Sample Engineering Paper on Borehole Stability in Horizontal Directional Drilling

Borehole Stability in Horizontal Directional Drilling


Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technology is a steerable trenchless construction technique that offers an alternative for installing underground pipes, conduits and cables (Wang and Sterling, 2007; Onsarigo, Adamtey and Atalah, 2014; Krechowicz and Krechowicz, 2021). HDD technology was first introduced in the 1970s in California, USA and has since grown to a yearly multi-billion-dollar industry that has found applications across the globe. The advantage of the HDD trenchless technology over conventional pipe installation methods is that it requires a minimum amount of excavation to attain complete installation (Yan et al., 2018). HDD has turned out to be a versatile technique becoming increasingly popular for installing pipes in locations where trenching is difficult, for example, under rivers or railways (Royal, Riggall and Chapman, 2010).

Indeed, over the past years, HDD technology has emerged as the most preferred construction technique for installing new underground infrastructure (Lueke and Ariaratnam, 2005; Yan et al., 2018). The technology uses subsurface-mounted rigs to install small to medium-sized pipelines and conduits at relatively shallow depths (Wang and Sterling, 2007; Krechowicz and Krechowicz, 2021). The first step in HDD involves drilling a guided pilot hole along the bore path by cutting and mixing geological formations with drilling fluids to make a flowable slurry (Wang and Sterling, 2007). It then uses down-hole bits to produce the bore and expand it with back-reamers to enable installation of the pipe. The ability to control the path of the bore has ensured the success and attractiveness of the technology.

Despite the success and popularity of HDD technology, there are several issues pertaining to its installation which are still poorly understood. For instance, the evaluation of the stability of the borehole wall especially when HDD is applied to very loose sand or gravel-sand mixtures presents a big challenge to industry (Wang & Sylvester, 2007). Borehole stability is a critical and key issue during horizontal directional drilling projects (Zhou et al., 2013). Consequently, borehole stability must be given due consideration in HDD, because borehole instability challenges usually lead to non-productive time. For instance, cases of borehole instability problems have been reported in shale formations in Zubair in Southern Iraq (Mohammed and Selman, 2020). A proper balance of several critical soil parameters like soil stress and strength, pore pressure, drilling fluid pressure and drilling mud chemical composition are necessary for borehole stability. In contrast, borehole instability is influenced by chemical effects (filter cake formation) and mechanical effects (soil sloughing and hydraulic fracturing) (Wang & Sylvester, 2007). Recent studies have applied numerical modeling methods to investigate borehole stability in horizontal directional drilling operations (Wang and Sterling, 2007).

Typical borehole instability problems include stuck pipe, caving, lost circulation, and the tight hole, requiring more time to treat and therefore additional costs (Allawi and Al-Jawad, 2021).  Studies have shown that borehole instabilities present significant problems to drilling, especially in areas with weak bedding planes and pre-existing fractures where formations have strong anisotropies (Zhang, 2013). Generally, borehole instability can be caused by both natural and artificial factors. Borehole instability occurs when there is disturbance and change of natural equilibrium state of the surrounding rock and soil mass causing loss of support for the formation of the hole (Zhou et al., 2013). Borehole shrinkage or enlargement may cause the actual borehole track to deviate from the designed track and could result into too large torque, too large pulling force, difficult or even failure in pipeline pullback (Hawkes, 2007; Zhou et al., 2013). Lack pf borehole stability may also lead to the drilling pipe sticking and drilling tools being buried in the process of drilling and reaming. Also, large amount of mud pressure can lead to rupture of the bore wall, and mud leakage may induce ground surface splitting and result in serious environmental pollution and economic losses. Failure to undertake accurate borehole stability analysis may pose problems such as borehole washouts, breakout, collapse, stuck pipes and drill bits, and losses of boreholes (Zhang, 2018). It is known that borehole instability increases drilling time and costs and may lead to well abandonment before it reaches its objective. It is estimated that the cost of these issues is about 10% of the total drilling time (Li, George and Purdy, 2012; Darvishpour et al., 2019).


Steering in Horizontal Directional Drilling

Methodology and Equipment

Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) operates with a steerable system that is useful in installing pipes, conduits, and cables in a shallow arc using a surfaced launched drilling rig (Jariwala et al., 2013). The HDD technology has been used in large scale crossings (e.g. rivers) where fluid-filled pilot hole is drilled without rotating the drill string and is then enlarged by a wash over the pipe and back reamer to the size required. Underground steering is a critical component of HDD because it assures navigation past underground utilities and obstacles. The steering system also helps keep records of the actual underground route, thereby simplifying the project operations because it enables all the underground obstacles to be identified (Kendon, 2019). The ability of the steering to control the path of the bore is essential for the success of many horizontal directional drilling installations. Indeed, the potential inability to maintain and control the direction of the bore hinders the widespread adoption of the technique in place of traditional open-cut methods (Royal, Riggall and Chapman, 2010).

