August 2011, Vol. 66 No. 8


Breaking Down Barriers – Gaining Acceptance For Pipe Bursting In Your Community

Matt Timberlake, President, Ted Berry Trenchless Technologies LLC, International Pipe Bursting Association Marketing Committee

Editor’s Note: The International Pipe Bursting Association (IPBA), a division of NASSCO, is presenting a series of articles in Underground Construction that will provide the reader with a better understanding of the technology. Many myths and misconceptions exist regarding this proven rehabilitation method for replacing existing underground utilities.

Pipe bursting is a proven method for replacing underground pipelines that provide critical services including municipal water, sewer, gas, storm water, electrical, telecommunications systems and more to people throughout North America and the world. In many parts of the country, pipe bursting is still considered a new technology; however, pipe bursting has been performed in Europe for more than 40 years and is a proven component of many long-term capital improvement programs in the United States.

In the U.S., many communities are unwilling or slow to consider an alternative to traditional construction methods. As engineers, contractors and manufacturers, we are often asked to help “sell” the new technology to utility system owners, consultants or public officials.

Utility system owners are constantly under pressure to do more with less. Finding alternative solutions is becoming more readily accepted; however, barriers remain to any technology new to a region.

The two primary challenges that pipe bursting faces in gaining community acceptance are:

• Acceptance of a “new” or unfamiliar technology to those in the underground utility industry; and
• Acceptance of HDPE pipe for use in a system — it has been by far the primary type of pipe installed over the past 15 years.

Overcoming these barriers is critical to the responsible growth of this technology. However, it is important to build a comfort level with the decision makers responsible for spending public funds in your community. In many areas, most design and/or consulting engineers do not have a great deal of practical experience with pipe bursting and thus are reluctant to suggest the technology to clients. Industry events are a great way for engineers and consultants to gain knowledge of this technology without putting their clients at unwanted risk. Many IPBA members will invite engineers or utility system owners to a jobsite so they can see, in real life, how pipe bursting is accomplished and the benefits of this technology.

Having a network of resources is a crucial step in researching this technology and being able to present it to the decision makers in a community. Of course, the presentation of any technology will achieve better results if the information presented is consistent with audience needs or wants. The level of understanding an engineer must have to feel comfortable with the technology will be much different than that of a small town utility board. Gaining the trust of all stakeholders is important. Many IPBA members have found great success is presenting information as simple as basic jobsite layout and construction techniques to technical design calculations and project impact studies. It is also important to hear the perspectives of the utility service departments as they often have valid concerns in regards to bringing a new type of pipe into their system or the constructability of the project.

One of the biggest factors holding pipe bursting back from gaining wider acceptance is simply “fear of the unknown” and the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality. Most communities are very comfortable with the processes involved with traditional open-cut utility construction, CIPP for sewer main rehabilitation or even cement mortar lining for municipal water main rehabilitation. As the most common rehab methods in the U.S. for water and sewer, these methods are still very reliable; however, pipe bursting will offer advantages that many of these traditional methods can’t match. Pipe bursting is the only method of pipeline rehabilitation that is able to replace an existing pipe with a new pipe that has the same or larger inner diameter without the need to dig a trench for the length of the project. With the growth of our communities and increase in demands from our underground utility infrastructure, as well as the public’s demand for lessened disruptions and a greater environmental awareness, considering pipe bursting now may be good timing for your community.

In a world where there seems to be a new technology regularly announced on the evening news, we must understand the public’s apprehension to consider anything other than business as usual. We need to look at the general public’s lack of understanding of our technology more as an opportunity than a barrier. This can also be said for the overall underground construction market as it has recently expanded to include reliable methods for installing materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ductile iron and others by trenchless methods including pipe bursting.

The IPBA Education Committee is currently active in promoting of pipe bursting through outreach efforts at national construction and utility seminars as well as to various associations, federal, state and local agencies throughout the United States. The IPBA has available a number of non-biased presentations and technical documents that can provide insight into the benefits and challenges associated with this type of construction.

Anyone in the construction industry knows all too well that good news travels slowly but bad news travels at the speed of sound. We would be remiss to say that there have never been failed pipe bursting jobs because there surely have; any veteran of the construction industry has a horror story they can find about a project gone bad with any type of method. Open cut, CIPP, sliplining or basically anything in the construction market has the potential for not going as planned. Unfortunately, negative selling is much more common in the construction industry than it should be and sometimes the knowledge of a process, product or technology is solely based on “hearsay” and not facts. The associations and groups that exist in this country and internationally are a great resource for research and, when all else fails, there is always the internet.

One of the benefits of collaboration through an organization or association is that you are able to learn and continually improve a process based on the challenges others have faced. The IPBA has united members from all aspects of the industry to help grow the market responsibly that involves a constant effort to “break down barriers” that exist.

Coming in September: The effects of pipe bursting on nearby utilities: predicting, preventing and managing the effects pipe bursting has on nearby utilities.

IPBA (NASSCO), (410) 486-3500,

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