Hydraulic testing at a monitoring well. Courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Just look how far the monitoring well drilling industry has come in the last 20 years and you can see that this is an industry that is not standing still by any stretch of the imagination. The March 2000 issue ofNational Drillerwas dedicated to monitoring and provides a good summary of the "Evolution of Monitoring Well Drilling." In the 1970s and 1980s, we were adapting geotechnical and water well drilling technology to the environmental movement. Geotech drilling rigs could split spoon sample to most any depth, but they didn't have mud pumps large enough to circulate mud in a 6- or 8-inch hole to accommodate a 2- or 4-inch casing. Larger rigs became popular in order to handle the torque of drilling with hollow stem augers (HSAs). HSA rigs with split spoon sampling capability are the mainstay for the ever popular 2-inch monitoring well today; however, mini or micro wells drilled with the direct-push method are gaining in popularity.

What are the challenges facing the environmental drilling industry in the next 20 years? Cheaper, faster and better are the way things are going. A shift from the HSAs to the direct-push wells will continue especially for shallow wells with shallow water tables.

Advances in portable laboratory equipment has made it possible to analyze most of the compounds of concern using equipment housed in small trailers or vans, run by one person. Samples can be run at a rate of 30 minutes to 45 minutes per sample, with as good or better accuracy (because of short holding times) and detection limits as permanent laboratory facilities. Consultants will be looking for drilling/direct-push companies with laboratory capabilities or contracting with portable laboratories so that the on-site data can guide the drilling activities by having data in minutes rather than three to four weeks.

As more portable labs and direct-push equipment becomes available, the market will become (as it already is) very competitive and the prices will come down. Analytical and some types of drilling costs have not increased and are about the same as they were five to 10 years ago. Buyers already are expecting bid turnaround time within 24 hours or less and the ability to mobilize on even shorter notice.

Cleanliness and decontamination will become more demanding to ensure higher quality soil and ground water samples. The person behind the rig will be even more professional and need to not only do a very good job, but possess excellent people and marketing skills to keep the clients coming back for future drilling contracts.

It would behoove us all to plan ahead for these changes because the challenges will no doubt prove to be challenging.