From: Dig Different Magazine March/April 2016 By: Paul Nicolaus
In recent years, the expansion of natural gas production in the Northeast region has provided significant work. This has been a positive dynamic that is lowering energy costs, Timberlake says it has also presented some dilemmas. The rapid rise in construction can lead to a number of risks. There is always the potential to damage utilities such as water, sewer, power, and some utilities are just plain difficult to locate. Clays and plastics cannot be easily traced; sewer laterals are often constructed of these materials. Being able to go through and safely install small-diameter gas mains along the edge of a public right-of-way without posing any immediate or long-term risk to the public is a very real issue.
To tackle these difficulties, Ted Berry Company has worked hand in hand with a number of contractors, municipalities and gas utilities to develop a comprehensive damage prevention program. “Damage prevention is continuing to be more of a focus in the underground industry,” he says. “In order to truly have a damage prevention program, you have to know where the utilities are, you have to know what they are, you have to know the sizes, the types, the depths, and what’s in them.
“Unfortunately, there are very few parts of the country where you can walk out onto any given street and all of the other utility owners in that area know exactly where their pipes are, exactly how deep they are and exactly what size they are,” he adds. “Oftentimes what they’ll do is paint a blue or yellow or red mark on the ground and say, ‘We’ve got pipes down there somewhere.’”
From Timberlake’s vantage point, the result is that a lot of money goes down the drain. “The money spent in utility management in the United States is just absolutely wasted,” he says, explaining that every time a backhoe shows up to fix a sewer lateral and hits a gas main or every time a sewer main is damaged while repairing a water main, there are valuable resources used to repair the damage done. “If a utility spends $100,000 a year on repairing damaged utilities that are struck during excavation, that’s $100,000 that could have been spent putting in new utilities or upgrading or rehabilitating.”
With vacuum excavation, there’s an ability to be more efficient in identifying where utilities are and getting their sizes. Oftentimes that can be done before a project begins and the heavy excavation work starts. By accurately locating, documenting condition, mapping and exposing buried utilities, construction can take place with reduced risk to both on-site workers and the general public.
“Oftentimes there’s only so much real estate underground where a sewer line, a waterline and a gas line can all fit,” Timberlake explains. “Once we identify where those lateral crossings are, we can then use the hydro excavation equipment, vacuum down, expose the sewer lateral, and then have the directional drillers coming by at that point confirm that they have cleared it and have adequate separation required for the area. Then once they’re by, that very small keyhole can be backfilled.”
Taking place throughout Maine over the course of the last three years — and still ongoing — Timberlake says that in terms of both size and importance, this natural gas work is the most significant vacuum excavation job the company has ever been involved in because the results can be catastrophic if the work is not carried out carefully and effectively.
If a gas main blows up, there can be significant property damage, and the loss of life is not uncommon. “So for us to be able to take a vacuum truck and say that we are helping prevent catastrophic events and injuries and loss of life — I never would have thought 20 years ago that our work would have had that type of significance,” he adds.
When he considers the biggest advantages of hydro excavation, Timberlake says there are several that rise to the top of the list. “In terms of prioritized benefits, efficiency is probably the biggest one,” Timberlake says. “Because most people make their decisions based on money, you’ve got to start with efficiency. We can perform the same work faster.”
From his perspective, the ability to better manage the primary risks associated with excavation is also crucial. “Those primary risks are hitting another utility and doing damage to it, and the risk of people being injured in a trench,” he says. “Those are the greatest risks to any excavation company anywhere on the planet, and if what we can do is manage out that risk of striking another utility by using a non-mechanical method, we have not entirely eliminated that risk but we have substantially reduced the possibility of damaging another utility.”
Health and safety is another key benefit. Best practices and regulatory agencies require a tolerance zone around a pipe where it must be hand excavated. Timberlake explains in New England that tolerance zone is 18 inches. Within 18 inches of a pipe, it has to be hand excavated. Which means you have employees in a trench, in a ditch, and while they’re physically moving that material away from the pipe, that’s where the greatest risk presents itself. He mentions a recent death as the result of a broken water main as a case in point.
“With a vacuum truck we can do all that work from above ground with a remote control in a controlled setting,” he says. “Once the pipe is exposed and isolated, then the employees enter a safer trench, typically a drier trench, and they’re going to be in it for a shorter amount of time.”
As the industry’s equipment continues to evolve, Timberlake says it’s worth keeping an eye on the accessories such as pipes, tubes and wash nozzles. “I think where a lot of the improvements are going to be is in the accessories because to some extent figuring out how to build a vacuum truck has kind of already been done,” he says. “They’ll always continue to improve them, but a lot of it is the usability of it and building in new widgets that improve efficiency and safety.
“One of the biggest things we look at now with nozzles, for example, is if we can use a highly efficient nozzle that allows us to do the same amount of work in less time and burn less fuel, then spending the extra money to buy that efficient nozzle all of a sudden becomes worth it.”
Timberlake remains excited to see the continued acceptance of hydro excavation used as part of a standard of practice. Years ago it may have been viewed as a niche, he says, but not anymore. “That’s really when you know something has value,” he adds. “If it truly has value, it will grow in acceptance, and it will grow in value.”
Matt Timberlake is a firm believer that no single piece of equipment will make or break you; everything depends upon people and their ability and commitment. Even so, he does acknowledge that Ted Berry Company’s 2008 Vactor 2115 combination sewer cleaner/hydro excavator is something special.
The Vactor rises to the top among an impressive list of company-owned equipment that includes seven vacuum trucks (five Vactor Combos, one Guzzler Classic and one Super Products), five mainline CCTV trucks (four Aries and one CUES), about 50 service trucks, a fleet of about 20 large-diameter hydraulic pumps ranging from 6 to 12 inches, two pipe bursting teams that are set up with static and pneumatic equipment ranging in size from 2 to 36 inches, and a Reline America UV CIPP system.
Although this is just one of many vacuum trucks owned by the company, it is versatile enough to allow multiple revenue streams to be generated by just one crew. The truck is a 15-cubic-yard combination Vactor with typical jetting configuration of 100 gpm at 2,500 psi with a multi-flow system. It also has a PD blower with an 8-inch Vactor suction boom.
A full hydro excavation package installed to add additional capabilities to the truck, . The high-pressure pump, high-pressure reel, and boiler make this truck a critical component in a fleet of equipment.
“It’s kind of the Cadillac option,” he says. “It’s got all the bells and whistles. Without that we can’t inspect pipe, and without that we can’t rehab pipe. It is kind of the foundation; the company is really built around it.”
The truck is used on a combination of large-diameter sewer flushing projects and vacuum excavation projects for power utility companies, natural gas distribution companies and general contractors installing new gas lines. Beyond that, it’s put to use when water and wastewater utilities call Ted Berry Company in for digging around broken or damaged mains during emergencies.