He's been involved in the drilling industry for almost 30 years now, but Mike Tiani didn't originally intend to be a drilling contractor.
"I kind of backed into it. I was an executive of a local geotechnical engineering firm and, of course, had a lot of interaction with local drilling contractors. I found the industry fascinating and thought it would be more suitable for me so I started Terra as a division of the firm in 1971 and purchased it in 1981," he said.
That decision has proved to be a wise one for Tiani, president of Terra Testing, Inc. of Washington, PA, and current vice president and two-time former president of the National Drilling Association (NDA).
Tiani's company, now operates four truck rigs, four Cat rigs and two skid rigs for drilling monitoring and recovery wells
"We don't run all 10 rigs at once," he said. "We probably put in about 60 wells a month, but monitoring wells are a lot different than water wells or other kinds of wells because our sites might involve 50 wells per site, where others are only one well per site. Our wells might be as shallow as 15 feet or as deep as 500 feet."
Tiani's company, which employs 19 people, is located 25 miles south of Pittsburgh. The company primarily handles drilling projects at industrial sites such as chemical, petroleum and steel facilities.
"Most anyone who has a process that can create a ground pollutant is the kind of people we work for," he said
Tiani said his company is one of the largest geotechnical and environmental drilling contractors in his area and has worked in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin for various clients.
"The industry as a whole has been pretty busy for the past three or four years, and I hope it doesn't run out any time soon," he said. "In our office, we think the environmental part of the industry is going to grow and that's where we're concentrating our efforts, although we will always do geotechnical work. Environmental is 55% of our business now."
While Tiani's business is thriving, he said it shares a problem common in many segments of the drilling industry.
"Our biggest problem is the same one everyone has and that's getting qualified drillers and helpers. You can look in the industry publications and see how many advertisements there are for drillers,'' he said.
"The NDA is trying to get a training program together, but it's very difficult to do. Hopefully we will be able to have some kind of school which can train drillers. We would have to market the program at the high school level, because most of those people that age don't even know there is a drilling industry," he said.
While some drillers in the water well industry are concerned about well drilling prices being the same today as in the distant past, Tiani said the monitoring well business is newer and prices for those wells aren't as much of a concern.
"I think if you, as a contractor want to compete for every project, you will allow yourself to get beat up to get the job," he said.
"You can't do quality work for cheap numbers, and it's important for me or anyone else who markets themselves as professionals to do a professional job and demand a professional price.
"I'd rather park my drills than put them out there doing a job for less than it costs me to do it," he added.
Tiani said the cost of licensing and extensive training requirements for geotechnical and environmental drilling has forced some smaller contractors out of the industry.
"Licensing and other requirements are tremendously hard to keep up with. The oil companies, for instance, have great concerns regarding safety and insist on us having a very detailed safety program,'' he said. "This is an ever-changing industry in terms of what it requires of drillers."
Tiani said NDA officials and officials from the water well drilling industry are currently working together to update the NDA Safety Guide, which is nationally recognized as a safety resource for drillers.
"The water well association liked the guide and asked us to revise it to cover air rotary rigs in order to be more useful to them, so the NDA, along with its DCDMA committee under the guidance of Dave Neibert is doing this. This cooperation between the two groups is exciting and vital to the industry," he said.
One of the best ways for drillers to keep up-to-date on industry developments and share ideas with other drillers is to become involved in state and national drilling organizations, as Tiani did when he helped organize the Tri-State Drilling Association in the Pittsburgh area in the early 1970s.
The Tri-State Drilling Association later evolved through a number of changes, as it became the National Drilling Contractors Association, then the National Drilling Federation, the International Drilling Federation, and ultimately the National Drilling Association.
The NDA works to promote common business interests of all parties involved in subsurface exploration and includes anyone involved in manufacturing, sale and use of drilling rigs and equipment and others who share the group's interests.
"We (Tri-State Drilling Association) started with a small group of people who were interested in getting together to talk about common problems,'' Tiani said. "I think singularly the best thing I ever did was become involved in a drilling contractors' group.
"I would encourage anyone in the drilling industry to get involved in their local or state groups and the national organizations. If they want to get involved, there's always a place for them," he added.
"Probably the best time I spend at conventions and meetings is the time I spend hanging around with other contractors or other guys in the industry talking about problems and how they're doing the things they're involved in." Tiani said. "You never stop learning."