Keyhole technology: a solid solution for our road surfaces

Natural gas utilities must regularly maintain the underground pipes and equipment in municipalities across the country. “That’s why many gas distribution companies are focused on developing evermore efficient methods for accessing those pipes, implementing better tools for the maintenance and inspection of newer gas mains and lateral service lines, and improving their practices for locating pipes, repairing patches and core sampling,” points out Gord Reynolds, Enbridge Gas Distribution’s Manager, Keyhole Technology. The most promising tool in their toolkit is a cost-efficient family of technologies and techniques that allow companies to work on underground pipes from above. It’s called Keyhole technology, and it has been in development for more than a decade at Enbridge Gas Distribution.
Crews deploy specialized Keyhole coring equipment. Gas utilities traditionally use conventional pavement breaking methods such as jackCrews remove the solid core and use vacuum excavation tools to suck hammers or concrete-breakers to obtain access to pipes that need out the dirt and debris until they can see the main pipe – in some cases maintenance or repair. If necessary, they shore up the hole and put up to four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 metres) down. Then they repair the a person into the excavation to do the work. Once they’ve compipe from the surface with specialized long-handled tools. pleted the job, they fill the open excavation with clean granular A piercing tool used by Enbridge’s crew may be only one to seven backfill and top it off with a ‘cold patch’ of tar or asphalt. inches (2.5 to 17.8 cm) in diameter, but it is designed to stay on Eventually, a paving contractor arrives and patches the area with course from the surface, through difficult soils or obstructions. “It’s concrete, leaving a rectangular 2' x 4' (0.8 metres x 1.2 metres) basically a piston within a casing, equipped with a spring-loaded scar on the road. The process can take anywhere from several chisel head,” explains Dan Ferguson, President of Footage Tools, a days to months. construction tool manufacturing company. “Compressed air drives Keyhole technology, in contrast, deploys a single specialized truck the chisel head forward from the main casing at a rate of approxito the site. It’s equipped with special Keyhole coring equipment – mately nine times per second. This creates a pilot bore that can be a powerful core saw, made of carbide or diamond bits – that up to 150' (45.7 metres) long for the tool to follow, ensuring a high carves out a round core up to 24" (0.61 metres) deep and 18" (0.5 degree of accuracy. The body of the tool maintains a solid position metres) in diameter. This saw can cut through just about any paveand direction in the ground. The head moves independently like a ment, sidewalk or road, from asphalt to reinforced concrete. “Jacksmall jackhammer and its stepped cone head design can penehammering 18" (0.5 metres) of reinforced concrete would normally trate any pipe.” take 45 minutes to an hour,” says Enbridge Gas Distribution’s Field

Manager Bill Elliott. “We can core it out in about 15 to 20 minutes. And that’s not even considering the difference in ergonomics between operating a jackhammer and operating a drill switch. It saves on the body.”

When they’ve completed their repairs or maintenance work, the crew reinserts the core into the original hole. Frequently, they are able to re-use the materials previously removed. Finally, they permanently re-bond the core into the pavement with a special adhesive material proprietary to Enbridge Gas Distribution.
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The whole process – from coring to repairing to pavement reinstatement – takes two to three hours. “Once you put the core back in, it is virtually indistinguishable from the existing surface,” says Elliott. “Its circular shape resists surface cracking. Motorists enjoy a smoother ride when their vehicle tires aren’t traveling over the perpendicular edge of a square hole.” “At the same time, residents, businesses and drivers benefit through less disruption and noise, quicker repair times, fewer and shorter gas service interruptions and reduced traffic inconvenience.” Just as significantly, there’s no need for a crew to come back months or years later to repair the road. In fact, the process leaves the road strong enough to carry the weight of six city buses within half an hour. According to an independent 10-year longitudinal study prepared by Golder Associates – a highly respected international engineering firm that provides science and engineering consulting services – repaired cores reach the standard required by municipalities within 30 to 45 minutes, and continue to strengthen to a safety factor in excess of 15 times the required standard within five hours. There were no failures, despite a wide range of climate extremes, and despite the fact that many reinstatements were on major arterial routes, where average daily traffic was greater than 20,000 vehicles. “The equipment, procedures and materials developed and used by Enbridge Gas Distribution over the last 10 years will ensure satisfactory long-term performance of pavement reinstatement,” said the Golder report. The natural gas industry, not surprisingly, has been taking notice. Enbridge Gas Distribution will be using Keyhole technology: • to cut unused mains into sections and fill them with sealants to make them unusable; • to more easily and quickly locate above-ground posts that mark the position of critical underground infrastructure; and • to prepare the pipe and micro-weld anodes and test stations to the metal of the pipe. Sacrificial anodes help slow down corrosion on Enbridge’s infrastructure. An electric current flows away from a cathode on the pipe toward the anode, drawing corrosion with it. Looking toward the future, the biggest potential application for Keyhole technology could be in installation of new services through the keyhole, such as: • scraping pipes clean and protect them from oxidization over time; • hooking into ‘tracer wires’, which are attached to plastic pipe, along with a conductive source, so the company can more easily and quickly locate the pipe when necessary;

• making Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) suitable for smaller hole applications. HDD is a “family” of construction methods used to install new pipes or conduits without the need for major excavations. Normally an environmentally benign fluid-filled “pilot bore” keeps the earth stable until the pipe can be installed. These units will work within the confined or limited access, enabling crews to do work behind 30-inch (76 cm) backyard gates; • pressure-testing fittings after installation to make sure that pipes have been properly installed; and • as a result of work with GTI & Keyspan (Brooklyn Union), inserting a live camera into low-pressure mains to pinpoint joints and service Ts in cast-iron mains. One day these applications will not be restricted to the natural gas industry. “Once Keyhole technology becomes more wide-spread, the telecommunications and cable industry will use this technology for test holes, service drops and shallow splice pits,” says Enbridge’s Gord Reynolds. “It will become an invaluable tool for any enterprise that requires daylighting of utilities, test holes, locates for directional drilling, inspection holes for pipeline integrity and subsurface utility engineering. Its potential is huge.”

For more information on the Keyhole program at Enbridge Gas Distribution, please contact:
Gord Reynolds Manager Keyhole Technology Enbridge Gas Distribution Telephone: 416-461-0408 Fax: 416-461-5944 Mobile: 416-732-2200 e-mail:


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