June 2024 Vol. 79 No. 6

Editor's Log

Editor’s log: Let’s stay real

By Robert Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief 

(UI) — You don’t see much original, in-depth journalism these days. That goes for business-to-business journalism in the underground infrastructure markets, but also for virtually every type of media across business and consumer markets.

The world of modern communications has twisted and turned in directions that are often unexpected and overwhelming. Some of it makes sense, some of it is the simple result of technologies forcing changes whether society is prepared for those changes or not.  

At Underground Infrastructure, we still do our best to avoid becoming submitted content regurgitators. Rather, we publish real news, important news and original stories. At the top of that list are two research studies we publish annually. The first is our Municipal Sewer & Water Survey published each February since 1997, and the second is the Horizontal Directional Drilling Survey, which launched in 1998, and is featured in this June edition of UI

It’s an enormous task we take on with the surveys. Both have to be formatted properly, distributed equitably among population centers - large and small – throughout the country. For HDD, formulas have to be carefully followed to ensure proper representation in the survey to include small operators, medium and large. It requires patient evaluation and interpretation of mounds of data. 

It isn’t easy. That’s also why our magazine staff embeds itself within the HDD industry, attending events, travelling to job sites, absorbing as much key information as possible. That aids tremendously in obtaining a better understanding of HDD market trends while enabling us to retain accurate perceptions to accurately understand the data at hand. 

Real research, real facts, real figures, real information, real benefits. And real journalism. 


As always, we include plenty of opportunity for comments in the HDD Survey. You can count on the information being both expected and unexpected. Most of the operators of small and mid-size rigs report a backlog of work (primarily from fiber optic installations). But in the category of too much good news, perhaps, a few contractors expressed concern about the avalanche of rush projects rolling down the mountain now that BEAD funding has become available via the Infrastructure Bill. The purpose of this funding is to stimulate fiber construction for rural or underserved communities. 

Another contractor was concerned that more electrical work – also being generated from the Infrastructure Bill – was going to strain its capabilities when combined with the fiber construction demands.  

“We’ve done a lot of work for electric utilities off and on over the years,” said a contractor from the Midwest. “But the fiber work has really driven us in recent years and continues to run very hot. Now, we’ve got an electric utility customer wanting to schedule us for possible projects later in the summer and fall. It’s going to be a challenge working them in.” 

Another contractor along the Gulf Coast also observed that electric utilities in the areas are considering using the federal “hardening” money to convert some of their at-risk overhead power lines to underground in a move that will minimize hurricane and tropical storm impacts.

“We’ve been hit hard over the years by storms in this part of the country,” explained the contractor. “Utilities have taken some big hits. They (electric utilities) are planning on going underground to limit their downtime liability.” 

But what about the hard-pressed large rig operators whose traditional strong market in the energy sector came to a screeching halt in recent years? Apparently, large rig companies have effectively been diversifying into all kinds of markets, with water and alternative energy leading the way. Large rig purchases in 2024 are actually trending upward. 

More good news for the HDD industry is the continued growth of the Horizontal Directional Drilling Association, officially formed in 2022. It has already become a powerful advocate and positive force for a better, safer industry. It has held several highly praised field and classroom training courses with a steady roll-out of additional events planned. HDDA members, in a joint venture with the Underground Infrastructure Conference, are also actively working on planning and executing the HDD Reunion and Hall of Fame at the 2025 UIC event in Houston next March. 

One of the most important aspects of the HDDA is its focus on practicing and promoting a powerful safety culture on the drill site. The HDDA is steadily growing with active plans to continue its work to improve the HDD industry for all, regardless of rig size. 

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