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HDD Horizontal Drilling Process

HDDProfile survey & design parameters

Once the work locations have been chosen, the area should be surveyed and detailed drawings prepared. The eventual accuracy of the drill profile and alignment is dependent on the accuracy of the survey information.

Profile Design Parameters

Depth of Cover – Once the crossing profile has been taken and the geotechnical investigation complete, a determination of the depth of cover under the crossing is made. Factors considered may include flow characteristics of the river, the depth of scour from periodic flooding, future channel widening/deepening, and the existence of existing pipeline or cable crossings at the location. It is normally recommended that the minimum depth of cover be 6 m. under the lowest section of the crossing. While 6 m. is a recommended depth of cover on a river crossing, crossings of other obstacles may have differing requirements.

Penetration Angles and Radius of Curvature – An entry angle between 8 and 20 can be used for most crossings. It is preferable that straight tangent sections are drilled before the introduction of a long radius curve. The radius of the curve is determined by the bending characteristic of the product pipeline, increasing with the diameter. A general “rule-of-thumb” for the radius of curvature is 100 ft./1-in. diameter for steel line pipe. The curve usually brings the profile to the elevation providing the design cover of the pipeline under the river. Long horizontal runs can be made at this elevation before curving up towards the exit point. Exit angle should be kept between 5 and 12 to facilitate handling of the product pipeline during pullback.

Drill Survey

As-built drawings and down hole survey tools such as electronic devices that give a magnetic azimuth (for “right/left” control) and inclination are used to understand the physical location limitation and conditions in order to plan the ultimate drill path. Surface locators can also be used in conjunction with the down hole electronic package.

Accuracy – The accuracy of the drill profile is largely dependent on variations in the earth’s magnetic field. For instance, large steel structures (bridges, pilings, other pipelines, etc.) and electric power transmission lines affect magnetic field readings. However, a reasonable drill target at the pilot hole exit location is 3 m. left or right, and -3 m. to +10 m. in length.

As-Built Drawings – Normally, survey calculations are conducted every 10 m. during pilot hole operations. As-built drawings that are based on these calculations should be provided by the contractor. Alternate methods such as gyroscoping, ground penetrating radar or…

Work space setup

work space 1


Rig Side – The rig spread requires a minimum 25-m. wide by 40-m. long area. This area should extend from the entry point away from the crossing, although the entry point should be at least 3 m. inside the prescribed area. Since many components of the rig spread have no predetermined position, the rig site can be made up of smaller irregular areas. Operations are facilitated if the area is level, hard standing and clear of overhead obstructions. The drilling operation requires large volumes of water for the mixing of the drilling slurry. A nearby source of water is necessary.


work space2


Pipe Side – Strong consideration should be given to provide a sufficient length of work space to fabricate the product pipeline into one string. The width will be as necessary for normal pipeline construction although a work space of 25-m. wide by 40-m. long should be provided at the exit point itself. The length will assure that during the pullback the pipe can be installed in one uninterrupted operation. Tie-ins of successive strings during the pullback operation increase the risk considerably because the pullback should be continuous.


1 Pilot holePilot Hole – A pilot hole is drilled beginning at a prescribed angle from horizontal and continues under and across the obstacle along a design profile made up of straight tangents and long radius arcs. A schematic of the technique is shown in Figure 1. Concurrent to drilling pilot hole, the contractor may elect to run a larger diameter “wash pipe” that will encase the pilot drill string. The wash pipe acts as a conductor casing providing rigidity to the smaller diameter pilot drill string and will also save the drilled hole should it be necessary to retract the pilot string for bit changes. The directional control is brought about by a small bend in the drill string just behind the cutting head. The pilot drill string is not rotated except to orient the bend. If the bend is oriented to the right, the drill path then proceeds in a smooth radius bend to the right. The drill path is monitored by an electronic package housed in the pilot drill string near the cutting head. The electronic package detects the relation of the drill string to the earth’s magnetic field and its inclination. This data is transmitted back to the surface where calculations are made as to the location of the cutting head. Surface location of the drill head also can be used where there is reasonable access.

2 PrearmPreream – Once the pilot hole is complete, the hole must be enlarged to a suitable diameter for the product pipeline. For instance, if the pipeline to be installed is 36 in. diameter, the hole may be enlarged to 48 in. diameter or larger. This is accomplished by “prereaming” the hole to successively larger diameters. Generally, the reamer is attached to the drill string on the bank opposite the drilling rig and pulled back into the pilot hole. Joints of drill pipe are added as the reamer makes its way back to the drilling rig. Large quantities of slurry are pumped into the hole to maintain the integrity of the hole and to flush out cuttings.

3 PullbackPullback – Once the drilled hole is enlarged, the product pipeline can be pulled through it. The pipeline is prefabricated on the bank opposite the drilling rig. A reamer is attached to the drill string, and then connected to the pipeline pullhead via a swivel. The swivel prevents any translation of the reamer’s rotation into the pipeline string allowing for a smooth pull into the drilled hole. The drilling rig then begins the pullback operation, rotating and pulling on the drill string and once again circulating high volumes of drilling slurry. The pullback continues until the reamer and pipeline break ground at the drilling rig.