Horizontal directional drilling has enjoyed steady success in the past several decades. And, it appears that there is a long-term positive outlook for the industry in general because there is a continuous demand from utility providers, gas suppliers, and most importantly, the telecommunications market.
Building underground infrastructure to facilitate distribution of utilities is a natural result of industrialisation. As urban areas become more congested, it became more practical to install cables, pipelines, and conduits underground. Although directional drilling lost momentum for some time, the coming years will re-ignite the demand for HDD as ageing underground infrastructure will soon need repairs and maintenance.
Why focus on underground construction?
Installing pipes and conduits underground has significant benefits. First, it looks good and bodes well for cities where above-ground power lines and cables are not a practical option. Second, even in rural areas, one of the main challenges with trenching is how it can potentially disrupt and damage the environment. With HDD, there will be minimal damage to nature and critical features of the ecosystem such as rivers and streams.
Directional drilling costs more initially, but contractors will save money on workforce and the cost of rehabilitating the drill site. It also takes less time to complete a project with HDD than with conventional trenching.
The importance of HDD in digital telecommunications
Among all the industries that rely on horizontal directional drilling, the one with the most potential in terms of increased demand is telecommunications. Innovation in fibre optics is ushering in a new era, and HDD is the perfect technology needed to install the infrastructure required by cable and broadband providers for expanding their networks.
Ramping up the need for fibre optics is a match made in heaven for the HDD industry. Unlike the earlier efforts to push for more advanced telecommunications, the current demand will not be a passing trend. The telecommunications industry is gearing towards improving the existing infrastructure, and consumers are always looking for a faster way to connect to the internet.
It also helps that most telecommunication installations are done underground. As such, HDD is a more suitable solution primarily if installations are intended for congested city landscapes with challenging above-ground obstacles.
On-going challenges in the HDD industry
The rise in HDD demand from the telecommunications sector is keeping the industry steady. But there are still some concerns to address, especially since there has been much discussion about the safety of drilling fluids as well as their disposal. One of the main controversies that HDD experts need to resolve is the misconception that drilling fluids are the same as the chemicals used for fracking and oil drilling. However, this assumption cannot be farther from the truth. The HDD industry complies with strict guidelines on handling, composition, use, and disposal of drilling fluid.
What is needed by the industry as a whole is to face the problem and educate contractors, engineers, providers, and the general public about how directional drilling works and that the drilling fluid used for this type of operation does not harm the environment.
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