in the southwest portion of the state.

The Calcasieu is a small river that runs southwesterly into Calcasieu Lake. The river features port facilities in and around Lake Charles and serves primarily as access to fishing and hunting areas in adjacent lakes, bayous, wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico.

As with any river crossing project, Dagenhart anticipated hitting cobble and fine gravel and estimated the deposits would be about 65 feet (19.8 m) deep on the entry and exit sides of the bore.

“We set up the drill rig about 2000 feet (609.6 m) from the river and began our pilot bore on September 1,” says Dagenhart. “We decided to go deeper than normal to avoid the cobble, so we bored straight down through the cobble to minimize its affect on our drill plan. At about 400 feet (121.9 m) into the bore we broke through the cobble layer.”

Dagenhart used an 8.75-inch (22.2 cm) mill tooth regular drill bit for the pilot bore. On the second day the crew had completed 1500 feet (457.2 m) of the pilot bore and on the afternoon of September 4 the pilot bore was completed. The crew bored to a final depth of 86 feet (26.2 m) to avoid the cobble and ensure they had the required 30 feet (9.1 m) of cover below the river bottom.

Saturday, September 5, was spent preparing for the backream process. Once the drill assembly was removed, 24-inch (60.9 cm) and 36-inch (91.4 cm) butterfly reamers were used to pre-ream the hole. The pre-ream process began on September 6 and took about five days to complete. This was followed by a pass with a 30-inch (76.2 cm) swab, which was completed in one day.

“The swab looked perfect and we didn’t see anything in the hole, so we took a day off and then started pulling the pipeline back,” says Dagenhart.

The biggest challenge of the project was the pipeline itself.

The project was located in the heart of Sulphur, La., and U.S. Pipeline, the pipeline contractor, had to address some significant restricted space issues. In fact, the pipeline weaved through the town, crossing two highways and meandering through local neighborhoods. Closing down roads wasn’t an option, so U.S. Pipeline had to install pipe rollers on both sides of the highways in order to suspend the pipeline string above the road and not impede traffic flow.

“It was quite a sight for the local residents, but U.S. Pipeline did a great job overcoming this challenge, and their efforts and extra work really helped keep this project on schedule,” says Dagenhart.

Dagenhart and the crew hooked onto the pipeline string, but had to pull it about 300 feet (91.4 m) up to the entry hole before the actual pullback began. By noon on September 14 the pullback began, and by 5:30 p.m. that afternoon the pipe had been installed.

“Like I said before, technology and ingenuity are rapidly changing our industry,” says Dagenhart. “The best laid plans can always get changed on the jobsite due to an unexpected circumstance. But, we know our experience could overcome those challenges and the outcome, well, was perfect.”