Cross Bore Hunting

Safety is at the core of cross-bore inspections, but it is also a lucrative business opportunity for contractors

In February 2010, what was seemingly a routine sewer backup at a home in St. Paul, Minnesota, went horribly wrong.

There was a flash fire and then an explosion after the contractor put a drain snake with a cutting bit down the clogged line. The contractor was badly burned and the homeowner barely escaped unharmed. The issue was an undetected cross bore. A natural gas line was running through the home’s backed-up sewer line, so when that cutting bit sliced through the fragile PVC gas pipe, the seemingly routine job became anything but.

That’s just one example showcasing the importance of cross-bore awareness, which has improved in recent decades and needs to stay top of mind considering that trenchless technologies like directional drilling are increasingly popular ways of performing underground utility installation.

For contractors, that means business opportunity. Communities need underground inspection services to identify any cross-bore hazards and to prevent any new ones. Equix Integrity, featured in this month’s issue, was in fact founded in 2012 specifically to do cross-bore inspections.

One of several companies under the larger Equix Inc. brand, Equix Integrity today focuses on a variety of services, including sewer cleaning and rehab, but a core service remains cross-bore inspections, generating about 50% of the company’s revenue. The company does preconstruction inspections, televising sewer lines to find existing cross bores and mapping out the locations of laterals for utility installation crews to avoid. Equix Integrity also does post-construction inspections to ensure no new cross bores were created during installation, as well as “legacy” inspections, which focus on larger areas containing decades-old sewer mains and laterals that were installed at a time when cross-bore prevention wasn’t as much of a concern.

Many municipalities and utilities today have cross-bore inspection programs in place because of the severe risk that cross bores pose. It’s not just scenarios like a gas line puncturing a sewer line, thus turning a routine cleaning into a potentially deadly situation. Cross bores can also compromise the structural integrity of a pipe or contribute to groundwater contamination. The bottom line is it’s not great when you have one underground utility line running right through another.

Of course, more concern and awareness about cross bores means there is increased inspection work to do and a need for contractors to take on that work. After the gas explosion at the home in St. Paul, that I referenced to start this column, the utility company in charge, Xcel Energy Co., embarked on a three-year plan to thoroughly inspect sewer lines statewide and fix any cross-bore issues at a cost of millions of dollars. These contracts can be lucrative.

Maybe this isn’t news to you. Perhaps your company already has cross-bore inspection among its service offerings. If not though, it’s something worth looking into. Equix Integrity saw the opportunity a decade ago and is flourishing today, and making communities safer in the process.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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