The HDD installation process involves drilling a pilot hole along the desired directional path, enlarging it to the desired diameter to accommodate the product pipe, and pulling the product pipe back (Royal, Riggall and Chapman, 2010). The rig in HDD technology makes a pilot bore by forcing a drilling head with a tracking system at the surface. Steering around natural or anthropogenic obstacles in horizontal directional drilling is achieved by changing the direction of the drilling head in the pilot hole drilling phase. In drilling the pilot hole, the HDD rig uses a non-rotating drill string with a drill bit that has an asymmetrical leading edge. The drill string is turned to change the direction so that the leading-edge faces in the new direction (Kendon, 2019). The technique is simple and allows drillers to change the direction of the drill at any time during the process. The drilling head has an angled cutting edge at the front end, which allows the steering of the drilling rig by pushing and rotating the drill rods (Onsarigo, Adamtey and Atalah, 2014). The drilling fluid is pumped through nozzles in the drill head to cut and displace the soil. When the pilot bore is completed, a back reamer enlarges the hole. After that, larger back-reamers are progressively used until the hole is big enough to accommodate the product pipe (Royal, Riggall and Chapman, 2010; Krechowicz and Krechowicz, 2021). The more challenging task in this process is identifying the actual position of the drill and knowing the degree of changing the direction of the drill. In practice, the parameters used to set the direction of the drill are Azimuth and Inclination (Kendon, 2019). In HDD, Azimuth is a measure of the direction of the drill relative to the North, and inclination measures the extent of the drill pointing up or down (Royal, Riggall and Chapman, 2010).





Allawi, R.H. and Al-Jawad, M.S. (2021) ‘Wellbore instability management using geomechanical modeling and wellbore stability analysis for Zubair shale formation in Southern Iraq’, Journal of Petroleum Exploration and Production Technology, 11(11), pp. 4047–4062. doi:10.1007/s13202-021-01279-y.

Darvishpour, A. et al. (2019) ‘Wellbore stability analysis to determine the safe mud weight window for sandstone layers’, Petroleum Exploration and Development, 46(5), pp. 1031–1038. doi:10.1016/S1876-3804(19)60260-0.

Hawkes, C.D. (2007) ‘Assessing the mechanical stability of horizontal boreholes in coal’, Canadian Geotechnical Journal, 44(7), pp. 797–813. doi:10.1139/T07-021.

Jariwala, S.J. et al. (2013) ‘Horizontal Directional Drilling : New Era for Underground Utilities’, Proceedings of National Conference CRDCE13, (December), pp. 20–21.

Kendon, P., 2019. A Quick Guide to Underground HDD Steering and Tools. [Online]

Available at:,to%20navigate%20past%20these%20obstacles. [Accessed 9 5 2022].

Krechowicz, M. and Krechowicz, A. (2021) ‘Risk assessment in energy infrastructure installations by horizontal directional drilling using machine learning’, Energies, 14(2), pp. 1–28. doi:10.3390/en14020289.

Li, S., George, J. and Purdy, C. (2012) ‘Pore-Pressure and Wellbore-Stability Prediction To Increase Drilling Efficiency’, Journal of Petroleum Technology, 64(2), pp. 98–101. doi:10.2118/144717-ms.

Lueke, J.S. and Ariaratnam, S.T. (2005) ‘Surface Heave Mechanisms in Horizontal Directional Drilling’, Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 131(5), pp. 540–547. doi:10.1061/(asce)0733-9364(2005)131:5(540).

Mohammed, A.K. and Selman, N.S. (2020) ‘Building 1D Mechanical Earth Model for Zubair Oilfield in Iraq’, Journal of Petroleum Exploration and Production Technology, 10(5), pp. 1729–1741. doi:10.1007/s13202-020-00863-y.

Onsarigo, L., Adamtey, S. and Atalah, A. (2014) ‘Analysis of horizontal directional drilling construction risks using the probability-impact model: A contractor’s perspective’, Pipelines 2014: From Underground to the Forefront of Innovation and Sustainability, pp. 1772–1783. doi:10.1061/9780784413692.161.

Royal, A.C.D., Riggall, T.J. and Chapman, D.N. (2010) ‘Analysis of steering in horizontal directional drilling installations using down-hole motors’, Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology, 25(6), pp. 754–765. doi:10.1016/j.tust.2010.06.004.

Wang, X. and Sterling, R.L. (2007) ‘Stability analysis of a borehole wall during horizontal directional drilling’, Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology, 22(5–6), pp. 620–632. doi:10.1016/j.tust.2007.01.002.

Yan, X. et al. (2018) ‘Horizontal directional drilling: State-of-the-art review of theory and applications’, Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology, 72(October 2017), pp. 162–173. doi:10.1016/j.tust.2017.10.005.

Zhang, J. (2013) ‘Borehole stability analysis accounting for anisotropies in drilling to weak bedding planes’, International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences, 60(November), pp. 160–170. doi:10.1016/j.ijrmms.2012.12.025.

Zhou, P. et al. (2013) ‘Analysis of Borehole Wall Stability in Horizontal Directional Drilling’, ICPTT-ASCE, (74), pp. 1816–1825.