Before You Dig: The Latest GPR Technology gives Contractors in the Oil and Gas Industry an Edge.

Line of Defense in the Oil and Gas Fields: The latest GPR Technology gives Contractors in the Oil and Gas Industry an Edge

Installation and maintenance contractors working in oil and gas fields often face the complex challenge of navigating decades of unchecked, unmapped well and pipeline infrastructure. This common obstacle is magnified for the locating team tasked with compiling infrastructure location data before any digging begins. Beyond insufficiently documented utility lines, the locator also must deal with difficult soil conditions and detecting nonmetallic pipes and nonconductive cables.

This is not limited to one industry or region. Utility locators everywhere deal with similar issues. Confusing and difficult work environments are created by years of installation with no plans, as-builts, or formal documentation as well as infrastructure configurations that defy logic and networks of pipelines and cables that resist most means of detection. When a line needs to be installed or repaired, where to dig becomes a guessing game. When the time comes, the locator must have the proper equipment to collect necessary line location data and deliver it to the other teams on the jobsite.

Regardless of where the locator works – whether a crowded metropolis or remote oilfield – having the right location tools allows that individual to enter a jobsite and leave with the confidence that they’ve done everything possible to locate buried utilities. Within that arsenal should also be a platform that allows the locator to translate the data they collect into actionable information.

These findings can be shared with the corporate office, other contractor teams working the same job, and other stakeholders to give all parties a common point-of-reference before any trenching or boring begins.

Returning focus to oil and gas fields, line locators in these environments often need more than one or two tools to sufficiently locate utilities within specific areas. The soil conditions here also exacerbate the problem. However, thanks to several advances in locating equipment manufacturing, detecting and documenting utility lines in difficult conditions has become significantly less challenging. Here, the locator plays a significant role in reducing line strikes and avoiding the logistical consequences by compiling more accurate data more efficiently.

Lonestar Pipeline of Midland, Texas, incorporated some of these advances into their operations with a significant increase in confidence as their crews advance. Chance Guinn, Line Locating Foreman at Lonestar, recently discussed his operating strategy. Among his wide variety of tools, he uses a ground penetrating radar (GPR) system to overcome these common challenges.


The Need for Deliverable Data

Managing oil and gas fields requires participation from multiple contracting teams. To prevent damage and boost efficiency on the jobsite, all stakeholders need accurate utility location documentation. This ensures each party is working from a common reference point with greater certainty. The trenchers, excavator operators, owners of the oilfields, and others involved with the project can all work from the same utility map as long as it can be easily shared.

Using his GPR system as a data collection platform, Chance can do just that. After imaging his findings, he can translate the data to a visual map using the software’s GPS compatibility. This creates a deliverable that can be shared with the corporate office, other contractors on the oilfield, and any other stakeholder who needs it. This way, all workers are on the same page and risk of losing vital information between teams is near eliminated.


Soil Conditions

Soil conditions often pose a great hurdle to locators in West Texas oil and gas fields. The soil is typically dense caliche hardpan. The challenging properties of this material creates an environment that results in rapid energy loss for remote sensing technology.

The more lossy the soil, the more creative and resourceful locators must be. Most locating tools do not emit a frequency strong enough to penetrate a hardpan soil surface to retrieve usable data. If the device can penetrate past a few feet (and that’s a big if), there is almost no chance the data will be legible or useful.

Chance works around this challenge by using a multi-frequency GPR system. Because his device’s antenna has triple-frequency range capabilities, it renders data at multiple depths and resolutions simultaneously. This means that he can collect multiple datasets at once to cross-compare and verify line locations with greater confidence.


The Nonconductive

Decades of undocumented or mishandled infrastructure in oil and gas fields means that hundreds, if not thousands, of nonconductive utility lines are scattered throughout the field. A utility locator using an electromagnetic tool will have difficulty detecting these objects in this challenging environment.

With the multi-frequency range system, Chance’s GPR can detect the slightest disturbance indicating a need for further investigation. Potential anomalies can be further analyzed on other frequency ranges to zero in on the potential target. In some cases, the signal loss is so great that only a trenchline can be identified. The high-resolution shallow frequency range enables Chance to confidently map the trench lines and request a soft-dig crew to confirm the findings. Lining up consistent disturbances gives the locator a clearer vision of where the individual lines are buried.

Mapping for the Future

Because Chance can use his GPR as a detection platform for conductive and non-conductive infrastructure through multiple soil conditions and translating his findings into actionable data, he is able to supply others in the oil fields, from trencher operator to client, with greater confidence to do their jobs with decreased risk of line strikes. This information can then be stored for future reference should his company need to access it again for future use.

Crews working in the oil and gas fields need clear, easy-to-understand deliverables in the form of maps and drawings to complete the job more efficiently and with greater confidence. With the right platform, the locator can easily provide this information and continue to do so for future projects.

David Kelly is an Application Specialist at US Radar Inc. He helps connect utility location professionals with the right GPR solutions for their specific needs. To learn more, email David at

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