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    Creating an HDD Fluid Management Plan


    Is your company talking a lot about mud these days? You should be.

    With increasing regulations targeting the disposal of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) fluids and rising disposal costs, mud is becoming a major concern for the industry. Failure to plan can lead to unexpected expenses, missed opportunities or be the reason why your company isn’t awarded a particular project contract in the first place.

    Creating an HDD fluid management plan will help you more accurately estimate a project before work begins and keep your crews productive on the job. This provides peace-of-mind for you and your customers that your team understands the regulations pertaining to proper drilling fluid disposal.

    How much fluid do you need
    Your estimating process should include evaluating ground conditions at the jobsite, type of drilling additives you will need and the volume of fluid required for the project.

    Ground conditions dictate the drilling additives you’ll need and the amount of fluid required. In sand or cobble, you will likely only need a mixture of bentonite. In reactive clay,you will probably have to use a polymer additive. Keep in mind that harder rock usually requires more fluid per bore distance.

    Calculating the costs and the amount of additives and water you’ll need ahead of time will not only ensure you’re tracking your expenses on the project, but will also help you determine what equipment you need on the job.

    Adding in disposal costs
    Once you know how much fluid you'll need, the next thing to determine is how you plan to dispose of the spoils afterward.

    To begin, you must research all local regulations about disposing of drilling fluids. Today, many projects require HDD fluids to be disposed of at licensed facilities, and the costs associated with dumping can vary greatly. You will want to look into where these sites are located and estimate how much you’ll pay to use them.

    But don’t forget, the disposal costs aren’t your only expense. You also have to estimate the distance between the jobsite and disposal facility, as well as the fuel and labor costs involved in making the round-trip. These expenses are easy to overlook.

    Weighing your options
    After adding up your fluid and disposal costs, it’s time to evaluate equipment options that may be able to reduce your out-of-pocket expenditures. For projects that require large volumes of fluid, bringing in a reclaimer like the Vermeer R250C can help reduce the amount of fluid and additives used by removing solids and recycling fluids.

    Solidification systems like the Vermeer MUD Hub are another option to consider for projects that have high disposal fees. Solidifying used drilling fluids can give you more disposal options. Many drilling spoils will now be able to be disposed of at a regular landfill, used for ground cover or added to composting mixes. Also, since the waste is now a solid, it can be hauled in a dumpster or dump truck, which helps keep your vacs off the road and on the job.

    On the job
    There is a lot of upfront work involved with fluid management, but your plan should not stop there. On the job, you need to make sure the crew knows how to properly mix drilling fluids, understand how to measure fluid viscosity and use the proper amount of mud during the pilot bore, reaming and pullback. Mistakes made on the job can be as costly as not planning correctly.

    Finally, it’s important to document your disposal process and location for your customer. Many utility companies require fluid disposal documentation, but even if your customers do not, having a paper trail can help protect your business if someone has questions in the future.

    If you have questions about creating your own HDD fluid management plan, contact your local Vermeer dealer or visit Vermeer.com.


    Vermeer and the Vermeer logo are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.

    © 2018 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved. 

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    Establishing a Safe HDD Jobsite


    A directional drilling jobsite isn’t a typical construction site. For instance, it is common for horizontal direction drilling (HDD) crews to be working next to roadways or near pedestrians. Also, the equipment is frequently moved throughout the day, and many sites are spread out. To keep crew members and everyone near the drilling jobsite safe, contractors should establish an operating routine that involves several steps before work begins.

    According to Dan Vroom, customer training lead at Vermeer, the first step for creating a safer jobsite starts with reading and understanding the operator’s manual of the equipment the crew will be using. “Anyone operating machinery, whether it's a horizontal directional drill, a vacuum excavation system or an excavator needs to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the machine’s operator’s manual,” he said. “It contains valuable information, including proper machine operations, personal protection equipment requirements and safety precautions that should be part of a company’s standard operating procedures.”

    Pre-bore planning

    As crews prepare for a job, it is important to make sure that all known utility lines in the work area have been marked, either by a utility locating service or by the individual utilities. When in doubt about whether a locate has been done, make a call to the specific company to be sure.

    “Contractors should also make sure they have emergency phone numbers for all the local utility companies, emergency services, the job’s foreman and co-workers before they start working,” said Vroom. “If something goes wrong on the jobsite, this will help reduce the amount of time it takes to notify the appropriate people.”


    In the United States, OSHA requires the location of underground utilities to be determined before boring begins. It is the contractor’s responsibility to expose each utility near the bore to verify the exact location of those utilities. Potholing using a vacuum excavation system or soft excavation method like a shovel, are a safe way to fully expose existing utility lines.

    For hard surfaces such as concrete, a core saw may be used to cut a small access hole through the surface.

    Setting up the jobsite

    When loading and unloading equipment onto trailers, make sure the trailer is on level ground and drive the HDD slowly off the ramps. Equipment should never be unloaded if the trailer surface is slick from mud, ice or snow, because that can cause the machine to slide off the trailer. Be sure to place traffic warning cones around the trailer and the truck. Some cities may require additional traffic warning devices for loading and unloading equipment along roadways — be sure crew members understand what those are.

