Florida Contractor Overcomes Land and Sea Challenges for Successful Job Outcome

Florida’s Earth View takes on a directional drilling job with a wet exit to install seawater intake lines for a nature center’s sea turtle habitat

Florida Contractor Overcomes Land and Sea Challenges for Successful Job Outcome

One excavator was used to break the drill pipe joints loose and unscrew them from the drill string, while the other was used to pull on the drill pipe to maintain tension.

Earth View is accustomed to challenging directional drilling jobs. But no matter the obstacles a given job may present, typically the company has a bore with entry and exit pits on land.

So the circumstances were unique when Earth View took on a job for the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, Florida, installing new seawater intake lines for the center’s sea turtle habitat. The bores began on land, but traveled 1,300 feet exiting offshore in the ocean.

“Most drilling jobs, even if you’re doing a water crossing, you’re still popping up on land,” says Allison Murrell, Earth View’s president. “Your entry and exit pits are both on land versus having your exit pit be on a barge out in the ocean. It’s definitely very different from a typical job. A lot of the processes are still the same, but there are also a lot of different challenges to think about and overcome.”

“The concept of completing the drill itself was pretty comparable to everything else we do,” adds Joe Townsend, Earth View’s drilling superintendent. “It was mostly about the location of the project and the challenges of the terrain and surrounding environment we had to deal with.”

Getting the job

Earth View was founded in 2004 in Naples, Florida, and started out focusing on private utility locates. By 2016, recognizing the need for underground infrastructure solutions different from standard opencut methods, the company branched out into trenchless technologies. Directional drilling and other trenchless services now make up about 60% of Earth View’s workload. It does a majority of its work in Florida but also takes on jobs throughout the Southeast U.S.

For the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center job, Earth View served as a subcontractor on the drilling work for its sister company Quality Enterprises, a large civil construction company that was awarded the job through a bidding process. That was in 2021, but work was put off until spring the following year to avoid hurricane season.

Toward the end of February 2022, Earth View began mobilizing and most of the work occurred in March.

“The whole thought process there was doing the drilling before hurricane season started back up just because we were going to have a barge and a lot of equipment out in the ocean,” Murrell says.

“We were going to be right in the wave break so it was really weather permitting,” adds Townsend.

Tight quarters

The job called for two parallel 1,300-foot bores from the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center under a roadway and beach area, and out into the ocean where a jack-up barge was set up to house necessary equipment and serve as the exit pit. For the new seawater intake lines, 16-inch HDPE was installed. The challenges began immediately.

“Right off the bat it was a difficult project just getting mobilized into the site,” Townsend says. “They had us rig up back behind the nature center, and it was pretty tight. It was a challenge moving all of our equipment into the area to get rigged up to even get started drilling our pilot hole.”

Being right in the middle of a nature preserve, Earth View also had to always be conscious of the site’s environmental sensitivity.

“We definitely had a limited laydown area to work with,” Townsend says. “It takes a lot of support equipment for something like this, so looking at the site, we had to determine how small of an area we could fit all the equipment into.”

Utmost precision

Using an American Augers 440 drilling rig, each bore took about two weeks from start to finish — completing the pilot bore and pulling in the HDPE pipe. There was little margin for error. The two lines ran parallel, about 20 feet apart out in the ocean to just 10 feet apart where they connected to the new pump station at Gumbo Limbo.

“That was a concern, how close they had to be together with the tight location,” Murrell says.

“That was one of the most challenging parts about the project,” Townsend says. “We had to be very precise with our elevations and our horizontal distances in order to be able to fit the lines into this precast pump station. We have an in-house engineer that helped to design and profile these drills to fit what we needed them to do. There really was no room for error. The numbers had to be hit pretty much dead on otherwise we would’ve missed the elevation at the pump station. There were really tight combination radiuses where we were having to build up and left at the same time right out of the gate, right as soon as the drill started.”

Earth View also had to account for varying formations along the drill path. Crews started the bores with a jetting assembly, but due to a hard layer of coral at the deepest points of the drill — about 48 feet — they had to switch the tooling mid-bore to a mud motor.

“We really didn’t have any consistency to go off of,” Townsend says. “It was really challenging for the driller to be able to change it up as he was drilling to hit the numbers he had to hit. But we had good steering equipment and the right tooling as far as when the decision was made to switch from the jetting assembly to the mud motor. That’s how we were able to complete the bores in a timely manner.”

Ocean work

The job required a lot of work offshore in the ocean itself, presenting unique challenges. A jack-up barge was installed to aid the oceanside portion of the job site.

“We had to pre-plan the length of the studs themselves for the jack-up barge, determining what the tide was going to be like,” Townsend says.

On the barge were two excavators, a Cat 323 and a Cat 336. One excavator had an attachment on it that was used to break the joints of drill pipe loose and unscrew them from the drill string.

“We were push-reaming, so as we were push-reaming and opening this hole up, the drill pipe on the back end of the reamer needed to be broken loose in sections and layed off on a rack we had built on this barge,” Townsend says. “That was so as we were drilling, all the drilling fluids would be going back to the entry pit and not out into the ocean.”

The other excavator was used to pull on the drill pipe and maintain tension.

“During push reamer processes, you can’t do it all with the drill rig itself, so crews would screw a swivel onto the back of every joint of drill pipe, and that excavator would keep tension on the pipe and help keep that drill pipe in line to help keep the hole where it needed to be,” Townsend says.

In addition to the 14 Earth View employees working on the project, there was a team of three divers to provide some assistance on certain aspects of the job. The divers retrieved the steering tooling on the pilot bores. They also helped on the pullback of the HDPE pipe.

“There was a 150-foot-long screen crews bolted to the back of the HDPE product and the screen was drug underneath the seafloor. That’s what filters the seawater throughout,” Townsend says. “The divers dove down to tell us when the back end of the screen was now going into the seafloor and that’s where we would start our count. It was about 90 feet that we had to drag it underneath the seafloor to reach the proper elevation they wanted.”

Mid-job adjustment

Although challenging, the Earth View crews didn’t encounter any problems during the job that required a major audible. They did underestimate one aspect on the first bore though that had them make a change for the second bore.

“We didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to have 1,300 feet of pipe lined up with the barge and keeping it lined up while the drill was pulling the product into the ground,” Murrell says. “The first time it was difficult having all the pipe floating out in the water. We realized that we had to bring in more support equipment for the second one just to make the process a little bit easier.”

“It was challenging on both bores, but the first one especially was challenging because we really weren’t prepared,” Townsend adds. “We had all the equipment we needed. We just didn’t anticipate the pipe wanting to float out as far as it did, so we had some difficulty there but we were able to keep it under control. Then on that next one we brought in and hooked up a couple more boats to it and kept it in line. It really worked out well.”


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