MORGAN It's green, it's a machine and it's mean only in the sense of how much work it can do compared to similar types of equipment, because it's not mean to the environment.
It's the SpiderPlow, and with its equally superhero-sounding partner, the Winch Crawler, it made its Utah debut in early November.
An oil pipeline project on its way from Morgan County to Davis County requires a companion fiber-optics line. For most of the route, the fiber line will be buried alongside the pipeline.
But for a 12-mile stretch in Morgan County, the fiber line diverges from the pipeline and runs alongside Interstate 84. And for most of those 12 miles, the SpiderPlow, based in Calgary, Alberta, is in its prime territory, slowly rolling along, planting 2-inch conduit in the ground.
Eventually, the fiber-optics line will be installed in the conduit.
The German-engineered SpiderPlow and Winch Crawler are designed to work as a team. The Winch Crawler drives forward on rubber treads, anchors itself in the ground, and winches the Spider Plow forward.
The process appears slow. The crew behind the plow follows at the most leisurely of strolls. On a good day, the winch-plow team can cover three miles, says Lynn Whalen, a native New Yorker who joined SpiderPlow in October.
But SpiderPlow vice president and general manager Brian Bonner said he will shortly send a crew to Texas to show officials in two towns with defunct water systems that his machines can plant 10 miles of pipe in two days.
Kevin Kamerath, a project manager with Americom Technology Inc., said that speed is phenomenal. Americom, which specializes in horizontal directional drilling, took two days to drill 800 feet under I-15 in Farmington.
Thursday, the SpiderPlow crew planted 2.6 miles of pipe.
But its speed is only one of the machines' selling points, Bonner said.
"Minimum environmental impact is what it's all about," he said.
As the Winch Crawler begins pulling the SpiderPlow forward, the plow's ripper can place pipe up to 8 feet deep. Most of the Morgan County project requires the pipe to be 6 feet deep.
Unlike traditional excavating, which requires a team of track hoes and a bulldozer to make room for infrastructure and a follow-up crew to backfill, clean up and fix a scarred landscape, the SpiderPlow leaves a narrow mound of earth in its wake with a furrow in the center.
In some places, the furrow is hardly noticeable.
And there's no lasting damage because grasses' root structure stays intact, Bonner said.
Because each wheel on the SpiderPlow is attached to a hydraulic arm that can move independently, it takes on a spiderlike appearance when preparing to move over uneven terrain.
Bonner said that for all of the SpiderPlow's benefits, the machine isn't a perfect option for every situation.
It can't go through solid rock, he said. And it has limitations on how deep it can plant pipe. A new plow, which will shortly arrive in North America, can place pipe 9 feet in the earth, which is well below most frost lines in the continent, but drilling can take pipe deeper.
Despite those limitations, the company's four SpiderPlow crews work nearly nonstop and have been in nearly all 48 contiguous states and half of the Canadian provinces.The SpiderPlow's work was finished Saturday in Utah, but the creaturelike machine will likely be welcomed back anytime.