The following excerpts are from a featured article that was originally published in Trenchless Technology.

In the very recent past in a galaxy far, far away (actually M87 a mere 55 million light years away), the first images of a black hole were reportedly made deep in space. Pretty impressive stuff but a bit closer to home is the reality that horizontal directional drilling (HDD) activity is often akin to entering a blackhole rather than characterizing it!

Humans have been observing and mapping the cosmos for a million years or so and it is incredible to think that when an HDD crew directs their bit into the ground to its eventual destination, we often know less about what is along the terrastellar (term invented here) corridor in many cases then an interstellar journey to Mars and back! This is particularly the case in congested utility corridors in older downtown areas and military and industrial complexes.

Evidence supports the lack of quality information underground and for all contractors, HDD included, it is a major liability. According to the Common Ground Alliance Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) 2017 Report contractors are involved in the majority of utility damage reports (61 percent) which is not a surprise since contractor are the ones performing the excavation or boring. The root cause is defined generally as “Excavation Practices Not Sufficient” to describe the 142,980 incidents reported. This root cause is substantially higher than reasons such as lack of one-call participation and poor locates. The majority of reports involve Telecommunications and Natural Gas Service/Drops and Distribution.

Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon, and that is the advancement of 3D information regarding the underground utility corridors. The above ground world is increasingly incorporating the use of LiDAR and photogrammetry to accurately map and produce a virtual as-built. It is only logical that the next big leap for mankind (sorry another space reference) is to produce 3D virtual as-builts of the underground infrastructure. In fact, the ASCE 38-02 Standard Guideline for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data is currently undergoing an update to implement a 3D standard. This update is scheduled for release in 2020.

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