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How Helical Piers Saved This Oil & Gas Project Over $100,000

When an Oil & Gas company sought to expand their facility in West Texas with a new slug catcher, they wanted bids for helical pier foundations. Even though concrete is the “traditional” foundation solution, the Client wanted a faster and more economical alternative.

See how S&B Helical stepped in and took a value-engineered approach that saved this Oil & Gas company over $100,000 and put them 2 weeks ahead of schedule.

Industry

Oil & Gas

Structure

Slug Catcher

Location

West Texas, USA

Client

Confidential

Total Piers

148

Timeline

30 Days

Introduction

In a pipeline where gases and liquids flow together, it’s common for the liquids to settle to the bottom of a pipe while gases rise to the top. This leads to the formation of “slugs”, the name given to large plugs of liquid or gas that travel together in a pipeline. These slugs can cause surges in pressure that damage the pipeline or even cause injury.

To protect pipelines against these surges of liquid or gas, the slug catcher is a crucial safety and quality control component. While they come in a range of configurations and sizes to suit countless use-cases, they act on the same principle. By adding extra volume to the system, the slug catcher protects the main pipeline by buffering slugs of liquid or gas.

Slug catchers are subject to heavy loads, strong lateral forces, rapid loading/unloading, and brutal weather. As a piece of critical safety equipment they need to be able to completely withstand these forces. That means the foundation needs to be more than reliable – it needs to be bullet proof.

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An Over-Engineered Problem

We refer to this customer as “Client” in this case study due to confidentiality.
As part of an expansion of their facility in West Texas, the Client was planning to build a large slug catcher to serve the pipeline.The job-site was located on the wind-swept, sun-baked plains of beautiful West Texas
Concrete was considered, but the soils in West Texas are generally dry, tough, and full of gravel. Excavation can be a big challenge and the Client wanted to avoid the hassle of dealing with removing the spoils. In addition, the location of the facility made concrete costly to source and slow to install.

Illustration
Illustration

Driven piers were also considered, but their cost and the potential for vibrations eliminated that solution as well.

The Client had used helical pier foundations previously, so they decided to use them again for the slug catcher. Their superior speed, durability, and economy, made them a clear solution for this project.

Unfortunately, the first helical pier contractor to bid proposed an over-engineered solution. The design they proposed used larger piers than necessary which drove up the cost of the foundation by a significant margin.

This greatly increased the project cost and threatened to cause extended delays due to then on-going steel procurement problems.

Seeking a more cost-effective foundation solution, the Client turned to S&B Helical for help.

A Precise Foundation Solution

Our design and engineering team at S&B Helical quickly identified the first design had been over-engineered. After studying the Client’s project specifications, we designed a more efficient foundation that offered the same support while using smaller diameter helical piers.
With our fully engineered DWGs and quick engineering response during the bid process, our team was able to smoothly coordinate with the Client to produce a rock-solid design in record time.
Our engineers devised a straight forward, sleek, and solid foundation. It consisted of 7″ diameter helical piers, along with some 8.625″ in diameter, installed in a battered configuration that provided both axial and lateral support. These piers would then be welded to steel I-beams to tie the entire support structure together.
Due to the Client’s concerns about corrosion, the helical piers and I-beams were also completely galvanized to defend against rust and degradation.
By leveraging the knowledge and experience of our design and engineering team, we produced a solution that would use dramatically less raw material than the competing bid. 
Not only did this save the Client a huge sum of money, it meant the piers could be sourced and installed faster than anticipated.

Helical Pier Specifications

# of Piers

148

Material

Galvanized Steel

Loads

Complex axial over 1,000,000lbs & intense lateral moments

Embedment

Min. 12' embed | 8' to 12' projection | Min. pier length 24'

Helical Pier Dimensions

7” x .317WT, 20” helix, 35’ LG (battered)

7” x .361WT, 20” helix, 25’ LG (vertical)

7” x .361WT, 20” helix, 35’ LG (battered)

7” x .361WT, 20” helix, 25’ LG (vertical)

8.625” x.322WT, w/ 20” helix, 25’ LG (vertical)

8.625” x.322WT, w/ 20” helix, 35’ LG (battered)

How We Installed 148 Helical Piers

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Located on the wide-open plains of windy West Texas, the site was in full-swing when our crews arrived. With multiple contractors working on-site, the general contractor did an excellent job at coordinating crews and keeping everyone safe.
After collaborating with the general contractor to organize materials and equipment, our crews set to work installing the helical piers. Moving smooth, smart, and efficient, they used tools like constant torque monitoring to ensure an accurate installation. 
The first piers went in without any drama, before our good fortune was interrupted by some unexpected hurdles our team had to quickly overcome.

On-Site Challenges Demand Quick Solutions

The first problem was that onsite elevations reported to engineering discovered the maximum pier projections (how much protrudes from the ground) of some piers were exceeding designs. We immediately notified the general contractor and were able to make fast corrections with zero downtime.
Another challenge that threatened progress were mid-project design load changes. During installation, the Client passed along revisions to the design loads.
Our engineering team took it in stride and revised loading criteria, re-ran the pier analysis, and produced revised DWGs that adhered to new loads in one day. Thanks to the adaptability of helical piers, and the dedication of our team, we could conform to the new loads without delaying the installation.

Finishing the Foundation

A smooth work-flow between the S&B Helical team and the general contractor ensured all the challenges on this install were cleared with zero-delay revisions. The rest of the installation was textbook and our crews finished installing the piers smoothly and quickly.

To complete the foundation our welding team came in to tie the piers together using galvanized steel I-beams laid across the top. A boom truck gave them the reach they needed to secure everything and transform the piers into a cohesive foundation.

In less than one month, and with plenty of hard work and dedication, our crews were wrapped up and leaving the site as pristine as it was on day one. What used to be an empty patch of dirt now contained a solid foundation ready for a beautiful new slug catcher.

Illustration
Illustration
Illustration

Results

    Compared to a concrete foundation solution, our helical piers were completed and the client was setting pipe 2 weeks ahead of schedule
    Even with steel shipment delays due to supply chain woes, our helical pier solution was dramatically faster than concrete
    We were 20% more efficient with our steel selection and foundation design, saving the client over $100,000 compared to competing bids
    Challenges and hurdles that arose during installation were resolved with zero-delay revisions, saving the Client time and money
    This beautiful above-ground slug catcher has a 50-year design life, and with the firm support of a precisely engineered helical pier foundation it will have no problems reaching that
    Client was so pleased with our work they requested additional helical piers for other structures

Conclusion

Every project is a chance for our team to grow and learn something new. By acting as a key partner in this project, instead of merely a sub-contractor, the general contractor could draw on our engineering team to resolve problems quickly.
Helical piers were the clear winner for this massive slug catcher. They were faster to install, more cost-effective, and design revisions could be done with zero downtime.
S&B Helical is hugely thankful to the Client, the general contractor, and our outstanding team, for coming together to make this project an epic success.
If you want to turn your foundation into a success story, talk to one of our foundation experts and let's take a look at your project.

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