North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT
NASTT’s 2015 No-Dig Show
March 15-19, 2015
Direct Pipe® Levee Crossing Design – Mitigating
Hydraulic Fracture Risk
Jonathan L. Robison, PE, GeoEngineers, Inc., Springfield, Missouri
Andrew E. Sparks, PE, GeoEngineers, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah
Hydraulic fracture of soil during horizontal directional drill (HDD) construction can lead to migration of drilling
fluid to the ground surface within wetlands, water bodies, basements or other structures. The hydraulic fracture and
subsequent migration of drilling fluid can cause ground surface settlement, bearing capacity failure, undesired
seepage flow path creation, and other undesirable or even disastrous consequences. Evaluating and mitigating the
risk of hydraulic fracture of soils beneath critical infrastructure during trenchless construction is of paramount
importance to both the pipeline and overlying infrastructure owners. Direct Pipe® (DP) is a relatively new trenchless
technology wherein a microtunnel boring machine (MTBM) and jacking pipe is installed through a curved drive
with a DP Pipe Thruster machine providing the motive force. Relatively low (compared to HDD) pressures are
developed during DP construction. DP therefore has potential application anywhere hydraulic fracture and
inadvertent drilling fluid returns risk is of concern. This paper presents a methodology for assessing hydraulic
fracture risk and provides a hypothetical project example of this risk assessment for trenchless crossings using the
The purpose of this paper is to discuss and provide an engineering basis for the application of DP
technology to levee crossings or other critical areas that are especially sensitive to hydraulic fracture (HF) and
inadvertent drilling fluid returns (IR) risk during trenchless installation.
The design methods and example presented in this paper builds upon and references the authors previously
presented DP design calculations which assess anticipated jacking loads and installation axial, bending, hoop and
combined stresses along with buckling risk and operating stresses (Robison, et al, 2013) and the estimation of
jacking loads for DP projects (Robison and Hotz, 2014). These aspects of DP design are not specifically duplicated
in this paper.
Working on a United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regulated levee crossing in south Texas,
the authors developed a DP design methodology to assess risk associated with the potential for hydraulic fracture of
the foundation soils beneath the levee during trenchless construction. This work builds on and incorporates the
author’s previously-developed DP design procedure (Robison, et al, 2013). Specifically, this paper suggests and,
using a hypothetical project example, demonstrates a method for assessing:
Soil formation limit pressure based upon cavity expansion theory,
• Anticipated DP-generated fluid pressures at depth, including both bentonite lubrication system and soil
excavation slurry system, and
• Modeling and calculation of factors of safety against hydraulic fracture for the length of the crossing.
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The results of the calculations and modeling indicate the DP method offers promise as an option to reduce the risk of
hydraulic fracture to levees and/or other important infrastructure relative to the HDD method.
DIRECT PIPE INSTALLATION PROCESS
The DP construction method is essentially an one-pass, curved microtunnel installed using a conventional
MTBM mated to either the product pipe or jacking pipe and jacked through the length of the drive by a pipe thruster
assembly. The pipe thruster grasps the jacking pipe externally, drives a set distance, un-clamps, re-sets, and pushes
again allowing for a relatively long, continuous pipe string(s) to extend behind the jacking or launch pit, similar to
pre-installation pipe stringing areas possible with the HDD method. To create the desired curve, articulated joints
within the machine assembly provide for steering capability as the pipe is jacked producing a curved alignment
similar to those possible with HDD. Unlike HDD, the hole is continuously supported and during installation the pipe
is in compression, not tension. Also unlike HDD, the soil formations in the near vicinity of the tunneling machine
are not subject to high pressures from slurry systems, as discussed in detail below. Unlike traditional
microtunneling, the entry and exit pits may be designed at or near the ground surface, reducing the expense of deep
launching and receiving shafts required for straight-line, conventional microtunneling. Also unlike traditional
microtunneling, the use of the pipe thruster allows the pipe to be jacked in a continuous string by clamping around
the pipe. This allows for pre-installation testing of pipes similar to HDD construction procedures. A photograph of a
pipe thruster and stringing area is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Pipe Thruster and String
The engineering analyses required for design of a DP installation focus on five items:
Estimation of jacking forces required to accomplish the drive.
Calculation of allowable jacking forces and stresses for the design pipe size, strength and geometry during
Assessment of the difference between estimated and allowable jacking force and associated risk.
Calculation of the operating condition stresses for a given pipe geometry, size, strength and operating
Assessment of hydraulic fracture risk (if and as required).
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Items 1, 2, and 3 are discussed in Robison, et al, (2013) and Robison and Hotz (2014). Item 4 is essentially
the same evaluation used for HDD; a good reference for calculation of item 4 is the PRCI Design Guide (Watson,
1995). Item 5 is discussed in Sparks and Bearden (2011) as it relates to HDD design and construction. Through
presentation and demonstration of a suggested design analysis method, this paper focuses on item 5, assessment of
hydraulic fracture (HF) risk for DP design and how it compares to HF calculation for HDD design.
In a trenchless installation, HF of soil occurs when the fluid pressure within the borehole or tunneling zone
exceeds the surrounding soil formation limit pressure. The fluid can then travel through the fractures in the soil
resulting in a drilling fluid surface release or IR. If the drilling fluid does not migrate to the ground surface, the
hydraulic fracturing can result in foundation support degradation for soil-based structures, creation or enlargement
of flow paths with increased seepage potential, impacts to ground and surface waters, and other undesirable
The method commonly used in the trenchless industry to evaluate the potential for hydraulic fracture is
derived from cavity expansion theory. The procedures used to evaluate the potential for slurry loss through hydraulic
fracturing are based primarily on research completed by Delft Geotechnics, as discussed in Appendix B of the
USACE Report CPAR-GL-98 (Staheli et al., 1998). The cavity expansion model is used to estimate the maximum
effective pressure or Formation Limit Pressure (FLP) in the drilled hole or tunnel before plastic deformation of the
surrounding soil occurs.
The estimation of the FLP considers the total and effective overburden stresses as well as shear strengths of
the soil. The general equation for the maximum formation limit pressure is shown in Equation 1.
Formation Limit Pressure – Maximum pressure the soil can withstand before hydraulic fracture
Angle of internal friction, degrees
Effective vertical stress, psf
Shear Modulus, psf
Radius of drilled hole, ft
Maximum radius of plastic deformation of drilled hole, ft
The factor of safety (FOS) against the occurrence of HF is simply the FLP divided by the anticipated
downhole pressure. During construction, the pressures generated may be monitored and compared with a desired or
specified maximum allowable pressure to maintain a desired FOS.
Of particular concern to the trenchless industry is the potential of hydraulic fracture of the foundation soils
beneath and adjacent to flood-control levees during trenchless pipeline installations. In these situations, regulators
and pipeline owners commonly require an assessment of the risk the trenchless installation poses to the integrity of
the levee and levee foundation soils.
Some regulatory agencies in particular, require that Horizontal Directional Drill (HDD) installations
beneath their regulated levees meet a minimum factor of safety (FOS) against hydraulic fracture of 2.0. This
requirement is often applied both to the subsurface directly beneath the levee and to an area known as a pressure
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monitoring zone (PMZ) located a specified distance (depending on the agency) on either side of the levee. In the
author’s experience, the above-referenced FOS requirement has been applied to DP installation as well.
DIRECT PIPE FLUID SYSTEMS
Two fluids systems are used by the DP equipment during installation and produce pressure at depth during
• Bentonite lubrication system.
• Cuttings removal fluid system.
The two systems operate independently and are capable of real-time pressure monitoring and maintain automated,
detailed records of pressures and fluid volumes.
Bentonite Lubrication System
The bentonite lubrication system introduces bentonite-water slurry into the excavated tunnel at the launch
seal at the launch pit and through the lubrication ring located between the MTBM and the jacking pipe. This fluid is
simply a water and bentonite mixture and is intended to fill the overcut annulus behind the MTBM, lubricating the
pipe as it moves through the surrounding formation. The pressure needed to push the lubrication fluid into the
annulus is only slightly higher than the surrounding groundwater pressure.
In order to estimate the pressures developed from the bentonite lubrication system, the entire column of
drilling fluid is assumed to be continuous and apply pressure to the soil formation at depth. The hydrostatic pressure
developed by the drilling fluid column is the height of the column multiplied by the density of the drilling fluid as
expressed in Equation 2:
Hydrostatic Drilling Fluid Pressure, pcf
Drilling Fluid Unit Weight, pcf
Height of Drilling Fluid, feet
Although the hydrostatic pressure typically will control the design, the final lubrication system fluids
analysis must also consider the lubrication system pumping pressure and provide a maximum lubrication system
pumping pressure not to be exceeded during construction.
Cuttings Removal Fluid System
The cuttings removal fluid system operates by means of a pump located just behind the MTBM. In slurry
Microtunneling, the pressure in the excavation chamber is adjusted to stabilize the tunnel face (face pressure) while
advancing the machine by counterbalancing the earth and groundwater pressures. The very high pressures required
by HDD to circulate cuttings through the length of the drilled hole are not required for DP. Depending on soil
conditions, a slight over- or under-pressure is typically applied (approximately +/- 0.1bar or +/-1.5 pounds per
square inch [psi]) (Lang, 2013).
As with the lubrication system analysis, the engineer should provide maximum fluid pressures for the
cuttings removal fluid system not to exceed to provide for the required factor of safety during construction.
EXAMPLE SITE ASSESSMENT
The following is a simplified, theoretical example given to illustrate the application of the above described
theory for assessment of a trenchless crossing of a levee at a cohesive soil site. The parameters assumed for this
analysis are a 48-inch-diameter steel pipe installation beneath a levee in clay with the following design parameters:
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φ = 0 degrees
c = 2000 pounds per square foot (psf)
γ = 120 pounds per cubic feet (pcf)
Groundwater table assumed at the ground surface.
FOS of 2.0 against HF required.
First, consider an HDD crossing with the above-referenced conditions. The following tooling and drilling
fluid properties assumptions are made:
Pilot hole diameter 9.875 inches
Drill pipe outside diameter 5.50 inches
Drilling fluid weight 9.5 pounds per gallon (ppg)
Plastic viscosity 10 centipoise (cp)
Yield point 20 pounds/100 feet
Figure 2 below shows the anticipated drilling fluid pressure to remove cuttings-laden drilling fluid from the
drilled hole based on the above HDD tooling and drilling fluid properties as the red line. The formation limit
pressure based on the soil properties presented above is shown as the green line for the HDD profile.
As presented in Figure 2, within the pressure monitoring zone the formation limit pressure is greater than
the anticipated drilling fluid pressure; from approximate Station 23+00 to the exit point the reverse is true and
therefore hydraulic fracture of the soil is predicted in this area. This is confirmed in Figure 3 below where the factor
of safety is less than 1.
Figure 2. Estimated Annular Drilling Fluid and Formation Limit Pressures
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Figure 3 below provides the theoretical factor of safety against hydraulic fracture for the HDD. The factors
of safety, shown by the green line, are calculated by taking the ratio of the formation limit pressure to the drilling
fluid pressure for points along the HDD profile. The factors of safety against drilling fluid surface release are shown
by red triangles representing the risk of drilling fluid migrating to the ground surface.
Figure 3. Hydraulic Fracture and Drilling Fluid Surface Release Factors of Safety
The calculated factors of safety against hydraulic fracture of the clay within the PMZ are less than the
typically required 2.0 and are generally less than 1.5 in the PMZ, indicating an HDD attempted under these
conditions would have an unacceptably high risk of hydraulic fracture.
Because DP installations do not require high drilling fluid pressures and the excavated hole is continuously
filled with the MTBM and casing, the DP profile is typically shallower, allowing for a shorter horizontal length. For
this example, the horizontal DP length is equal to the horizontal HDD length for comparison; however in a typical
DP case, the horizontal length could be reduced by as much as 50 percent or more when compared to an HDD in
similar topographic conditions.
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Assessing the same subsurface soil and groundwater conditions for the DP case, the two DP fluid systems
introduced above must be independently assessed. Figure 4 below shows the estimated lubrication system and face
pressures for the theoretical DP profile as the red and orange lines, respectively. The estimated formation limit
pressure based on the soil properties are shown as the green line.
Figure 4. Hydrostatic Fluid Pressure and Formation Limit Pressures
Finally, we consider the factor of safety against drilling fluid surface release for the two DP fluids systems.
For our analysis we assume a slurry weight of 9.5 pounds per gallon (ppg) and a continuous fluid head from entry
through the length of the drive for the bentonite lubrication system. For the cuttings return system we assume that it
operates at hydrostatic groundwater pressure plus 1.5 psi. Figure 5 below shows the results of the assessment of the
DP fluids systems.
The factors of safety against hydraulic fracture for the lubrication system and face pressure are shown as
the green and blue lines respectively. The factors of safety are above the required 2.0 within the PMZ resulting in
generally favorable conditions for DP installation.
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Figure 5. Hydrostatic Fluid Pressure Factors of Safety
Because DP installations do not have to transport cuttings-laden drilling fluid through the annulus back to
the ground surface like and HDD installation, the anticipated fluid pressures can be much less than those required
for HDD. As a result, the factors of safety against hydraulic fracture for DP are typically higher and the
corresponding risks lower than for a similar HDD installation.
Based on the detailed hydraulic fracture calculations and analyses discussed above for the two cases, and
the authors’ experience with ongoing DP project work, we believe the DP method holds a great deal of promise for
applications where levee safety or other reasons preclude the use of HDD and a lower-pressure trenchless
installation alternative is required.
API Recommended Practice 2A-WSD. (21st Ed., December 2000, with errata and supplements December 2002,
September 2005, and October 2007). Recommended Practice for Planning, Designing and Constructing Fixed
Offshore Platforms-Working Stress Design.
Lang, G. (2013), Herrenknecht, AG, personal communication to the author.
Robison, J., Hotz, R., Chen, C. (2013). “Emerging Technologies – A Suggested Design Method for Jacked, Curved
Steel Pipe” ASCE Pipelines Conference Proceedings pp. 864.
Robison, J., Hotz, R. (2014). “Direct Pipe – Estimated and Actual Installation Load Analyses for 20 Crossings”
North American Society for Trenchless Technology 2014 No-Dig Show Paper TM2-T5-04
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Sparks, A., Bearden, D. (2011). “Hydraulic Fracture and Inadvertent Returns Evaluation and HDD Construction –
Rheology is Key” North American Society for Trenchless Technology 2011 No-Dig Show Paper D-1-01
Staheli, et al., 1998, “Installation of Pipelines Beneath Levees Using Horizontal Directional Drilling,” U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station, CPAR-98-1.
Watson, D. (1995). “Installation of Pipelines by Horizontal Directional Drilling an Engineering Design Guide”
Pipeline Research Council International, Inc.
United States Army Corps of Engineers, USACE report, CELMN-ED-F, titled “Guidelines for Permit Review,
Installing Pipelines by Nearsurface Directional Drilling Under Levees”, updated July, 2012.
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