COMMENTARY: A Pipe for All Seasons and Applications

Since the introduction of plastic pipe in the 1950s and the discovery of how efficient and effective installation by trenchless methods can be, the popularity of both has continued to grow. ???

Plastic piping systems are the best option for running lines underground either by horizontal directional drilling (HDD), sliplining or pipe bursting and have a commanding 65 percent market share of all pipes installed in these manners with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe at nearly twice the market share as PVC pipe. Plastic pipe is a sustainable and environmentally responsible choice that will serve generations to come. With its high ductility and flexibility, HDPE pipe provides peak protection for uninterrupted service performance for all underground utilities including gas, water, sewer, power and communication during crisis events like hurricanes or earthquakes.

The advantages of being able to install a pipeline without digging a trench are well known ? less disruption to the surroundings and lower installation cost.
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Strong, durable, light-weight and flexible, these piping systems have superior resistance to?corrosion and abrasion, supply?long service life, excellent joint performance and offer leak-free?protection?when fused joints are applied?? all adding up to exceptional value and a sustainable and environmentally responsible choice for the nation?s infrastructure.

Water and Sewer
There has been a continuing increase in the number of water systems that are using HDPE pipe as the market discovers its 100-year service life competency and its resistance to corrosion and high durability to surge. As ductile iron and asbestos cement pipelines continue to fail due to rusting, splitting and cracking, trenchless replacement of these legacy materials continues to grow and bring performance and economic benefits to municipalities. Force sewer mains, not dependent on gravity flow, are a natural end use for HDPE pipe and trenchless installations. Plus, just like water mains and distribution lines, the community benefits from a totally leak-free system due to fused pipe and fittings.

Power and Communication
Putting electrical wires and communication lines underground is a practical and necessary thing to do. It is by far the No. 1 market for trenchless installations; undergrounding eliminates interrupted power services and maintains crucial communications when severe weather like hurricanes and ice storms hit a community while also protecting workers and citizens.

Utilities commonly use HDPE conduit for protecting underground distribution cables ranging from 600 volts through 35 kV and even up to 345 kV. And it is popular for use with renewable energy sources ? more and more large-area solar and wind farms count on conduit and cable in conduit to reduce installation costs while providing long life and security. HDPE conduit is available with wire and cable pre-installed at the factory.
Similar to power lines, HDPE conduit provides protection to fragile cable materials like fiber optic and coaxial cables, as well as protection from moisture, chemicals and even, in some cases, animals. Furthermore, the permanent pathway provided by the conduit also facilitates replacement projects or future installations of additional cable or duct. Telecommunications contractors also find HDPE conduit helps them meet tight budgets because it comes on reels with as much as 10,000 ft of conduit for fast installation.

Gas and Energy
More than 3 billion ft of polyethylene gas lines are in place in the United States. And more than 97 percent of all new gas distribution systems installed each year are polyethylene. As federal regulations increase, gas utilities are rapidly replacing deteriorating service lines by either pipe bursting or HDD. With the advent of hydrofracturing, or ?fracking,? creating an unprecedented energy boom across the country, oil and gas exploration companies are now using trenchless installation for the thousands of gathering lines that lead from the well head to the larger transmission lines.

An Installation Method for All
Trenchless installation is the hub with the spokes of the wheel being HDPE pipe and conduit. Whether it’s a ? in. service line or a 65-in. transmission line, there’s a method to fit both the pipe and terrain.
Today, HDD is commonplace and solving near to impossible projects under demanding constraints such as crossing major roads, creeks, rivers and even lagoons and bays. With its exceptional bend radius and flexibility, HDPE pipe can manage tight bends and high drilling angles.

Sliplining HDPE pipe is also a favored means. Utilities routinely use it to renew aging cast iron lines. By using the smaller diameter HDPE pipe and increasing the operating pressure, the same flow capacity is maintained while providing a new leak-free, long-life replacement system with minimal impact on the public.
Pipe bursting, while widely used for years, is seeing greater use in replacing asbestos cement pipe. This method is environmentally superior to removing the existing asbestos cement pipe, is a more cost-effective process than conventional cut and cover, reduces landfill space consumption with the removed pipe and has less impact on the community. With so many miles of this type of pipe now deteriorating, other cities throughout the United States will use this method to improve and update their systems and effectively handle hazardous waste materials.
Education and Technical Tools

Another key to the continued success and growth of HDPE trenchless projects is the availability of data, technical reports, planning programs and other materials. The Plastics Pipe Institute Inc (PPI) has design guidance tools and information for free and supplies online plastic pipe software programs. Engineers can take advantage of programs such as PPI PACE, PPI-BoreAid and the PPI Design and Engineering Calculator, which can be found in the publications section of the PPI website at
HDPE pipe and trenchless installation is a combination that is proven. And each New Year we will see growth and new applications as the needs continue to rise.

Tony Radoszewski is president of The Plastics Pipe Institute Inc.


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