If you've been in the HDD industry for a while, you may not view the increasingly strict regulations around the environment as "friendly" to your business. And, to those who advocate for the environment, HDD might be seen as a threat. But is this all just a big misunderstanding? HDD is arguably the most common method of pipeline and utility installation, and many credit its rise to early support from environmental advocates. However, people on both sides of the coin have lost sight of that over time — for various reasons. That said, HDD and the environment still have a generally positive relationship, and we're here to help you understand why.

Benefits of HDD and the Environment

HDD is as beneficial to the environment as it is to the construction industry as a whole, especially when compared to traditional open-cut trenching and excavation methods. Since horizontal directional drilling is a trenchless technology, by its very nature, it has a smaller site footprint, and there are several reasons this is incredibly helpful.

1. It's Less Invasive and Avoids Environmentally-Sensitive Areas

Trenching and open cutting are undeniably harmful to the environment. These older methods harm the beauty of delicate areas and can disrupt ecological functions. For example, open cutting in the bottom of a river can stir up harmful toxins, killing fish and other wildlife and potentially contaminating the water downstream. HDD essentially eliminates these problems, minimizing the impact that construction projects have on the environment and surrounding landscape. Since HDD is trenchless and offers the ability to install pipes and utilities entirely subterranean, there is minimal impact on the surrounding environment, avoiding sensitive areas that need to be preserved due to their biological or historical importance, such as:
  • Protected Forests
  • Natural Rivers
  • Preserved Wetlands
  • Endangered Wildlife habitats
  • Infrastructural Waterways
  • Vital Agricultural soil
These are just a few examples of the areas that can be protected by HDD. Environmental issues and complications may still arise, but the chances are much lower than with traditional open-cut methods.

2. It's More Accurate and Efficient

With modern controls and locating systems, drill rig operators have a lot of control over the direction of their bores. This level of accuracy helps them to avoid underground obstacles that could harm aboveground land, while also ensuring that the bore's path complies with plans and environmental regulations. HDD is also faster than other methods and requires less equipment. Not only does this mean generally lower costs, but also decreased energy consumption and fewer emissions. Since jobs can be done accurately and efficiently, there's a smaller footprint on the environment.

3. It's More Sustainable

Since HDD saves money and can avoid urban chaos (no closure of roads and highways, etc.), it's a more financially sustainable construction method. However, this sustainability extends to HDD and the environment too. Urban disruptions can lead to an increase in traffic, meaning more carbon emissions. The efficiency and reduced footprint of HDD jobs provides long-term sustainability as well.

Potential HDD Environmental Issues

While HDD is an environmentally-friendly method of construction, that doesn't mean there aren't concerns. First of all, while HDD does minimize the impact on the environment, it can still cause minor cosmetic damage. However, this is usually temporary and does not impact long-term environmental health. Other HDD environmental issues are mostly related to the management of liquid waste, particularly drilling fluid. Managing this waste can be a challenge due to both the environment itself and local regulations. Transportation and disposal of liquid waste are heavily regulated to protect people and the environment. Disposal options vary greatly between different localities. Recycling drilling fluid is possible, but not always feasible — same with solidifying liquid waste onsite. Ultimately, it's best to prevent as much waste as possible from drilling fluid, cuttings, sediment and other byproducts.

Why Do People Think HDD is Bad for the Environment?

Frankly, a lot of the confusion with HDD and the environment is simply because some environmental advocates confuse HDD with the part of the oil and gas industry that is vertical drilling. This confusion has been perpetuated to the point that many people concerned with environmental issues now see HDD as an adversary rather than a valuable tool for both progress and conservation. Additionally, some people see minor cosmetic damage from HDD and lose sight of the big picture — that the damage is temporary and far less destructive than methods like open-cut trenching. Many companies within the HDD industry have aligned themselves with organizations that proactively help with awareness of the impact excavation has on the environment. Equally there are organizations, Such as the Common Ground Alliance to help different underground utility organziations communicate about their projects and intentions to excavate in hopes of, "preventing damage to underground utility infrastructure and protecting those who live and work near these important assets".

Things to Keep in Mind for the Future of HDD and the Environment

For the sake of the environment, it's crucial that experienced HDD contractors and environmental regulators work together directly and not view each other as adversaries. Working together to protect each other is just as important as protecting our environment. Melfred Borzall encourages anyone with an intention to excavate, trenchless or not, to Call 811 before you dig and help us all keep our underground infrastructure intact. HDD projects need effective planning with accurate designs to make the cleanest bores that have minimal environmental impact — environmental regulators can aid contractors in doing this when they understand the full scope of HDD, ensuring that the proper methods are used rather than placing arbitrary restrictions that make jobs less sustainable overall. Oversight is absolutely necessary, but certain mandates can cause more problems. For example, if operators can't access river water near the jobsite, they may have to transport water, requiring trucks that increase the job's footprint. HDD can also be used to install environmental remediation wells for the removal of pollution and contaminants from soil, water and more. While this hasn't caught on quite yet because of its complexity and expense, as well as the amount of training required, some experts believe that this market will be more common than utility installation for HDD in the future. The best way to look at HDD and the environment: the crew and equipment should work in accordance with nature, not against it. Once all parties get on board with this concept, we'll be looking toward a much brighter future.

How is Melfred Borzall Doing Its Part?

In nearly 75 years of HDD tooling, Melfred Borzall has fostered a great appreciation for environmental stewardship. We're a leader for green manufacturing in the HDD industry: we utilize solar panels on our roof, have an energy-efficient lighting system and employ a small fleet of electric vehicles. On top of that, we're always looking at new ways to innovate so that we can continue to have an overall positive impact on the environment and encourage others in the field to do so, too. If you'd like to know more about our green manufacturing process or any of our HDD products, contact us today.

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