March 2019 Vol. 74 No. 3


Texas Pipeline Contractor Expands with Horizontal Directional Drilling

Scott Andrews, owner of S & J Contractors of Winnsboro, Texas, has been working in the pipeline industry for 30 years. During that time, his company has weathered lean years and prospered during boom years. Andrews believes there is a natural ebb and flow in the industry and the best way to get through the peaks and valleys is having a team that can handle every aspect of constructing a pipeline, including doing a good job of allocating people and equipment on current projects.

Today, S & J Contractors employs more than 160 highly skilled individuals, who daily can be found doing pipeline construction, compressor installations or plant work. The company is a full-service operation from digging ditches, stringing pipe and welding, to clearing rights-of-way and restoration work. In fact, until recently, the only thing S & J Contractors would even consider subbing out is horizontal directional drilling (HDD). That all changed over the last year when Andrews made a significant HDD equipment investment so S&J Contractors can offer its clients a turnkey solution.

According to Andrews, his company is no stranger to doing trenchless pipeline construction. “We used to run several maxi rigs until around a decade ago when there was a dip in work in Southern Texas,” he explained. “We leaned up a bit as a company and decided that HDD was an area we could use a subcontractor on, if we needed to. We did, however, continue to invest in a few smaller HDDs for smaller-diameter bores.”

An increasing workload for HDD in Oklahoma and New Mexico has led S & J Contractors back into large-diameter trenchless work within the last year. “We’ve had a lot of drilling work coming in lately that has had some pretty tight deadlines; we just couldn’t afford to be waiting on subcontractors,” Andrews explained. “I gave my friend, Ray Miller, with Vermeer Texas-Louisiana, a call to see how quickly we could get a horizontal directional drill and reclaimer on our job site. He got us what we needed, and he got it all done quickly.”

Andrews invested in a Vermeer D100x140 S3 Navigator HDD and a Vermeer R250C reclaimer. The equipment combination, along with building a team of experienced operators and locators, helped S & J Contractors quickly transition to begin doing large-diameter pipeline boring projects on its own.

Quick deployment

S & J Contractors’ HDD crew got to work quickly after adding the rig and reclaimer on several boring projects in Texas and New Mexico. After that, the crew made its way up to Oklahoma to help with a new pipeline system being constructed by Valiant Midstream LLC. Spanning Hughes, Coal and Atoka counties and portions of Pittsburg, Pontotoc and Seminole counties, in total, the Valiant system will have approximately 150 miles of pipeline when completed.

On this project, S & J Contractors was the HDD subcontractor—an unusual role for the full-service company. Leading the crew was HDD supervisor Derl Stringer, who has served in many positions during his 15 years with the company. “Even though we didn’t run larger maxi rigs for a few years, this new rig was pretty intuitive to transition to,” he explained. “The controls are just like the ones on smaller Vermeer rigs, which helped us to be productive right out of the gate.”

To get the new pipeline up and running, all the contractors working on the new line needed to perform as efficiently as possible. Adding to the tight timeline was an unseasonably high amount of rainfall and challenging terrain.

Most of the bores that S & J Contractors were responsible for were right outside of McAlester, Okla. “We’re extremely familiar with the area, so we knew the ground conditions we would be operating in were rock and sand, but it was the weather that was unexpected,” said Stringer. “There were days where the whole area was flooded and many other days where drilling was about the only type of work that could be done. Through it all, we managed to stay on schedule.”

S & J completed several bores around the area, drilling 20-inch mainlines, 16-inch branch lines and a few 8-inch lines. Drill shot distances ranged between 300 and 1,400 feet. The hard rock and sandstone, to clay and sand ground conditions were challenging for the crew to navigate. “There aren’t too many flat spots in and around McAlester,” explained Andrews. “In some areas, the grade can change up to 40 percent almost instantly. In those areas, drilling makes a lot of sense. We also set up and bored under several creek beds.”

Dialing in the perfect setup

The demanding soil conditions meant that using a drilling fluid motor was essential. After completing the pilot bore, the S & J Contractors crew would typically make up to three passes with various-sized hole openers. “On the 20-inch lines, we would start with an 18-inch reamer, then step up from there,” said Stringer. “The final pass was usually with a 30-inch reamer.”

Choosing the right tooling was straight forward compared to getting the drilling fluid mixture dialed in correctly. “One minute we would be drilling in solid rock and then pop out the other side in sand,” Stringer explained. “We had to keep a real close eye on things and make adjustments to the mixture as we went.”

The crew was running around 150-gallons-per-minute of drilling fluid and used the reclaimer to help reduce the overall amount of water, as well as reduce the amount of drilling additives needed.

“The reclaimer helped save us time and expenses,” he said. “I can’t even imagine how much water we would have had to haul in without it. It was convenient to dial in and make adjustments as we changed up our drilling fluid mixture.”

Andrews also said that using a reclaimer helped reduce their investment in material. “In many of these rural areas, we had to add a lot of soda ash, which can get expensive,” he said. “Reclaiming the fluid we use means we’ve been able to use less ash, less drilling fluid additives and much less water. Plus, there is much less drilling fluid that we have to haul off after a bore is completed.”


Bore profiles

Having operated smaller drills for years, a best practice that Stringer and Andrews have brought to its maxi rig operations is creating as-built bore profiles in the field using their DCI Falcon F5 locator and Vermeer Projects productivity tools.

“Almost every company we work for wants documentation; it’s much more efficient to do it while we’re drilling than to send someone out afterward,” explained Stringer. “We use the locator to mark the bore path and record depths. After the data is collected, I upload it to Vermeer Projects on my computer and can quickly create a bore profile to share with customers either electronically or in a printout. I’m not sure why anyone would do it any other way.”

With every bore completed and documented, the S & J Contractors crew packed up its equipment and moved on to several projects in New Mexico. The team’s current rig and reclaimer won’t be the only units working on all the upcoming projects Andrews has lined up there.

“We are slammed for time and have a few river crossings lined up, so I reached out to Ray Miller again for help. Within a matter of days, he helped me track down a new Vermeer D220x300 S3 Navigator and a Vermeer R9x12T reclaimer. Now, we’ve got two HDD crews up and running.”

While it may seem that S & J Contractors has a lot on its plate right now, it’s nothing that Andrews and Stringer haven’t been through before. Experience has taught them that when things get busy, having the right people, machinery and tools makes a world of difference.


S & J Contractors, (903) 342-6965

Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337,

Digital Control Inc., (800) 288-3610,

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