Technology has greatly helped utility location become more accurate and faster over the years. Contractors and developers are grateful for the improved on-site security, decrease in project delays and financial savings that subsurface utility engineering (SUE) delivers today. Now, with the major advances in SUE technology, there are also some major advantages for horizontal directional drilling (HDD).

Subsurface utility engineering creates an accurate map of the horizontal and vertical location of buried lines and pipes. SUE provides the information needed for more sophisticated drilling methods. When done properly, SUE guiding HDD projects to respect the budget and schedule, while safeguarding workers, surrounding infrastructures and property. Keep reading to learn more about the challenges to HDD projects and the advantages of using SUE methods.

Developments in Subsurface Utility Engineering

It’s true; SUE has come a long way. By accurately locating underground utilities, subsurface engineering helps engineers and contractors to meet the greater demands now placed on projects. The four SUE quality levels set by the ASCE highlight the different degrees of precision enabled by utility locating techniques.

  • SUE Quality Level D: data collection,
  • SUE Quality Level C: site survey,
  • SUE Quality Level B: surface designating by public and private utility locators,
  • SUE Quality Level A: physical locating using vacuum excavation to make test holes.

Engineers and contractors should rely on SUE Quality Level A locating before starting any HDD project; the advantages are clear.

Advantages of HDD

In recent years, horizontal directional drilling has become a valuable tool of the trade. Advanced HDD is enables operators to guide the drill head through utility facilities in complex trajectories, rather than in a straight line. For engineers and architects, there has been increasing pressure to construct more complicated buildings on smaller sites. Contractors have struggled with the rising cost for right of way acquisition. Utility owners require more drilling inside limited rights of way.

Challenges to HDD

Yet HDD has some clear challenges. One factor is the higher liability costs associated with horizontal directional drilling. Damaging underground utilities is an expensive headache for all the professionals involved. Engineers, contractors and utility owners want to avoid liability problems as much as possible.

Contractors in charge of HDD jobs are financially responsible for any damage caused to gas lines, sewers and utilities. Additionally, they can be liable for injuries or indirect infrastructure and property damages caused by unsafe drilling and pipe leaks. Paying to repair damages to other buildings, roads, etc., or increased insurance premiums probably isn’t factored into your construction budget.

Advantages of SUE for HDD Applications

Requiring SUE Quality Level A locating is an investment which helps keep the HDD project on track and avoid the risk of utility damage entirely. If it’s utilized before starting a horizontal directional drilling project, subsurface utility engineering minimizes liability, delays and expenses for everyone involved. Specifically, SUE can increase the speed, accuracy and safety of HDD applications.


Well-executed SUE will facilitate the HDD process, allowing workers to proceed more quickly. It also helps reduce contractor downtime, avoid costly delays, and keep the overall project on schedule. Further, the horizontal and vertical data points provided can eliminate the need for field verification.


Reliable utility location means reduces the risk of causing damages. Knowing where pipes and lines are, with a high degree of accuracy is key to precision drilling. It also helps prevent unnecessary utility relocations and minimize the right of way space required.


Avoiding strikes and ensuring locator safety is a big concern in our industry. By providing the data needed to prevent damage to underground utilities, SUE works to protect workers, equipment and property.


For more information on the benefits of utility mapping or private utility locating services, contact SoftDig at (610) 738-8762 or use our convenient estimate request form. Our service range is extensive; the skilled crews of SoftDig work all over the Mid-Atlantic and Texas area.

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