In a recent post, I wrote about the wires along the ground that I noticed when driving through a drilling area. What I didn’t mention in that post was something else I noticed: poor radio reception.

My drive is never closer than about 15 miles from the city, but the FM reception is still good. Or at least it used to be. Lately, I have experienced occasional poor reception at lunch and on my evening commute, but not in the early morning. Initially, it did not occur to me that this might also be drilling-related.

However, as I learned more about the drilling process involved in installing the Dragonpipe, I formed a theory that linked together the wires and the radio problem.

(Note: this theory is mostly speculation on my part. In this blog, I generally try to stick to the facts—or at least to theories of technical experts. This post is an exception.)

My theory is based on the technology of “horizontal directional drilling” (HDD), which is being used for much of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2) in Delaware and Chester County, where trenching is not practical.

How do they figure out where the drill is? To monitor the drill’s location, the drilling company places guidewires on the ground along the pipeline route. These send out electromagnetic pulses that can be detected by a sensor in the drill. If the drill’s path is really deep, or if there are sources of interference (such as power lines), powerful electromagnets may be connected up to the guidewires, to produce a signal strong enough to overcome the interference and travel through 100 feet or more of rock.

That powerful signal is the key to my theory about the wires and the radio reception. You can’t really “aim” an electromagnetic field. When the wires and electromagnets are in operation, their signals will propagate in all directions, potentially disrupting other electronic signals in the area.

I have been hearing reports that cell phone service in the drilling areas is bad during drilling hours. If that is true, it would fit in with my theory. If the electromagnets produce broad-band emissions, they could interfere with both radio and cell phone communications.

I have not been able to find confirmation of this theory in my web searches. But I do find on-line complaints by drillers that strong sources of electromagnetic interference, such as power lines, cause problems with the drilling guidance system. That suggests the theory is at least plausible.

Do you have reception problems? Have you noticed problems with your phone or radio reception? Does it seem to happen during drilling hours? I’d like to hear about it.

Disrupting cell phone service and radio transmission is against the law, and the enforcement is provided by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It is quite easy to report problems to the FCC by filling out a form online, and I encourage you to do so if you experience a problem. Here are links to the relevant web pages:

I’m not sure if the FCC would be in a position to shut down an HDD drilling operation because of its radio emissions, but it might be interesting to find out.

Update on 7-23-17:
Many people responded to this post with stories of phone problems–dropped calls, lack of service, etc.–that seem to be associated with drilling. Not only that, but a variety of other wireless devices had new problems: a garage door with a wireless opener that has suddenly taken to opening spontaneously, a GPS system that won’t work near the pipeline, and a drone that becomes difficult to control when flying near the pipeline.

The evidence is becoming clear: drilling guidance systems are interfering with lot of wireless technology in the vicinity. That might not be much of an issue in rural areas, but around here there are a lot of important systems that are potentially getting interfered with.