Geotechnical Engineering: Helping Clients Save Money in Unexpected Ways

Steve Lowden, PE, is a geotechnical engineer serving LDG’s diverse energy clients. Steve has 28 years of experience providing solutions for oil and gas clients. Steve is particularly skilled in helping his clients save money in unexpected ways. Read on to learn how he recently helped a client save $108,400 just by changing the design of a retaining wall on a rural access road.

What’s the purpose of retaining walls?

Oil and gas well pad operators build retaining walls along the access roads to their well pad sites to prevent landslides and slips on rural county and local roads that aren’t equipped to handle significant traffic. These retaining walls protect the safety of workers and equipment, and benefit the community by freeing roadways from the possibility of landslides, keeping them safe and open.

How can you save your clients money on their retaining walls?

The oil and gas client will often hire a contractor to construct a retaining wall with minimal design as part of a “design-build” contract; frankly, they’re commonly over-engineered. The contractor will build something that they know will work, using a lot of materials that become very expensive to the oil and gas company.

However, a geotechnical engineer can design a retaining wall that effectively prevents landslides and slips with the fewest amount of materials necessary. In some cases, the best solution is not a retaining wall, and a geotechnical engineer can help the client evaluate the best solution for a specific site.

Discuss an instance where you were able to save a client money through retaining wall design.

Just a few weeks ago, I performed a conceptual design for a client showing how much money the client could save by having LDG design the wall instead of the contractor.

In this case, the contractor would have built the wall for $271,000. I looked at the contractor’s plans and saw that the spacing between the soldier piles of the wall was only four feet, and they were sizeable piles, much longer than necessary. The contractor’s wall was a very conservative design. Performing a quick design, I found that the piles could be spaced eight feet apart, and could be shortened from 35 feet in length, down to 20 feet in length. This resulted in a huge savings in both construction time and materials. Half as many piles needed to be installed and they were almost half the length.

How much did you save the client?

Even with our fees included, this client was able to save 40% on the design and construction of the retaining wall. Using LDG’s plans, the construction time would be shorter, and the maintenance and protection of traffic costs also went down. Not only does the client save a significant amount, but now they also have a wall that’s signed and sealed by an engineer.

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