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Nine Reasons Why to Use Horizontal Directional Drilling

With pipeline construction jobs, there is never a want of challenges to tackle.  While many stretches of midstream pipeline may be unobstructed and avail themselves to the typical trench-based installation, this is not always the case.  When facing ecological and civil obstacles, horizontal directional drilling is quite frequently the best solution to the problem.

In this article, we will discuss why to use horizontal drilling for a midstream pipeline construction project. We’ll delve into the various benefits of horizontal drilling as well as the reach of this means of drilling.

Why Use Horizontal Directional Drilling?

Horizontal directional drilling allows pipelines and utilities to be installed underneath sensitive surface areas without harming ecosystems, interrupting roadways and railroads, or disturbing city activities and buildings.

Can you imagine the disruptions that would be caused by tearing up a busy railroad line or a major freeway to install a pipeline in its path?  Or taking out a high-rise office building so a pipeline can be constructed there?  Or damming and redirecting a major river to install a utility run?

While trenching is the best solution for most open terrains, it’s not ideal in urban areas or where fragile ecosystems can be damaged. By boring underneath lakes, rivers, and wetlands, these natural beauties are left undisturbed for our enjoyment.

Busy transportation routes can continue unhindered, keeping economies and livelihoods flowing.  Expensive, important buildings can remain intact, fulfilling their vital roles.

Horizontal Directional Drilling Benefits

Horizontal directional drilling holds numerous benefits for pipeline and utility companies, as well as for the communities in their path.  Here are several benefits of using HDD:

Benefit 1: Versatility in applications

Horizontal directional drilling can be used for more than pipelines. It’s also favored in underground construction.  Service conduits, cables, and utility pipelines can all be installed with horizontal drilling.

Benefit 2: Buildings in the pipeline path stay intact

Horizontal direction drilling saves city roads and buildings. Image by LutzBruno / CC BY 3.0

Traditional trenching installs may call for the partial demolition of adjacent structures. If a building must temporarily shut down due to construction work, this can disrupt residents’ jobs for weeks on end. HDD takes a less damaging approach. Boreholes can be drilled and pipelines pulled underneath these structures without any damage or demo work required.

Benefit 3: Transportation Infrastructure remain operational throughout the project

Road closures can be a major headache for commuters and residents near a pipeline construction site.  By keeping the transportation infrastructure unhindered, the pipeline company maintains a positive reputation and a good relationship with the community.

Benefit 4: Environmentally sensitive areas are protected

If you need to run a pipeline somewhere deemed environmentally sensitive, your options may be quite limited. HDD projects will maintain the integrity and condition of the environmentally protected area, by tunneling underneath rather than disturbing these wetlands, lakes, and protected areas.

Benefit 5: Underground utilities are out of harm’s way

Underground utilities are generally marked and can be located.  However, it’s not at all uncommon to upturn buried utilities and telecom cables while trenching.  HDD avoids these headaches altogether, as the boreholes are typically below the depth that these utilities are buried.

Benefit 6: Soil contamination is reduced

Soil contamination is a threat pipeline construction teams should always be alert to. Toxic chemicals, underground tanks, and lines containing fuel waste or sewage may unexpectedly be disturbed while trenching.  The cleanup and reclamation can be quite costly. Horizontal boring is less likely to strike these environmental landmines as it is typically well below the surface.

Benefit 7: Installation is Fast and Efficient

Horizontal drilling in a city. Image by FRAC / CC BY-SA 2.5

By tunneling under obstacles, there is no demo work and subsequent reconstruction.  There is no restoration and rehabilitation of wetlands and ecosystems.  This means the installation process can be completed promptly.

Benefit 8: Pipelines are Protected

Aboveground pipelines are exposed to the elements, including storms, lightning, collisions, and even vandalism.  Underground pipelines are protected from these destructive forces.  With over 2.4 million miles of pipeline in the United States, this additional protection represents enormous savings in maintenance and repair costs.

Benefit 9: Horizontal drilling can be the most economic approach for routes with obstacles

When pipeline routes face obstacles such as roadways, railroads, rivers, buildings, and utilities, horizontal boring is typically the most economical option to tackle these challenges.  The cost of rerouting traffic, waterways, and utilities, as well as urban demolition and reconstruction can add up quickly.  HDD avoids all these costs, keeping the pipeline project within budget.

How Far Can Horizontal Drilling Reach?

The longest horizontal direction drilling record is 17,060 ft (3.23 miles), set at the Hong Kong International airport.  Twin jet fuel pipelines were installed for the expanding airport.  

By using HDD, the pipeline installers were able to hop the South China Sea without having to dredge the seabed.  This was a major environmental advantage, protecting egrets and other native wildlife.

To complete this large distance, the team used a method known as the “handshaking” or “intersection” method.  This means that a pilot hole was drilled from both ends of the pipeline and met in the middle.

This was quite the feat, given that the handshake happened 330 feet below the seabed.  Only by the use of three sophisticated guiding technologies (GPS, sea surface ship positioning, and geomagnetic field sensing) was this able to be accomplished.  The below video shows in detail how they accomplished this amazing task:

While Hong Kong currently holds the record, this is an ever-improving and evolving technology.  Undoubtedly, there will be even longer HDD runs in the future.  It will be exciting to see what the next world record will be.


Horizontal directional drilling or HDD is a great benefit to midstream pipeline installation companies. By going beneath the ground to install pipelines, HDD offers more versatility and flexibility. There’s less damage to roads and infrastructure and thus little need for road and building closures. Environmentally protected areas remain unscathed as well.

Hanging H is a major player in pipeline installation and HDD projects.  We have decades of experience in midstream pipeline construction across the United States.  Regardless if your next project requires horizontal drilling or conventional trenching, we have the manpower, equipment, and experience to get the job done.