August 2022 Vol. 77 No. 8

Editor's Log

Editor’s Log: Launch of the Big Event

Robert Carpenter | Editor-in-Chief 

(UC) — There’s a good chance by now that most of our readers have seen announcements for the evolution of the next big event for underground industry awards – a very special occasion that will reward accomplishments and people of the underground infrastructure industry in a unique, personal and deserving fashion. 

This program isn’t just about pomp and circumstance (though plans do, indeed, call for an extreme venue, wonderful food in a beautiful environment). It’s all about creating a respectful and appropriate setting to honor outstanding deeds and performances for all underground markets. The inaugural Underground Construction Awards (UCAs) has been created to achieve all that and more. 

Sponsored by Underground Construction magazine, the event will be held in conjunction with the annual UCT Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Fla., the evening of Monday, Feb. 6. UCT will kick off the next morning, Feb. 7. 

Among the awards categories attracting the most interest are Emerging Technologies of the Year, Rehabilitation Project of the Year, Rising Star of the Year, and Energy Pipeline Project of the Year. The program will recognize accomplishments, projects and technology advances that have made a significant impact on the market. 

The Underground Construction Awards will be the best opportunity of 2023 to truly recognize and honor the preeminent projects and people of this grand, underground infrastructure industry in which we all participate and call home. We sincerely hope you will participate by joining us in Orlando for the UCAs and UCT, and the celebration of North America’s underground infrastructure. 

Summer of reality 

Over the past year, as the price of oil and gas hit record highs (and continues to hover at those levels), the domestic energy industry has been responding with increased output, despite some absurd public outcries by politicians and media outlets that U.S. companies are profiteering from high prices. 

Granted, energy companies have been playing a conservative approach before jumping back into drilling at warp speed – and who can blame them? 

Two years ago, oil prices were in negative territory. The political climate was nothing short of an all-out war on petrochemical industries, and pipelines suddenly became persona non grata. The mere thought of expanding or adding refineries was repugnant to progressive politicians who had radical environmental groups constantly whispering nonsensical diatribe into their ears. 

But as we all know – and have felt at the pump – market conditions did a 180-degree pivot and oil and natural gas prices not only rebounded but strengthened to unexpectedly high levels – and that was before Russia’s unforgivable assault on Ukraine. 

Suddenly, the concept of increased refinery production (if even possible), additional LNG output and export, more gasoline supplies, etc., is reclaiming favor among the public and politicians. The result has been a steady upturn in oil/gas drilling. The U.S. rig count is the highest it’s been in two years and is continuing its steady climb. 

The catch-22 for progressive politicians and environmental extremists is that more oil/gas coming out of the ground means more pipeline projects. Yet, interstate pipelines still face strong headwinds, though projects are slowly beginning to re-emerge. Intrastate projects, on the other hand, seem to be faring at an improved level. 

Bottom line: pipeline projects are slowing arising from their forced hibernation and, of course, that means more large horizontal directional drilling opportunities are surfacing – albeit still at a muted rate. 

Contractors have been experiencing some renewed opportunities and are obtaining work that has been scarce to find for the last year. Pipeline/energy companies are finally reaching at least a small level of comfort with market conditions and starting plans for additional work in 2023. 

This is positive news for large rig contractors and suppliers, to be sure. We’re still a long way from a strong market, but recovery steps – even small ones – are welcome. 

Problem is, there are almost too many qualifiers to count in trying to predict what will happen with energy over the next year – or even next month. If we’ve learned anything about the public perception of energy over the last two years, it is fickle. 

We also had confirmed, to the nth degree, that the results of the 2020 election would be disastrous for conventional energy policies and directions. And then when the pandemic hit, any preconceived perceptions simply went out the window. 

With current domestic policies, looming November elections that could redirect energy growth in a positive or negative direction, continued war in the Ukraine with Russia’s unabated aggression, China’s inability to absorb all Russia’s now excess oil supply, and much more, the future of energy and pipelines is, indeed, murky. 

However, encouraging news from the large directional drilling sector is emerging and we have seen small, steady and positive turnarounds this summer. 

On the small rig side, we’ve seen equipment delays – while still long – beginning to shorten. Fiber work hasn’t skipped a beat and contractors are being pressed by owners to accelerate projects, as best they can, while still dealing with supply chain and worker shortages. 

It’s been an interesting summer and it ain’t over yet! UC 



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