    Once the directional drill is positioned on the site, crew members need to insert the voltage stake into the ground at least 6 feet (1.8 m) away from the machine and not over the drill string. “The electrical Strike Alert system on Vermeer directional drills uses two circuits: The first circuit measures current flow up the drill pipe, and the other measures differences in voltage between the drill and the earth ground,” explained Vroom.

    Next, cones should be placed on all four sides of the drill to create a barrier around the drill. Vroom also says crews should use safety signs that warn unauthorized people to stay away. “Only trained personnel wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be allowed inside the perimeter of the cones,” he added.

    Wearing the appropriate PPE, the operator can then sit on the drill to stake it to the ground, which will keep it from moving during the thrusting and pulling of the drilling process. No other crew members should be within the cone area during this part of the process.

    Marking holes

    All exposure pits and entry/exits pits along the bore path need to be marked and/or barricaded. Potholes also need to be covered to prevent pedestrian accidents.

    Testing Remote Lockout system

    Vermeer directional drills are equipped with a Remote Lockout system, which gives the locator or appropriate crew member the ability to disable the thrust, rotation and drilling fluid flow during operations. Once locked out, movement of the drill stem cannot be restarted until the Remote Lockout system had been disengaged.

    “Crews should test their drill’s Remote Lockout system daily," said Vroom. “The locator should have the lockout remote with them during drilling operations. Also, the machine must be locked out before working on or near an exposed drill string or tool.”

    Jobsite safety needs to be a priority before work begins to establish a safe jobsite. Make sure no crew members are taking shortcuts or unnecessary risks that could lead to an accident.

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    Practical tips to help avoid cross bores


    When an underground utility line unintentionally intersects with another, the results can be disastrous. This is known as a cross bore, and dangerous consequences can happen instantly — or occur long after an installation is completed. Either way, the safety of your crew and the people above these buried utilities depend on horizontal drilling contractors taking every possible measure to avoid making a cross bore.

    Proper upfront planning and taking preventive measures during an installation is the best way to avoid cross bores.


    "Avoiding cross bores starts during the bid or estimate process,” says Dan Vroom, customer training lead at Vermeer Corporation. “While reviewing project plans, contractors should be looking for potential issues that will add extra work, which includes being aware of what other utilities are nearby. Every utility intersection point needs to be excavated." Vroom adds that excavation methods can be more challenging if an intersection occurs under a roadway or sidewalk. This is not a time to take any shortcuts. 


    Before a job begins, you need to call for a utility locate, but don’t stop there — make sure you follow up again to verify all utility locates have been completed before you start working. Even with the utility locate complete, keep in mind that unmarked utilities may also exist and must also be identified.

    Next, while referencing a map of existing utilities, walk the drill path before it happens. Mark where intersection with another utility will occur, so you know where you’ll need to pothole. 

    “Creating a simple bore plan is also a good idea,” says Vroom. “Vermeer has several bore planning tools available to help with this process. Our bore planning sheets are laid out in one-foot (.3 m) vertical increments to help contractors plan the depth of a bore. The sheets are also marked in 10-foot (3 m) horizontal increments so contractors can estimate the distance of all utility intersections.”


    Once you determine where your drill path will potentially intersect with another utility, it’s time to excavate. Using vacuum or soft excavation (spade or shovel) methods, pothole every utility that will cross the bore path.

    Vroom says it’s important to identify if there is more than one utility in the ground at that location. “Next to busy roadways and near power transfer stations, there can be several utilities stacked on top of each other. Crews need to make sure they can see all lines before determining whether they are going to go above or below the utilities. Every pothole needs to be deep enough to be able to see the head of the drill pass through.”

    Transmitter calibration

    Not following the proper transmitter to receiver instruction can significantly impact the accuracy of your locator. Always make sure you calibrate your transmitter inside of the drill head’s housing, lying flat on the ground and free of passive and active interference.

    Accounting for sewer lines

    Many municipalities fail to locate sewer laterals. Crews will often estimate the depth of lines themselves by measuring how deep the closest manhole is. From there, contractors will calculate the depth of the sewer laterals based on ideal drainage slope.

    Vroom says a more reliable way to locate sewer lines is with a sewer probe. “Placed inside a nearby sewer line, the probe will transmit location information back to the receiver,” he says. “McLaughlin and Digital Control Incorporated® (DCI®) both manufacture several different types of probes useful for locating nonmetallic utility lines.”

    Backreaming risk

    Even after performing your initial drill shot, there is still a risk of striking an existing utility while backreaming. Soft soil conditions and the weight of the reamer can cause settling. So make sure you give yourself plenty of space between other utilities.

    No shortcuts

    As you can see, there are several steps you can take to help avoid cross bores. However, the most important thing to remember and to remind your crew is simply; don't take any shortcuts when identifying existing utilities underground.

    Vermeer and the Vermeer logo are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries. McLaughlin is a trademark of McLaughlin Group, Inc. DCI is a trademark of Digital Control Incorporated.

    © 2017 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.