Drill rigs operate under very rugged conditions.

The Panamanian government supports the water needs of its people with two development entities – the Institute of Water & Infrastructure (IDAAN) and the Ministry of Development (MDA).

Environmental factors weigh heavily in the selection of rigs that would work best for Panama, which is a very rugged country. The rigs need to drill to 1,000-foot depths, and handle down-the-hole hammers up to the QL120.

Nancy Gaitan is the supervising manager for rig maintenance in Panama, overseeing both IDAAN and MDA fleets, which consist of Atlas Copco rigs – three T3Ws, four TH60s and three TH10s. Although some of the fleet is aging, including a 26-year-old TH60, IDAAN recently took delivery of the three new T3Ws.

Today, drilling equipment in Panama is supported through the efforts of a newly opened customer center, managed by business development manager Hugo Arce, who also oversees all market growth throughout Central America and the Caribbean. He is focused on training the skilled technicians who will support the ongoing development of Panama, saying, “The current expansion of the Panama Canal has brought growth to the region, and we are committed to the prosperity of Panama.”

A lot of the drilling is done for community projects. The well under development in the photograph was designed to support 100 residences, with a growth capacity to 500. The plan is to provide clean water to all communities in Panama.

Ivan Cedeno, chief of drilling, says the minimum water flow they want to see on a well is 30 gpm. Normal procedure involves flow testing the well after drilling – and again at 72 hours – to ensure consistent performance. The well also will undergo tests to analyze the chemical composition of the water.

Drilling the well is just part of the process. Developers at this site ran water lines to each home. A 500-gallon gravity tank maintains a constant supply to the village.

Cedeno says the geology throughout Panama requires both mud- and air-drilling methods. This site, five miles from the Pacific coast, presents a common formation for the region. The surface is a heavy loam to clay, then consolidated sandstone, and finally igneous rock.

The well photographed here was clay to 60 feet, then another 60 feet of consolidated sandstone and rock. The full 120 feet was drilled at 10 inches in diameter, and cased with 8-inch PVC. It’s common here to start drilling with mud and a tricone, and then switch to air. IDAAN purchased tricone bits in 97⁄8-inch and 12-inch diameters, and DTH button bits in 77⁄8-, 97⁄8- and 12-inch diameters.

IDAAN wants one source for service and support. Atlas Copco also is supplying a complete training program and service plans to ensure the drillers get the most from the new drills, and that they are working at optimum performance levels.

Nancy Gaitan, who has been with Panama’s water development program for 20 years, appreciates the support she receives. “I’m very happy with the performance of the new drills,” she says. “Like anything new, there were small issues at first, but now, all is perfect.”