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.
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 still exit on land,” says Allison Murrell, Earth View’s president. “Your entry and exit pits are both on land versus having your exit be at the ocean floor. It’s definitely different from a typical job. A lot of the processes are the same, but there are also challenges to 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 the location of the project and the challenges of the terrain and surrounding environment we had to deal with.”
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 United States.
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 thought process was to do the drills before hurricane season started because we would have a barge and a lot of equipment out in the ocean,” Murrell says.
“We were working right in the wave break so it was always weather permitting,” adds Townsend.
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.
“From the beginning it was a difficult project just getting mobilized into the site,” Townsend says. “They had us rig up behind the nature center, and it was tight. It was a challenge moving our equipment into the area to get rigged up to begin 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 our equipment into.”
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 the needs of the project. There 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 tight combination radiuses 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 didn’t have a lot of information to work with,” Townsend says. “It was challenging for the driller to change it up as he was drilling in order to hit the numbers he had to hit. But we had good steering equipment and the right tooling when the decision was made to switch from the jetting assembly to the mud motor, and we were able to complete the bores in a timely manner.”
The job required a lot of work offshore in the ocean itself, presenting unique challenges. A jack-up barge was installed to aid the ocean-side portion of the job site.
“We had to plan the length of the studs themselves for the jack-up barge, determining what the tide would be like,” Townsend says.
On the barge were two excavators, a Cat 323 and a Cat 336. One excavator had an attachment used to break the joints of drill pipe loose and unscrew them from the drill string.
“As we were push-reaming and opening the 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 built on the barge,” Townsend says. “That was so that as we were drilling, all the drilling fluids would go 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 our crews screwed a swivel onto the back of every joint of drill pipe, and the 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 100-foot-long screen our 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 going into the seafloor and that’s where we would start our count. We had to drag the screen underneath the seafloor about 90 feet to reach the required elevation.”
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 to make the process a little 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. For the second bore, we hooked up a couple more boats to the pipe and kept it in line. It really worked out well.”