Twelve years ago, Neil Buchanan set out to start a small excavation company called Buchanan Contracting, Inc. This small company soon became Kentucky’s most trusted one-stop shop for underground projects. Today, the company has several divisions, including CCTV inspection, cleaning, excavation, sewer testing, CIPP and manhole rehab. The growth was exponential and now the company employs more than twenty workers and inspects close to a million feet of pipe per year. One of the things that sets Buchanan apart from its competitors is the company’s ability to do cross bore inspections.
As anyone in the industry can attest to, cross bores are a huge danger lurking underground, and they can have catastrophic ramifications for communities. With the popularity of trenchless construction methods and the prevalence of legacy cross bores, locating and eliminating them is critical to preventing potentially deadly explosions. Kentucky is riddled with cross bores and managing a surge of new construction, so the state has been at the forefront of defusing these ticking time bombs. In 1999, the Kentucky Utilities Commission ruled that it is a gas utility’s responsibility to take adequate steps to ensure it is not drilling through existing sewer infrastructure by visually inspecting the pipes; alternately, it is the sewer utility’s responsibility to make sure the infrastructure is accurately mapped and located. This ruling established a precedent as to who was responsible for what, and how new construction projects would be inspected for cross bores—paving the way for Buchanan’s growth.
From inception, Buchanan was positioned perfectly to be one of the most-trusted cross bore inspection shops in Kentucky and its surrounding states. Today, more than 50% of its mainline inspection work consists of assuring that the communities of Kentucky are free from the dangers of cross bores. The formula for success? For Buchanan Contracting it is the right mix of attention to detail, industry expertise and having the right tools to do the job.
Attention to Detail
Sewer inspections require attention to detail, no matter what type of inspection. Crews need to be on the lookout for umpteen pipe failures and environmental factors. However, when inspecting cross bores the need for a detailed inspection is even more crucial, as missing even the smallest problem can result in disaster. At Buchanan, the approach to cross bore inspections has made the company the leader in the region. “We take extra steps to make sure everything is done correctly, as we understand just how deadly rushing through the inspection can actually be,” says Ben Slater, Chief Financial Officer at Buchanan Contracting. “Not only do we have to personally ensure that there is nothing we missed, we have to be able to thoroughly report back to gas companies on our findings and give them assurance that the work was done correctly.”
Buchanan’s cross bore inspections for new construction are a two step process: They do a pre-bore inspection first and then run a post-bore inspection. “With the construction boom in the area our pre- and post-inspections make up 30% of our work,” says Slater. Gas utilities and construction companies retain Buchanan’s cross bore inspection services to map the utility pipes underground and mitigate cross bore risk when installing new gas lines. Essentially, pre-bore inspections help utilities know the precise location of sewer laterals and other utility lines to minimize the chance of boring a new gas line through them. Then, after the utility places its lines underground, Buchanan Contracting returns for a post-bore inspection. During this time they are meticulously looking for any cross bores that accidentally made it through existing pipe.
Another 20% of Buchanan’s work comes from doing legacy cross bore inspections. Legacy cross bore inspections are done to find cross bores that already exist in underground infrastructure. Before the 1990s, the risks associated with cross bores were relatively unknown—therefore gas line installations were done without safe cross bore mitigation practices. Millions of miles of sewer lines have been potentially intersected with gas lines placed by trenchless methods, which means there are at least thousands of undetected legacy cross bores.
“Sewer infrastructure owners are concerned with inspecting their lines and ensuring there are no cross bores because not only are they a ticking time bomb, they can cause damage to sewer lines, leading to I/I, sinkholes and voids," explains Slater. "Legacy cross bores are systematically addressed by having a contractor come and and do a thorough inspection of the sewer system.
“We pride ourselves in taking the time to do our job right the first time,” he adds. “We don’t rush or over-book our crew so they are running against time.” Detailed, focused inspection requires the right mix of industry expertise and equipment so that work can go without a hitch. “Our customers know that our crew is meticulous in their work and our equipment allows them to drill down and inspect every corner of the infrastructure on hand,” continues Slater.
“Assuring public safety is everyone’s priority, whether it’s the utility, us municipal contractors performing the work, or the community members that live in the region,” says Slater. When it comes to public safety the stakes are high and any oversight can become fatal, and for this reason Buchanan makes sure it has the best people for the job. Buchanan’s team has been a cornerstone in helping them succeed in the field. It requires a certain amount of experience from crew members and invests a lot of time and effort in training the crew. This practice has led to Buchanan keeping crew members employed for 10 plus years, something it can say with much pride.
“We can train someone how to operate equipment and navigate a CCTV sewer inspection camera, but it is hard to give people in-the-field industry expertise. For this reason, we’ve seen our best operators have years of experience prior to joining Buchanan’s inspection team.” Apart from in-the-field experience requirements, Buchanan ensures that its crew is up-to-date with industry practices by taking them to as many seminars and training programs as possible. “Our crew stays with us because we ensure they’ll be successful at their jobs. Our employee-first attitude, training practices and making sure our crew has the best tools for the job have all helped us grow tenfold,” says Slater.
Equipment To Count On
Having the best tools for the job can make or break any sewer inspection company. Luckily for Buchanan, their equipment has helped make them. When George Luce of Best Equipment introduced Buchanan’s founding team to Envirosight’s system, they instantly knew they needed that system to succeed at their work. Buchanan bought its first ROVVER X sewer inspection camera 11 years ago. Now its team also runs three ROVVER X SAT systems. “Envirosight’s cameras have longevity and efficiency and that gives us an edge—our systems are still working in the field after 10 years of running them.”
“We were set up for lateral inspections from the get-go,” says Slater. “We invested in a ROVVER X SAT lateral launch system, and that investment helped our customers see how serious we were about the work we do.” Instead of inspecting mainlines with a CCTV camera and then laterals with a push camera from the homeowner’s property, Buchanan knew the key to success would be having a lateral launch SAT system.
It isn’t just the equipment’s ease-of-use and longevity that gives Buchanan an edge. “Having equipment that is easy to use, doesn’t require too much maintenance and has the features we need to do our job right the first time more than pays for itself,” says Slater. For gas companies, the ability to move freely in the pipe by panning and tiling in laterals is paramount. Being able to see the pipe completely is essential. “Anytime you can get a better visual it takes guesswork and speculation out of the equation, and that is crucial for us because it allows us to give our customers a SOLID answer. That is exactly what our ROVVER X SAT system allows us to do.”
Into the Future
Buchanan’s humble beginnings are a testament to how far a company can come when it has the right mindset, industry expertise and cutting-edge equipment. Not only has this combination of industry specialization and equipment enabled Buchanan to expand its cross bore inspection services quickly, it has helped it become the leading contractor in the area. As municipalities and gas utilities across the country invest in water infrastructure and growth, companies like Buchanan will be sure to play a pivotal role in ensuring safe, resilient infrastructure. To learn more about Buchanan Contracting, Inc. visit https://www.buchanancontracting.net/.
A growing number of municipalities and gas utilities are implementing cross bore inspection programs to locate and eliminate risky cross bores before a worst case scenario occurs. With this comes a growing need for contractors capable of inspecting sewer laterals. We discuss how municipal contractors, like Buchanan Contracting, can help mitigate cross bores in our our white paper, Digging Deep: The Growing Market for Cross Bore Inspection Services. Click below to download: