July 14, 2017

Professional Geologist Explains Horizontal Directional Drilling

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) is a common construction practice that represents the very latest in minimizing impacts in sensitive areas of construction. The Bryan Times recently published an op-ed by Bill Godsey, a licensed professional geologist and a former geologist for the Texas Railroad Commission, in which he discusses HDD, explaining the process in the context of the Rover Pipeline. As he writes:

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD), which the Rover Pipeline was completing at the time of the April discharges (), is a construction technique that does not require the digging of trenches to lay pipeline, and is commonly accepted as an industry best practice for placing buried pipelines in sensitive areas. HDD is undertaken to put the pipelines far below ground so as to minimize environmental contamination of wetlands and rivers.

Further, the “drilling mud” in question that is used during the HDD process is composed of water and naturally-occurring bentonite. Bentonite is a type of clay that is non-toxic and should not cause any long-term harm to the environment. In some cases, drilling fluid can contain supplementary nontoxic additives.

During the HDD process, the accidental discharges of drilling fluid, referred to in the industry as “inadvertent returns,” can occur. These accidental discharges are unintentional releases of drilling mud.

This occurrence is fairly common during the construction of pipeline infrastructure and often the result of naturally occurring fractures in soils that then allow drilling fluid to reach surfaces. The industry has worked for decades to come up with drilling methods that are environmentally safe. The operations are highly regulated by state officials and – as in this case – state officials report out any adverse event to the public and require the company to mitigate any accidental discharge.

Godsey goes on to underscore the importance of public-private dialogue during construction projects like Rover, noting that open communications lead to an expedient solution for all stakeholders:

To that end, companies constructing projects of this nature prepare thorough response plans in the event of an accidental discharge. These plans are reviewed by state and federal regulators prior to any company being able to commence with construction.

The fundamental point to be made here is Rover followed the correct procedures in contacting the authorities, so as to contain the drilling fluid and maintain open lines of communications. This is exactly what has happened in the case of the Rover Pipeline under Energy Transfer Partners. Company officials have demonstrated their desire to go above and beyond regulatory minimums in remediation efforts in Ohio, and the situation should be taken care of expediently.

 Amidst recent amounts of misinformation around the Rover Pipeline, Godsey’s expertise offers a refreshing perspective on HDD and the construction process. CEPI applauds Mr. Godsey for weighing in on the matter, and looks forward to continued opportunities to educate the public on the responsible development of pipeline infrastructure.